Saco Middle School Sebago 7 team and friends marked the opening of three new trails, a labyrinth and an outdoor classroom, created by students, in a ceremony on Thursday, June 10. It took about 12 months of work, spread over two school years, but now the trails are open, and available to the public. Tammy Wells Photo

SACO — They worked in the fall, and in the cold, snowy winter; they worked for about 12 months, spread over two school years.

The Sebago 7, a Saco Middle School project-based learning team, bushwhacked their way through some dense woods behind the soccer field, creating three public trails, an outdoor classroom and a labyrinth.

They learned a lot, broadened and strengthened friendships, and gave of themselves to create a lasting legacy.

The team celebrated on Thursday, June 10 with a ribbon cutting to mark the opening of the SMS Sebago 7 Trails, complete with a red “carpet,” leading up a hill to the trail system, and a pair of very big scissors and some local dignitaries.

As they blazed the trails, students learned about the ecosystem, discovered vernal pools and used math, science, art, and STEM — which stands for science, technology, engineering and math — to do so, SMS science teacher Melissa Gosselin told the group.

Tall trees cast shadows into the outdoor classroom, part of a project that includes trails and a labyrinth, created by Saco Middle School students. Tammy Wells Photo

Not only did they create the trails but also an outdoor classroom, complete with seating, the labyrinth, a trail head kiosk with trail maps, a take-along brochure, and a posting of trail rules.

The team first sought and won permission to create the trails from Saco Parks and Recreation Director Ryan Sommer, and then set to work, creating the Blue Jay Trail, White-Tailed Deer Trail and the Red Cardinal Trail, which runs by a portion of Deep Brook.

The COVID-19 pandemic played a bit of havoc with the timeline, but in the end, the students got it done.

Jackie Christy-Milligan and Lillian Johnson created the brochure, which shows a trail map, and animals and plants to look for — from squirrels to salamanders, fungi, flowers and ferns — and Stella Foy wrote a detailed description of the labyrinth.

Emery Greene created the rules of the trail, nine in all, which includes a “carry in, carry out” provision, cleaning up after pets, no use of motorized vehicles, and others.

The labyrinth is designed as place to explore, or contemplate life and revisit memories.

SMS Instructional Coach Jennifer Ruel said students and others who use the trails are encouraged to listen, see and use their other senses in the woods.

Saco Middle School Sebago 7 team created a trailhead kiosk, containing information about the three trails, labyrinth and outdoor classroom they built, along with a list of trail use rules. Tammy Wells Photo

In the outdoor classroom, where students fashioned a series of seats made from split portion of tree trunks, the quiet was pierced by the chatter of chipmunks, and the scent of wood and pine cones permeated the air.

Allison Koss said she made friends working on the trail project. Even on days when the weather was challenging, “you’d see people’s real personalities” that a fellow student might not see in a classroom, she said, adding that bonds were forged among all the students.

“We got to work together as friends and classmates, and got close with everyone,” said Lilly Johnson. Referring to COVID, “I don’t think I’d ever do this in a normal school year,” she said.

“I loved doing it,” said student Heidi Jens of making the trail pathways and building bridges over some low-lying spots. “The funnest part was knowing the outcome at the end — it would be public and a lot of people would enjoy it.”

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