This article was written by Otis Loga, a senior in U-32 Journalism class.
“What a gift this property is,” said Ellen, one of the school counselors. Our school which was founded in 1971, owns 166 acres of land. On this land, “there’s a small brook” and “we can access other trails that are part of the East Montpelier trails,” said Ellen. Ellen has “been on all of this property many times” and has seen it with her own eyes.
The person who has been a core foundation of the property usage is Mark Chaplin who is now 71 years old. Mark started at U-32 as an intern in 1973 when the school first started, but officially started teaching science, mostly Chemistry, in 1974. He started teaching at U-32 the second year of the school. “I arrived in about the second year of the school. I was an intern here in the second year of the school,” Mark said.
Mark, who just retired two years ago, saw the school’s land as an opportunity and wanted to build a trail system and have a connection to the East Montpelier trail system. Over the years Mark Chaplin took what tools he could find and cut away “tangled garbage.” It was definitely “nightmarish to cut that out,” said Mark.
Mark Chaplin was one of the main people that helped form and compose the trail system around campus today. It did not always look the same, though. It has evolved over the years.
Back in the day the trails did not always look like they do now. The trails were “not much more than the deer path,” said Mark. Over many years of students and community members starting to use the trails “We used the trail over a period of 40 or 50 years”.
Over the years Mark spent a lot of free time working and getting the paths to a trail. “I spent the whole summer clearing it [the debris] out,” said Mark.
Mark Chaplin did most of this work by hand, but he did require some help from the community. One of the community members who also cared about the trails volunteered his time and his bulldozer to help flatten out and clear a path that Mark’s hands and “implements of destruction, a weed whacker and clippers and a chainsaw,” Mark said.
Starting back in the mid-90s Mark Chaplin took over the cross country skiing program here at U-32. When the Nordic team had first started up, the trails were not skiable, so the students and the team had to drive far.
“The closest place to ski … was … a good 45 minute drive anywhere in any direction.” This caused the ski program at U-32 to be small due to the lack of facilities. In fact, according to the coach of the mid-90’s, “the program really couldn’t be any bigger than what would fit in Ellen Cooke’s van,” said Mark.
After Mark interned, he became one of the school’s science teachers. On top of teaching his classes he also coached cross country, track, and basketball. By the mid-90s, Ellen Smith had left the school, and U-32 was in need of a new ski coach. Mark agreed to shadow and ski with an interim coach for a year. Mark said, “I started with the program in the mid to late 90’s. I had no idea how to coach skiing. The idea was that I would learn how to do it and kind of gradually take control.”
Right now it is pretty deluxe thanks to Mark and his hard work to have plenty of trails groomed for the team to practice on.
“There’s so many hours that they could come here and spend instead of driving somewhere else,” Jane Miller-Arsenault, senior at U-32, commented. She has been using U-32 trails since middle school, mostly for cross country running and skiing. “I started using them mostly as a freshman when I joined cross country.”
Right now in the winter months the U-32, the trails are groomed and ready for cross country skiing. Mark Chaplin spends endless time on the snowmachine during the day and evenings to get the trails and the snow smooth and prepared for the public to ski on.
Over many many years of the school more people and students of the community used the trails. This contributed to the growth of the youth skiing program at U-32. The school has grown their equipment inventory and has enough to loan out to students just to try it. “Kids didn’t have to spend $600 just to see if they liked it or not,” said Mark.
Over the years Mark Chaplin and other ski coaches went to ski related auctions to gather used ski equipment to try as an after school sport. Since a high school has so many different trails and acreage around campus, Jane said: “It seems like a place where the community can come together and see our sports teams.”