Out past the Medora Brick Plant lies the community of Sparksville.
On Saturday, senior students from the neighboring town of Medora traveled there as part of a community service project to make improvements on the Knobstone Hiking Trail, which passes through Sparksville and the Sparksville-Jackson County Park.
“The (Knobstone Trail and Sparksville-Jackson County Park) are kind of my legacy,” Medora Community Schools teacher Pat Bahan said.
Bahan, who is retiring this year after 35 years of teaching, started the project earlier this year through a partnership with the Knobstone Hiking Trail Association, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the completion and upkeep of the trail, which is planned to stretch from Indianapolis to Louisville, but is not completed yet.
The trail is part of a class project to get the next generation interested in the outdoors and community service work, Bahan said.
“It’s necessary for students to learn to appreciate giving back to their communities — to be active, not passive members of society,” he said.
“We are trying to teach them, that way when they are older, they hold the environment in high regards, just like we do, and want to upkeep nature and enjoy it,” said Nina Andrew, a board member and officer with the Knobstone Hiking Trail Association.
The 15 students were bused from the school, five miles away, to the location where they would work early Saturday before transporting their supplies to a nearby hilltop.
“It’s tiring, but at least it’s rewarding,” senior Caylin Farmer said after several hours.
“I think it’s nice to come along and help out with the trail because I like nature,” senior Elaina Weddle-Benson added. “I used to live in Arizona and I liked hiking when I was there.”
Weddle-Benson said she hopes to go to Washington State University and study zoology, so nature and the creatures that live in it fit along with what she plans on doing in the future.
The volunteer work was a benefit for all students, regardless of their future career plans, as it fulfilled a requirement for many colleges of completing community service.
“Many colleges now look for anything to set you apart from the rest and community service can be that thing,” Bahan said.
The partnership with the organization came at a time that “just felt right” for the group of students, he added.
As Bahan was looking for community service projects for his class, a call for help was sent out from the association and since the trail ran so close to Medora, the group decided last spring to take on the project with the Class of 2018.
Some of the then-junior, now-senior students helped out then too and continued their efforts Saturday by adding a ramp to the 16-foot footbridge they had built to make it easier to use and adding a bench to the top of a fairly steep climb on the trail.
Senior Gavin Henson said despite the fact the project might not help him in college, as he was undecided between art, video game design and interior design, he still enjoyed the work.
“I think it’s fun. It feels good to do something to help the environment and the people who enjoy it,” Henson said. “Our generation gets the label of lazy a lot and this proves we aren’t.”
The group also cleared several parts of the trail using hand tools and cleaned and trimmed the walking trail at the Knobstone Trail’s camp site, the Sparksville-Jackson County Park.
Weeds, logs, briars and other plant life including numerous Russian Olive plants, an invasive plant in southern Indiana, had to be removed from the trails to provide a clearly-marked path for travelers.
For some of the students, before the start of the project last spring, they had not had the opportunity to do community service projects.
Even with Bahan’s eventual retirement, the project will not end.
“They’ve assembled a committee to plan future community service, which I’m sure will include returning to Knobstone and Sparksville,” Bahan said. “My replacement will no doubt be gifted in helping establish this service as a regular part of the curriculum.”