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Town of Amherst dedicates new trail in honor of Joseph G. Gavin Jr.

M.I.T. grad received NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal

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Town of Amherst dedicates new trail in honor of Joseph G. Gavin Jr.

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By Lyndsey Ware, Collegian Staff

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A crowd gathered beneath the shade of 150 trees in Amherst’s Orchard Arboretum Conservation Area at Applewood Friday afternoon to dedicate the trail’s new accessible pathway. Some drove while others walked or rolled their wheelchairs to 1 Spencer Drive to honor Joseph G. Gavin Jr., the American engineer who developed the Lunar Module used in the Apollo program.

Gavin, a Massachusetts native, studied aeronautical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was the chief operations officer at Grumman Cooperation and, among other recognitions, received NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal for his life-saving resolution of the Apollo 13 crisis. Gavin spent his last days at Applewood Retirement Community in 2010.

Gavin’s wife, Dorothy Dunklee Gavin, funded the pathway’s portion in memory of her husband. Dorothy Dunklee Gavin and fellow residents of Applewood were a “powerful force” according to Applewood Executive Director Rob Caflin.

“This really was an idea that the Applewood residents had to conserve this land,” Caflin said.

He explained that the residents of the retirement community partnered with numerous groups in the area to raise funds to save the open space when they were informed of its development. They built a team of innovators ranging as much in age and background as the trees (representative of 75 different species) on the three acres overlooking the Holyoke Range.

“The apple trees are original. All the others were donated in honor of loved ones who’ve passed,” Caflin said.

Efforts to save the land began in 2004 when the residents were informed that what remained of the old orchard and its surrounding wildlife stood to be developed.

Joe’s Way is a small stretch of pavement that grants safe passage to the conserved space for residents of neighboring communities Upper Orchards and Hampshire Village. Laughter and conversation provided a soundtrack to the ribbon cutting, and footsteps commemorated the awaited segment of the trail. David Ziomek, Assistant Town Manager and Director of Conservation and Development for the Town of Amherst, was one of the people taking those steps.

“To me, this project… really symbolizes community. It’s all about connection, community and sharing,” Ziomek said.

Like others on the path that afternoon, Ziomek was impressed with the collaboration, especially the contributions by University of Massachusetts students whose “survey turned into a plan” and helped “get the project started,” he said.

University Assistant Dean of Experiential Learning and Corporate Relations Dr. Cheryl Brooks and her students, John DiVito, Christopher Lyman and Victoria Stuetzel, played an essential role in the realization of the Applewood residents’ mission. Brooks teaches a Civic Engagement and Service Learning (CESL) class at the University and integrates hands-on experience into the class. Having worked with the town on numerous projects, Brooks and her students were recruited.

“The students gain as much as they give by far. It’s an amazing experience. The townspeople have been open, warm and helpful. They’ve taught the students so much. It’s clearly been a win-win for everyone,” Brooks said. “Something has to benefit all involved in order to be truly sustainable.”

A chemist with a Doctoral degree in education, Brooks divided the class into groups of three to five students to assist with various town projects similar to Joe’s Way.

“My doctrine focused on learning outcomes. In engineering, we are accredited against these learning outcomes. So, I looked across the board and came up with a common metric of those outcomes,” she said.

Brooks explained that there are learning phases and most young professionals she interacted with associated experience with the initial harnessing of knowledge.

“Many mentioned internships. They said it had to be real, so it had to be right. There was now skin in the game and suddenly someone was counting on them,” Brooks said.

Over the course of several semesters, the class has helped test water in the city, worked on remediation of other trails, helped designed alarm systems at the local hospice and implemented sidewalks along busy roads that posed a threat to those traveling by foot or wheelchair to get groceries. They’ve built wind turbines, worked on solar panel systems and gained the respect of their mentors and those they’ve worked with by studying “social construct around societal problems” on Tuesdays and “working in town on Thursdays,” Brooks explained.

After the walk was completed, the crowd continued to thank each other and marveled at the journey.

“The project is symbolic on many levels,” said Stephanie Ciccarello, Town of Amherst Sustainability Coordinator. “We got to bridge generations and communities.”

The Applewood residents fueled the project with passionate vigor not unlike that of Gavin’s Lunar Module team that oversaw the landing on the moon’s Sea of Tranquility in 1969.

Known to some as “The Man of the Woods,” Conservation Commission member Harvey Allen shared his wisdom.

“You are only as old as you feel. Always think positively,” he said with a smile.

Lyndsey Ware can be reached at [email protected]

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