Reflecting on a Season of Appalachian Trail Building at Bear Mountain

Bear Mountain Crew members

The back row is left to right: Jaime Nudd, Joseph Knight, Caitlyn Ball (3 of the AmeriCorps members), Kevin Simpson (Field Manager). Second Row: Daniel Yu (volunteer with most hours this year), Altan Chiang (volunteer), Ellie Pelletier (AmeriCorps), and Ama Koenigshof in front (Supervisor)

By Caitlyn Ball, AmeriCorps member of the Bear Mountain Crew

October 11th was the last day of the AmeriCorps members’ 2014 season with the Bear Mountain Trail Crew. We laughed, we cried, we danced, we cried, we hugged, we cried, and then we left the rainy mountain and attended/threw a Volunteer Appreciation cookout (…cook-in?…duh, it was raining).  In actuality, no one cried, but we did hug goodbye, and some of us danced like Muppets.

I think my crew mates and I would all agree that the work we did over the course of the past six months involved a healthy dose of determination and grit (and by grit I mean both mental toughness and small bits of stone that we caught in our mouths while chiseling away).

The work was very challenging. Each of us had our own strengths that we brought to the team and we supported one another in our weaknesses. As far as trail building goes, the work on Bear Mountain was quite technical and cerebral.  For instance, we learned the important form of communication known as “grunting”. Grunting is employed while moving hernia-sized rocks with rock bars; these metal bars weigh 18 pounds and are used to, well, move rocks.

We learned to split rocks using large drills with carbide-tipped bits, feathers, and wedges. Angle grinders were used to shape the stone with diamond blades and cut stone pinning to help stabilize those stones set on top of bedrock.

The crew learned how to identify good anchor and spar trees to attach a highline to. Highline is a cable suspended in trees (used when the terrain renders the bars impractical) to move aforementioned ridiculously heavy rocks closer to where they will be used. We also learned to put the highline up; this involved the use of tree ladders and monkeys.



We learned how to measure for the appropriate grade of the trail and how to maintain the grade via the construction of stairs and DUN…DUN…DUUUNN…CRIBWALL (think retaining wall which holds the trail’s tread in place). Both these features minimize tread erosion by allowing water to drain in a gentle non-erosive manner called sheet flow. Bear (no pun intended) in mind, that with the term “crib” in said wall, one might think that a baby or Snoopdog could build one of these walls, but it requires the mouth of a sailor and the fortitude of a super hero to build one…and remain sane.

All jokes aside, a big thanks is in order to: all the volunteers who came out to help this season; our supervisor, Ama Koenigshof; field manager, Kevin Simpson; and to all the supporters of the Trail Conference’s AmeriCorps program. Under the supervision of Koenigshof and Simpson we were able to struggle and laugh our way through the creation of a stunningly beautiful new section of the Appalachian Trail in Harriman-Bear Mountain State Park. It is something that will be enjoyed by many for years to come and definitely something to be proud of.

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Wish Fulfilled: A Last Hike on the Appalachian Trail at High Point

by Peter Dolan, New Jersey Program Coordinator
and Keith Lyons, Hiker

On July 28th, Keith Lyons contacted the Trail Conference office with a hiking request. On the surface, this request was similar to countless other calls we get throughout the year – Keith had an idea of where he wanted to go for an overnight trip, and wanted our help in planning. He recalled a past trip to a shelter on the Appalachian Trail that had meant a lot to him, and wanted to find and access it again. There was one thing that made this call stand out, however. Keith was planning what would most likely be his last hiking trip.

HighPointSP_AppalachianTrailKeith was undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, with a prognosis that did not leave him much time.  He spoke fondly of the Rutherford Shelter at High Point State Park, where he had taken his godson Jimmy camping years before. Now too weak to undertake the hike to the shelter with a pack of gear, Keith asked if we could help him access the shelter via a woods road.

Three people – Rebecca Fitzgerald (High Point State Park Superintendent), Gene Giordano, and Pete Zuroff (New Jersey Appalachian Trail co-Chairs) – put their heads together and recommended the nearby High Point shelter as the best option, with its easy access via a gated road. Keith was ecstatic that it looked like his dream of one last camping trip with his godson would become a reality.

Everything went according to plan, and on August 16th both Keith and Jimmy arrived at High Point. He asked us to share his story, which has been transcribed in his words below:

Keith Lyons, Jimmy Connolly, and Park Superintendent Rebecca Fitzgerald

Keith and his godson Jimmy stand with Rebecca Fitzgerald, High Point Superintendent

“In November 2013 I was diagnosed with double cancer; three operations later have left me with diminished physical ability. I had previously backpacked through the Stokes-High Point area, seeing two bears – a great experience. I contacted the NYNJTC and Peter Dolan took charge. He communicated with High Point State Park and Park Superintendent Rebecca Fitzgerald, who allowed me and my godson Jimmy to use the woods road to High Point shelter. Jimmy liked riding on the road. We saw a doe and a fawn… they were just as surprised to see us. Last year we backpacked from Route 17 to the Bear Mountain Inn. We saw numerous animals including a huge eight-point buck. But his favorite sighting was the vending machine at Tiorati Circle (that’s until he discovered the snack bar at High Point State Park).

“These few parcels of land are magical, healing places that must be maintained.

“While at High Point we went to a concert where an Irish band played. At sunset, we night-hiked back to the shelter listening to great music. The last day we walked to the A.T. On the trail to the left was Pennsylvania, and straight ahead, towards NY. I told Jimmy, we walk this trail together. I pointed towards New York. I said, you’ll walk this trail without me. He looked at me and said he understood.

“While we were packing, Jimmy mentioned to me that we didn’t see many animals, but we met some great people. Mad Max from Germany, NYU from Brooklyn, and Leslie from New Jersey. On his first hiking trip, Jimmy said he would bring his friends backpacking to High Point one day. I knew then the circle was complete.”

–Copperhead and Hawk (Trail names of Keith Lyons and Jimmy Connolly)

Sometimes it’s easy to take what we do at the Trail Conference for granted. To be blessed with the means and opportunity to enjoy our local parks and forests – whether as a casual hiker or an active trail volunteer – is a privilege that we should never forget. Keith’s story, and the incredible gratitude he has exhibited for the chance to take one last hike, is a reminder of how lucky many of us are to be able to enjoy treasures like these on a whim.

Keith begins radiation in the next few months, and he acknowledges that this was the last hike he’ll ever take. He wanted us to share his story to show how important these trails are to people and families, and how the experiences formed there can last a lifetime. So as you go about your holidays, enjoying the beautiful snow-covered vistas and awaiting the start of spring, remember to be grateful for the public lands we all work to keep open to everyone.

Happy trails.

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Our Trail U Gets NJ Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award

NJ Governor's Environmental Excellence AwardWe are very proud to announce that the Trail Conference was named winner of the 2014 New Jersey Governor’s Environmental Excellence Award in the Environmental Education (Educator-led) category for our Trail University program.  The award was presented by the New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) at a December 8 ceremony in Trenton.

“Many New Jersey state parks and forests rely on Trail Conference volunteers to keep trails maintained, well-marked and safe for public access, in addition to reducing erosion and protecting sensitive habitats and aquatic areas,” DEP noted in its award announcement.

In 2013 Trail Conference volunteers donated a combined total of 16,979 hours to benefiting New Jersey’s public lands. Volunteers recruited through Trail University help maintain more than 678 miles of hiking trails in New Jersey. We also offer Trail U in New York.

Click here to read our full story on our website.

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Two Things from the Catskills: Winter Hiking Intro and Kaaterskill Falls Meeting


by Jeff Senterman, Regional Programs Manager & Catskills Program Coordinator

Winter Gear and Gab: December 14

JeffSnowshoeingThe Trail Conference’s Second Sundays at Spillian series continues This Sunday, December 14th at 1pm with a “winter hiking for the new-to-winter hiker” presentation, a short stroll around the Spillian trails, and a shopping opportunity!

Avid Catskills hiker and Trail Conference Catskills Assistant Program Coordinator Heather Rolland will present a short program to get you started and inspired to get outside this winter. Her focus will be on gear, safety, and special concerns for kids and dogs while in the great outdoors.

Will Soter, the Trail Conference’s Trails Chair for the southern Catskills, will lead a walk on the Spillian grounds and discuss the many volunteer opportunities available on local trails.

Local outfitters will be on hand to answer questions about winter gear, offer suggestions for must haves and stocking stuffers, and yes – they will have a wonderful array of great stuff to help you get outside and play.

Click here for more details and to reserve a place at this free event.

Speak your mind on the future of Kaaterskill Falls: December 17

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has scheduled a Public Scoping Meeting for updates and amendments to the Kaaterskill Wild Forest Unit Management Plan (UMP).  The meeting will be held on Wednesday, December 17, 2014 at 6pm at the Town Hall in the Village of Tannersville in Greene County.  The public is invited to attend.

The meeting offers the public opportunities to suggest issues to be addressed, identify problems, and offer comment on the Unit Management Plan update.  People are encouraged to help the DEC in identifying issues that need to be addressed in the updated plan.  Input from the users of public land, local governments, neighboring landowners and anyone else with an interest in the property for which the plan is being developed is encouraged.

The Trail Conference has already made several recommendations to DEC and local officials for the Kaaterskill Falls area and will continue to do so.  We encourage any interested members of the public to join us for this meeting. Click here for a summary of some of our suggestions.

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Land Purchase Protects Shawangunk Ridge Trail Section in Orange County

View from newly preserved parcel on the Shawangunk Ridge.

View from newly preserved parcel on the Shawangunk Ridge.

The Trail Conference has helped to secure protection of 67 acres along the Shawangunk Ridge Trail (SRT) in the towns of Greenville and Deerpark in Orange County, NY. The land, adjacent to the 1,500-acre Huckleberry Ridge State Forest and traversed by the SRT, was purchased with the Open Space Institute and with the help of the Orange County Land Trust (OCLT). The land will be held and managed by OCLT. The purchase was finalized November 3, 2014 and announced on December 4.

The 70-mile Shawangunk Ridge Trail extends from High Point State Park in New Jersey nearly to Rosendale in New York, and links with the Appalachian Trail and Long Path.

The entire Shawangunk Ridge is listed in the New York State’s 2010 and Revised Draft 2014 Open Space Plan as a Regional Priority Conservation Project. Other Trail Conference-owned parcels on the Ridge have been purchased by the state’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation and managed as state forest. The expectation is the same will happen with this and other of our holdings on the Ridge when the land acquisition portion of the Environmental Protection Fund is restored to appropriate levels.

Trail Conference Executive Director Ed Goodell says of the purchase, “Protecting the Shawangunk Ridge Trail is one of our Conservation Committee’s priority projects and, working with our partners, we have been very successful in protecting land along it and moving many miles of the trail from roadways. This acquisition is another success in that project, and we thank all who made it possible. The volunteers on our committee deserve our special thanks. Currently, well over half of the Shawangunk Ridge Trail is protected. In addition, we have assisted in the creation of two new state forests on the Shawangunk Ridge: Huckleberry Ridge and Graham Mountain. State Forests.”

Click here to learn more about our Gunks Greenway preservation project.


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Giving Thanks for Giving Tuesday


We have to say, THANK YOU!  We’ve tallied your Giving Tuesday Challenge donations and we’re blown away. Thanks to our wonderful donors, we raised $30,799 over the eight-day period from November 25 through December 2.  These tremendous contributions will be met with $36,000 in matching gifts for a grand total of $66,799, all of which will be put to work to support the trail building, trail maintaining, trail education, volunteer development, and trail protection programs we provide throughout our area.

East Hudson Region

We’re working in Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, and Columbia Counties and the five boroughs of NYC to maintain, build, and improve trails and open space. We are improving the hiking experience at Breakneck Ridge, where our trail stewards welcomed 26,743 hikers between Memorial Day Weekend and Columbus Day; at Fahnestock State Park, where our new Taconics Crew rebuilt an Appalachian Trail connection to Canopus Lake beach; and throughout Hudson Highlands State Park, and more. In 2014, we supported 301 volunteers on more than 400  miles of trails in 20+ parks.

Catskill Mountains Region

We’re supporting 200 volunteers who are maintaining 29 lean-tos, more than 200 miles of trails, and building new backcountry trails in the Catskills. We also are working with communities to increase outdoor tourism in the region, and with New York State’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation to increase outdoor volunteerism through our newly launched Catskill Conservation Corps.

New Jersey Region

So far in 2014, we have supported 461 volunteers in more than 30 parks and preserves, maintaining 700+ miles of trails for public access. We are working to protect open space, maintain trails, and support our park partners—including along the Appalachian Trail and on trails at Norvin Green State Forest, High Point State Park, and Bergen County’s popular Ramapo Valley County Reservation, where Ramapo College students have helped build the new Reservoir Trail.  AND, we produce the best trail maps available.

West Hudson Region

We are advocating for and maintaining all your favorite hiking trails in Harriman-Bear Mountain, Minnewaska, Schunemunk, and Storm King State Parks and other state parks and preserves in Orange, Rockland, and parts of Sullivan, and Ulster Counties. We’re supporting 418 volunteers who are caring for more than 650 miles of trail in 10 of our region’s biggest parks. We’re also creating new trail crews, working to keep casinos away from our parks, building new trails throughout the region, and keeping the Appalachian Trail in better-than-ever condition.

There’s still time to make your year-end gift to support our work on the trails you love. Please make your donation now! Thank you!

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Improving Trails to Our History

View from North Redoubt, Hudson Highlands State Park

View from North Redoubt, Hudson Highlands State Park

By Georgette Weir, contributing editor

In October, nine acres, a new parking lot, and short trail extension built by the Trail Conference’s Taconics Crew were added to Hudson Highlands State Park’s historic North/South Redoubt section along Snake Hill Road in Garrison. Land preservationists and state park and Dept. of Environmental Conservation officials celebrated the occasion with a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony before sitting down to a meeting about other conservation priorities.

OPRHP Assistant Commissioner Carol and Winter Hill's Chris Buck cut the ribbon to open the new trail extension on new park land.

OPRHP Assistant Commissioner Carol Clark and Winter Hill’s Chris Buck cut the ribbon to open the new trail extension on new park land.

The land was donated to the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) by Winter Hill LLC, which also built the new parking area. OPRHP Deputy Commissioner Carol Clark and Winter Hill’s Chris Buck signed the official papers transferring ownership at the event.

With a short and quick climb from the new parking area on a red-blazed trail to the North Redoubt, hikers can get a nice view north over the Hudson River—especially with the leaves off the trees. A longer, but still relatively short, hike to the higher South Redoubt winds through bits of Garrison School Forest.

The trails to the South Redoubt are in the process of being reworked and reblazed by the Garrison School, which maintains all the trails in this area of the park. Already, there are differences in blaze colors between the latest 2014 edition of East Hudson map #101 and what you will find on site.

The South Redoubt features a kiosk with information about the Revolution-era history of the redoubts, fortifications built in 1779 with the intent of delaying or stopping British advances on West Point. At both North and South Redoubt, evidence of the now buried fortifications is obvious.

Hiking on the historic cannon trail to the North Redoubt.

Hiking on the historic cannon trail to the North Redoubt.

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