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Sustainable Trail Building Education Partnership

Northern Vermont University Announces Sustainable Trail Building Education Partnership with Northwoods Stewardship Center

Northern Vermont University’s Center for Professional Studies announces a collaboration with the Northwoods Stewardship Center to offer a hands-on Sustainable Trail Building Certificate program of study at the conservation organization’s site in East Charleston, Vt. The program will begin September 10, 2023.

“The creation of this innovative program around trail construction and sustainability standards is another indication of Vermont State University’s bright future,” said President Parwinder Grewal. “The new Sustainable Trail Building certificate was developed as a practical solution for working adults who want to start or grow a career in professional trail building. It is a great example of how proactively combining practices from different degree disciplines such as outdoor education, leadership and tourism, climate change science, and environmental and natural sciences can result in relevant education programs for Vermonters. It also ensures that future generations will experience the joy of hiking, riding, and exploring properly constructed and maintained trails for many years to come.”

The one-year Sustainable Trail Building Certificate program offers a unique opportunity to jump-start a career as a trail professional through a flexible, part-time program of study. The program is designed to help future trail-builders enter a career in this growing field to better build, maintain, plan, and manage important corridors that connect users to spaces of natural, cultural, and historical significance.

Program participants will meet at Northwood’s Stewardship Center for intensive one-week, hands-on education in the field in September and November 2023 and April 2024. The in-person sessions will enable participants to gain the fundamental skills needed to build non-motorized trails directly from industry leaders and trail building experts.

The program’s outdoor learning laboratory includes more than 100 miles of natural, machine-made, and gravity trails at Northwoods Stewardship Center, the Northern Vermont University Lyndon campus, Kingdom Trail Association, and Burke Mountain Resort, where students will learn and master trail building techniques. A field trip to a national trail conference and experiential learning with professional trail building organizations are included in the program.

This trail building program is the first of its kind grounded in the core competencies of the Trail Competency Framework for professional trail construction and maintenance put forward by American Trails and the Professional Trailbuilders Association, whose members represent federal agencies, trail nonprofits, professional educators, and the private sector. The competencies outline skills and knowledge to help standardize levels of trail workforce aptitude.

“This collaboration between the teams at the NVU Lyndon campus, Northwoods Stewardship Center, and nationally recognized trail associations represents what is possible when trail professionals, sustainability experts, and educators work together to increase skill levels and set high standards,” said Ann Nygard, director of the Center for Professional Studies.

The Sustainable Trail Building Certificate is a workforce development effort aligned to the new Forestry Accelerator at Northern Vermont University’s Center for Professional Studies. This initiative is funded by a grant from the Northern Border Regional Commission as well as support from the Learning and Working Initiative which was created through a sizable gift from an NVU-Lyndon alum.

Sustainability practices are integrated into every aspect of trail building for clear reasons. “The growing conservation challenges of the next decade, related to climate change, biodiversity loss, extreme weather events, and increased pressure on recreation zones, requires a new approach to building sustainable recreational trails,” said Maria Young, executive director of Northwoods. “The Sustainable Trail Building Certificate program prepares the next generation of trail builders for this task, armed not only with skills and shovels, but with the curiosity to consider how sustainable trails can promote vibrant human and natural communities.”

Program registration is now open. To learn more and register, visit

The Sustainable Trail Building Certificate program will become a program of Vermont State University after the unification of Castleton University, Northern Vermont University, and Vermont Technical College on July 1, 2023.