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"Our family's way of being connected to the community"

Posted Thursday, May 11, 2023
StoriesKirchner WoodsWiessner Woods

AJ in 2009 at a trail building workday at Kirchner Woods.

AJ today, helping clear trails on conserved land.

A father and son volunteer together on conserved land

On a cloudless morning 15 years ago, Phil Branton and his then 7-year-old son AJ joined in their first Stowe Land Trust volunteer day clearing trails at the newly conserved Kirchner Woods

“We had taken the train up from Washington D.C. to spend the summer in Stowe,” AJ recalls. “My dad cleared blowdowns while I played nearby. I ‘helped’ the grownups occasionally too. Far away from my crowded elementary school, I remember being able to breathe deeply for what felt like the first time in months.”

Now a beloved destination for both locals and out of town visitors, Kirchner Woods’ transformation from a working sugarbush to neighborhood hub took time and plenty of work. After the property was conserved, a network of mixed-use trails were laid out – some newly cut, and others converted from old woods roads. SLT volunteers were there every step of the way, joining board, staff, and Vermont Youth Conservation Corps members in shaping the great trail network we enjoy today.

For AJ, the workdays created fun memories of being outdoors with his dad. Connecting in the woods together as part of a family and community effort turned out to be vitally important for Phil as well.

 “The trail work was refreshing and a great stress-reducer from my intense job in the city. I also met several lovely people who were volunteering too. As we have continued to spend more time in Stowe over the years, being involved with the land trust has become our family’s way of being connected to the local community” Phil says. 

A lasting relationship

Over the years, Phil and AJ have continued to deepen their connection to the Stowe community and SLT’s conserved lands. Phil has become a long-time volunteer trail steward, watching over Kirchner and Wiessner Woods, continuing to help with trail work and serving as an ambassador while out on the land. This year AJ, now in his early 20s and living in New York City, joined him as a part of our Land Steward program. 

 “For me, being a volunteer land steward is about contributing to the growing, worldwide resistance to the perils of climate change,” says AJ. “Now, my time away from the city is filled with a sense of purpose. When I’m in Stowe co-stewarding Wiessner and Kirchner Woods with my dad, I’m not just a visitor – I'm an active member of the land trust community, helping to ensure that everyone with a connection to the Stowe area can derive the same joy from the land that I do during each of my visits. There are a lot of us who are really worried about the future of our planet and need communities like these where we can chip in and make a difference. It’s essential.”

From the global issues that affect us all, to our local communities and small family units, volunteering connects us to the things that matter most. For 15 years, AJ and Phil have been coming together to help us care for the land we all love. But they’ve also been strengthening the connections between themselves, their community, and the special places that bring us all together. Here’s to 15 more of connecting on conserved land! 

Stowe Land Trust’s Land Steward program is always recruiting new members. If you would like to learn more about how you can connect with a community of others who care, email Conservation Program Manager Carolyn Loeb