Provided photo Cheryl McQueeney poses at the start of the trail in honor of Melissa Jenkins, the teacher who was slain last March.
CABOT — The signs announcing the Melissa Jenkins Walk for Women are written in magic marker on poster board. If you didn’t know where it was, you’d never find it. There’s no fancy parking lot. There’s not yet a map to the intricate trail system with its loops and turns across 80 acres of land, although a volunteer has signed up for the task. The miles of trails that Cheryl McQueeney and her friends and family have constructed on a hillside in Cabot lead through a wilderness of quiet, beauty and contemplation. A fitting spot, says McQueeney, to remember Melissa Jenkins, the much-loved St. Johnsbury Academy teacher who was murdered in March 2012.
“Everyone around here knew Melissa,” says McQueeney, whose son Colin graduated from the Academy, and whose daughter Nell is now a student there. “She babysat, worked at The Creamery, and was always driving around in her little white Volkswagen. And what she did as a teacher at St. Johnsbury (Academy) was wonderful.”
McQueeney is a familiar face in the Cabot area, and her boarding kennel has been the drop-off place for local dogs for years. In addition, to providing animal care, the feisty blonde with well-callused hands, has opened her home to provide respite care for a childhood friend, and a home for a teenage foster daughter.
“It’s what I do,” she said.
In this case, McQueeney has rallied family and a friends to create a memorial for a woman that was a light for so many in her extended community. The project has particular significance for her children, both of whom knew Jenkins from their time at the Academy.
“The first time I ever met her (Melissa Jenkins) she was with her son,” recalls 17-year-old Nell McQueeney, who has been involved with the project from the beginning. “They were the most adorable people ever. So happy you could feel the love between them. It was just terrible when she died and having my friend’s father (a police officer) work on the murder just made it worse.”
It was a plan to log her acreage that provided the impetus for the idea of the memorial trail system.
“When I went out after we’d just cleared the land I was amazed,” says Nell. “I didn’t realize how really beautiful it was.”
McQueeney’s son Colin, who is currently serving in the U.S. Coast Guard provided the $6,000 seed money to get the trails in shape, and build a small sauna for folks to use. “We couldn’t have done this without Colin’s help,” says Cheryl McQueeney. “But he understood right away what we are trying to do.”
The trail system is being particularly promoted as a place for women to come. Families are welcome, and men are welcome in the company of women. But essential to the McQueeneys is an environment where women can feel safe in the rural outdoors.
“Women need to feel secure,” says Nell McQueeney. “After the murder there were a lot of women questioning about when and where they can feel safe. Hopefully, that will happen here.”
“There were trails here for a long time,” said neighbor Otto Trautz, who has donated benches that dot the trail system. “Now it is really a world-class system. Not something that you would expect way out here in the woods on the edge of the Northeast Kingdom. The scale of it and the work effort is beyond what you would expect.”
Trautz says he plans on continuing to be involved in the project as it unfolds. “I can see coming down here with my brush hog in the spring,” he says. “There are places on the property I had never seen before. Many people are very excited about it.”
McQueeney has managed to get quite a few people to donate their skills whether carving the signs that she hopes to have in place by Mother’s Day, or getting a well-respected mapmaker to create a map toe the acreage. There is no cost to walk or ski the trails, but there’s a small donation basket for folks to contribute to the upkeep, and to provide additional landscaping.
With the recent temperatures bouncing up and down the thermometer possibility of cross-country skiing has diminished, at least for the moment. That said, when the snow does arrive McQueeney is ready to welcome visitors. While May is months away McQueeney would like to have everything in place for a special opening.
“We’re open now,” she says, “But everything will be in place by Mothers Day.”
Among the plans is a memorial garden, a plan that Jenkins family likes.
“I haven’t had a chance to go up and walk the land yet,” says Marty Beattie, Melissa Jenkins’ uncle who owns Marty’s store in Danville. “I’ve talked to Cheryl about it and she’s mentioned that she’d like to plant a memorial garden by the pond with some benches, and I’d like to see that.”
Directions: Take Route 215 heading up out of Cabot Village. Bear right on Bricketts Crossing Road and then left at McQueeney Road. Parking and the entry to the trail is on the right. Donations are welcome.MORE IN Central Vermont
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