Forging A Path

What is 35 miles long and requires 8,000 trail maps, 18,000 dog-litter bags, and several recycle bins? Answer—the trail system in Vernon, Conn. All of the above (excluding the trail mileage, of course) were supplied by the Vernon Greenways Volunteers in 2014.

This organization originated from an idea of Vernon Parks and Recreation Department Secretary, Diane Gamelis, in early 2005. “Vernon ought to build something similar to the Adopt-A-Highway Program for our trail system.” That idea was handed to me as a member of the non-profit Friends of the Hockanum River Linear Park Committee. The Adopt-A-Highway model was reworked to recruit trail users as volunteers for a workforce and local businesses/citizens as donors to fund the program.

The Adopt-A-Trail Program was launched in September 2005. In January 2007, the name was changed to the Vernon Greenways Volunteers (VGV) to reflect that it is a volunteer-driven program.

People With A Purpose

The purpose of the volunteer group is to assist the town’s parks and recreation department in the maintenance, enhancement, and proper use of its trail system. These efforts were recognized by The Connecticut Greenways Council and The State of Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection through a special achievement award in June 2008, and outstanding service awards were presented by the town and the parks and recreation department to the organization’s leadership in December 2008, December 2009, and February 2012.

Volunteer membership at the time of this writing is 65. Twelve of those are managers who monitor approximately 20 miles of the trail system. Above that, volunteers participate consistent with their interests, availability, and physical abilities. Work parties to pick up trash, build a bridge, repair a trail, and remove invasive plants, etc. are formed via a group email. Volunteers decide whether to continue in the organization annually.

There are currently 21 financial donors who are either trails sponsors ($200 annually) or project sponsors ($150 annually). Donations are tax deductible. Including company matching/volunteer grants, the annual operating budget is just under $5,000.


Diverse endeavors include:

  • Gifting 500 Rails-to-Trails cloth map-bandanas to users of our 9 miles of trails
  • Coordinating with the Vernon Parks and Recreation Department to process recyclables from the trails
  • Reconstructing eight on-trail plantings that had become overgrown (plantings now maintained by VGV Planting Adopters)
  • Forming a weed-whacking crew to help keep hiking trails open
  • Conducting an annual search for a possible infestation of Asian longhorned beetles/emerald ash borers
  • Eradicating invasive plants
  • Organizing a picnic/fishing outing for children with challenges every other year.

A collaborative effort to reconstruct a Braille trail site with The Friends of Valley Falls, another non-profit, included planting native species on 2 acres from which invasive plants were previously removed. In 2015, The Valley Falls group is leading an effort to construct a 2,500-square-foot mural on the trail system.

Bruce Dinnie, Parks and Recreation Director, says, “Ten years of leadership by Don Bellingham and thousands of volunteer hours have transformed our trail system to make them a regional attraction. The Rails-to-Trail and Hockanum River Trail are used by hundreds daily on a year-round basis."

Access trail maps at

Don Bellingham is the VGV Coordinator. Reach him at