Aspiration Ridge Trail construction inspires nearly 200 young volunteers

ST. GEORGE — When Kevin Hansen was told by landowners he would have to relocate part of the original Aspiration Trail, his heart sunk. Though it wasn’t his land, he had spent four years building the popular trail with his wife, Ann. They completed the trail on her birthday, placing a flag atop a ridge.

Riverside Elementary principal Burke Staheli helps to build a section of the Aspiration Ridge Trail, in St. George, Utah, Feb. 1, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

Hansen is working on creating a new trail that is integrating 90% of the original path. When he asked for volunteers to help build the new trail, Aspiration Ridge, Hansen knew he was asking a lot.

“It took us four years to build Aspiration Trail,” Hansen said. “We’re hoping the rebuild will take four months.”

Though he had had some interest, it wasn’t moving as quickly as he’d hoped. Then, Wednesday morning, Riverside Elementary Principal Burke Staheli brought a small army of helping hands.

“One of the things I like to do is called service learning,” Staheli told St. George News. “When read about the trail, I thought, let’s get our kids involved.”

So, Staheli volunteered his entire fifth-grade class, about 140 students. They were accompanied by teachers, parents and missionaries, who also helped build out 10 sections of trail off Southern Parkway and Astragalus Drive.

Ezra Bodell, 5, throws his back into this section of the Aspiration Ridge Trail, in St. George, Utah, Feb. 1, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

“We’re excited for the opportunity to have this trail embraced by the City of St. George,” Hansen said.

Staheli’s fifth-graders learned that building a trail is just as tough as it sounds. Some of them carried tools like shovels, crowbars, and rakes, while others talked about what makes a successful YouTube channel.

“I wanna be a gaming and lifestyles YouTuber,” one boy told his companions. “No click-bait.”

As they fantasized about cushy indoor work,, they would earn the day’s lunch by moving rocks and raking the dirt. In short, clearing and marking a path. Rather than being bathed in the cool blue light of screens, they’d be enveloped in clouds of powdered dirt.

“I don’t know if any of these kids have ever worked this hard,” Staheli said. “But this is how you make memories. You’ve got to create moments that they’ll remember.”

Grace Mardy, a fifth-grader at Riverside Elementary, took a break from helping to build the Aspiration Ridge Trail in St. George, Utah, Feb. 1, 2021 | Photo by David Dudley, St. George News

One of them, Grace Mardy, 10, practiced speaking Spanish as she sauntered along the trail.

“I had fun,” she said. “But we did a lot of work.”

Mardy said that she doesn’t go outside much, so the day was about new experiences.

“This is my first time building a trail,” she said. “It’s also my first time hiking.”

Staheli said that, as many of his kids have been cooped up inside, due to COVID-19, he tries to take every opportunity to get them outside.

When the day’s work had been done, some didn’t want to leave.

“It’s just peaceful out here,” Kai Davis. “I’d like to sit and enjoy the work that we’ve done.”

Staheli said that the day reminded him of a day spent fishing with his dad.

“It was the ceremony of it all,” he said. “We woke up early in the morning, we had donuts, then he went and pulled a fish out of a pond with his bare hand.”

The beautiful setting of the trail, Staheli said, would hopefully inspire them to remember what they had learned, as well as their contribution to the community.

“In two hours, we completed a lot of trail,” Staheli said. “That’s a little miracle. I don’t think these kids will ever forget it.”

Hansen was moved by the outpouring of support.

“This means that there are lots of people who feel the same sense of community we do,” he said. “That’s why we love Southern Utah so much.”

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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