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Chester County Press

A big cheer for the opening of the new Hillendale Trail

11/14/2016 11:33AM ● By J. Chambless

Michelle O'Kane, a former fourth-grade teacher at Hillendale, cuts the ribbon to officially open the new trail at Hillendale.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

It takes a lot of people to make a trail happen, and on Nov. 11, Steve Dissinger, the principal at Hillendale Elementary School, got a chance to thank them all.

Every student in the school filled the gymnasium for an afternoon assembly that brought together dozens of guests who played a part in creating the one-mile, paved trail around the school grounds.

Hillendale Elementary School principal Steve Dissinger (right) introduced many of the people who helped make the Hillendale Trail a success.

 Dissenger traced the four-year process leading up to the trail, starting with the initial brainstorming session in the school conference room. There were thanks and presents for 16 people who played a role, and several of the thanks came from the children of parent volunteers, who got a hug in addition to their gift. Financial support and grants – including a landmark $65,000 from the E. Kneale Dockstader Foundation – were acknowledged as well, and Robert Struble, from the foundation, got a special thanks. “Today we want to say 'thank you' to all the men and women who played a major part in creating the Hillendale Trail,” Dissinger said at the beginning of the event. Acknowledging school district superintendent John Sanville and other members of the administration, Dissinger introduced a video that traced the four-year history of the trail project before telling the children, “We're not done yet. The best is yet to come for the Hillendale Trail. The ending of the story is to be determined. Each of you will play a significant role while you're here at Hillendale, and even when you're not. After you move on from Hillendale, you can come back and see all those trees that we planted along the trail when they're all grown up.”

PTO volunteers past and present got their rounds of applause, along with Tim Stephens, who supplied the equipment and labor to actually build and pave the trail. The Hillendale Running Club, a student group that runs each day around the school, is a big winner with the addition of the trail, and Dissinger thanked the organizers of the club, past and present.

Looking to the future, Dissinger said that the tiny Craigs Mill Run, a stream that runs along the southern edge of the school property, will be the focus of ongoing environmental education efforts at Hillendale. “That tiny stream connects to a bigger creek, which connects to the Brandywine River, then the Christina River, the Delaware River and the Atlantic Ocean,” Dissinger said. “We have to make sure that we protect it.”

George Claypoole was thanked for his efforts to build a watershed curriculum around the stream. Claypoole, in turn, thanked Dissinger for his ongoing support of the trail and stream projects, and the students got a chance to stand and cheer. Thanking the students and guests, Dissinger said, “What I want you to learn is that when you see a need and you have an idea, you never know where it will end up. If you're going to do something to help others, go for it.”

Dissinger then called up Michelle O'Kane, a former fourth-grade teacher at Hillendale. “She started the whole thing,” he said. “I don't imagine she ever thought we would someday have this trail.”

Turning to a subject that caught the interest of the students, Dissinger said, “Do you remember when I said we had some really big scissors?” After a loud squeal of excitement, Dissinger said he would be allowing O'Kane to use the big scissors to cut a ribbon on the lower loop of the trail, which circles the athletic fields to the south of the school. Another loop – from the parking lot around the northern edge of the property – had already been open.

Students, teachers and administrators take a walk on the lower loop of the Hillendale Trail on Nov. 11.

 “Now, we have about 15 minutes before the end of the school day, so if it's OK with your teachers, I think we should all take a walk on the new trail,” Dissinger shouted to the eager crowd. Sprinting out of the gym in more or less orderly fashion, the students gathered noisily around the ceremonial ribbon as a drone launched by the school staff hovered overhead, documenting the scene. O'Kane cut the ribbon with the really big scissors as the students cheered.

Squealing with excitement, the students darted off on the trail, genuinely thrilled to be taking a walk with their friends and teachers.

As far as building wild enthusiasm for simple exercise, and for long-range conservation goals, the Hillendale Trail can already be considered a success.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email [email protected].