Last spring, Voorhees Middle School social studies teacher David Thompson and some of his students had an idea that just sort of trailed off.
Thompson and his students went before Voorhees Township Committee and asked for clearance to build a hiking trail behind VMS that would connect to an already established trail in the Stafford Tract open public space land behind the school.
Now just a little more than a year later, the school’s Trailblazers Club has turned its idea into a reality.
On the morning of June 15, with the sun shining and students smiling, township and school district officials gathered with students at the school for the grand opening ceremony of the new Viking Trail.
Thompson said members of the Trailblazers Club have met after school weekly in the fall and spring during the past year to design and build the .6-mile-long trail with nothing more than hard work and hand tools.
With no public funds used for project, Thompson said the group’s purpose is simply to help build hiking trails throughout Voorhees.
“This is something that they were really interested in, and I think it says something for their generation,” Thompson said. “They wanted to do something for the community; they wanted to give back.”
Thompson said the students’ hard work and initiative has become a source of pride for him, and throughout the year, he has continued to be amazed by the steady turnout of students interested in the club and project.
“They hike a little portion of the trail and they say ‘hey, I want to do that,’ so it’s really nice,” Thompson said. “Who would have thought in today’s day and age with all the distractions that they have that a bunch of seventh and eighth graders would want to go out and shovel mulch and cut down bushes?”
Mayor Michael Mignogna was on hand for the ceremony, and he too commended the Trailblazers for working to make Voorhees more walkable and to help residents appreciate the township’s wooded areas.
“On behalf of the other members of our Township Committee and our entire community, I just want to say how proud I am and we are of this particular project,” Mignogna said. “This group came to us about a year ago letting us know what they wanted to do, and it’s had our complete support ever since.”
Mignogna told students that perhaps the most important thing about the trail project was it would continue to live on and be passed down to future VMS students to care for and experience.
“It’s an ongoing project and it’s sort of a legacy … and for that I thank you and Township Committee thanks you and congratulates you on a great job,” Mignogna said.
Now with the Trailblazers’ first project officially open and properly marked, Thompson invites members of the public to stop by when school isn’t in session and go for a hike.
“I walk out there once a day and even when it’s 90 degrees out it’s nice and cool back there,” Thompson said. “Within 10 steps, you’re in the middle of a forest in the middle of Voorhees.”