In Praise of the Crooked Path

By Sona Mason, West Hudson Program Coordinator

-  may your trails be crooked, winding lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. — Edward Abbey

a crooked path“You take the high road, I’ll take the crooked path” is a line on the tip of my tongue whenever I see a runner (or walker) plodding along a flat, boring line of asphalt. While the merits of tar-slapping include a very commendable lower carbon impact, I can never comprehend how they manage the sheer boredom of it. How treadmill gym rats don’t lose their minds is a complete mystery.

There is an allure in following a path whose end is invisible – always hidden just behind the next bend. And there is something in the nature of humans, indeed most mammals, that sparks a curiosity to see what’s over there, or behind that rise or rock, that keeps us going for miles more than we anticipated, or would have endured on a straight monotonous route.

The ability of a torturous track to keep our minds engaged is terrain familiar to all hikers. For trail runners it becomes a virtual Zen experience. The need to make constant split-second decisions on where to place their feet to avoid a nosedive lends itself to a state of ‘flow’, pushing habitual interior noise out of the head and being in the moment for an extended period of time. Little wonder it’s addictive. And in all likelihood, better for the brain than just plain exercise.

While we all know that the act of employing unfamiliar muscles to adjust our step among twisty paths uses more of the body’s capacity than a repetitive motion, we may be less aware that the act of balancing strengthens and tones ligaments that would normally not be exerted. As one hiker discovered upon outdistancing a band of track athletes he took on a hike, who bowed out because their ankles strained too much on the uneven terrain.

So let’s continue to build and steward those uneven places, those footpaths of mystery and balance, and contribute toward a healthier, more varied world.


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Winter Hiking Gear – Remote Controlled Heated Insoles for Your Boots

ThermaCell ProFlex Heated Insoles 

Review by Jeff Senterman, Regional Programs Manager and Catskills Program Coordinator

This review was first published in the Winter 2015 print edition of Trail Walker.

Thermacell heated insolesHave you ever hiked in the winter and wished your feet could just be a bit warmer?  I know I have, and that was the reason I was excited to try out the ProFLEX heated insoles from ThermaCELL.

“Heated insoles?” I hear you asking. The thought conjures images of wires, batteries, and all sorts of uncomfortable things in your boots. However, ThermaCELL has done a decent job of tackling these issues.  The insoles are run by rechargeable batteries that fit into the insole itself, and the temperature of the insoles is regulated wirelessly by a small remote control that you carry. The remote is small, light, and easy to carry.  The lithium ion batteries are located below your heels and are padded, so when they are inserted into the insoles, you notice very little difference between the battery area and the rest of the insole.

There are three heat settings for the insoles—standby, medium, and high—and there is an internal thermostat that regulates the insoles to keep them from overheating your feet.  The goal of the insoles is to keep your feet at your regular body temperature; the colder it is, the harder they work. On the medium setting the batteries last for about 5 hours, but I have found that I rarely use them continuously, so they last longer.

What about comfort?  This is probably the only place I am a bit disappointed with these devices.  I do not find them to be as comfortable as a good pair of regular insoles in my hiking boots, but I have been on a couple of hikes with them now without any serious problems.  They just feel a bit more stiff (most likely due to the heating elements inside) than a regular insole and take some getting used to.  They definitely keep your foot a bit higher up in the boot, so you will have to adjust your lacing a bit.

Overall though, they do keep your feet warm as advertised. And for someone who is often chilly during winter activities, I will be looking forward to having these with me this winter.

Rating: 3 boots out of 5.

ThermaCELL ProFLEX Heated Insoles are available in sizes small to XXL and can be trimmed to properly fit your boot.  They are available through most outdoor retailers and sell for about $170.

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Winter Hiking Discussion on WIOX’s “All Things Local” with Trail Conference’s Catskills Staff

By Jeff Senterman, Senior Program Manager and Catskill Conservation Corps Director

On January 13th at 6pm join the Trail Conference’s Catskills staff on air during WIOX’s “All Things Local!”  We’ll be discussing best practices of winter hiking & backpacking, winter safety & prevention, crampon & ice axe techniques, food & nutrition planning, and much more! Please tune-in at 6pm (EST) on 1/13 by turning the local dial to WIOX 91.3FM or you can stream from anywhere on the globe at

Heather Rolland snowshoeing in Catskills

Trail Conference staff member Heather Rolland snowshoeing in Catskills

Heather Rolland wears many hats in the Catskill hiking community. Second vice president of the Catskill 3500 Club, board member of the Catskill Mountain Club, and a member of the steering committee of the Catskill Park Coalition, Heather is employed by yet another player in the Catskill outdoors community: the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Heather has been a volunteer fire tower steward and continues to volunteer to maintain two sections of trail in the high peaks of the Catskills. She has completed hiking the Catskills 35 (hiking 35 peaks over 3500 feet in elevation) and the Winter 35 – repeating the 35 again during the winter season. After her first two rounds of the 35, Heather went on to repeat the entire list hiking all 35 again alone. Heather also holds the dubious honor of being one of the only people ever to complete the Catskill 35 wearing a ballgown. She is currently working on completing the CMC’s Catskills All Trails challenge, in which she must hike approximately 350 miles of trails. She is within 25 miles or so of achieving this goal.

Heather is certified in wilderness first aid, and is an avid winter hiker. In addition, she always hikes with at least a few canine companions (as many as five dogs at times), and has developed a set of guidelines for safe hiking for dogs as well as humans.  Heather has done just about everything wrong at least once and has learned from her mistakes. She puts stewardship first in her approach to hiking, ever cognizant of the impact hiking has on the landscape, the wilderness, and the experience other hikers may have.

Jeff Senterman snowshoeing in the Catskills

Trail Conference Catskill Region Program Manager Jeff Senterman snowshoeing in the Catskills

Jeff Senterman joined the Trail Conference in 2011, taking on the then-new position of program coordinator for the Catskill region; in 2013 Jeff was named Senior Program Coordinator, managing the Program Coordinator staff throughout New York and New Jersey and is also currently the Director of the Catskill Conservation Corps. In addition to bringing environmental planning and office management experience to his post, Jeff had a lifetime of experience as a Catskill trail volunteer under the tutelage of his father, longtime Catskills Trails Chair Pete Senterman.

Jeff has worked and lived throughout New England after growing up in the Catskills where he worked as a New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation assistant forest ranger in Greene County in 1998 and 1999. Jeff is an avid hiker and outdoorsman who has spent a lot of time hiking in the Catskills, Adirondacks, and New England.

Radio Show Host: Nicole E. Day Gray of AgriForaging, Inc.

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Coming Out a Winner in the No-Casino Stakes

Pictured: Wetland in the Doris Duke Wildlife Sanctuary at Sterling Forest State Park

Sterling Forest will remain a refuge for hikers and wildlife. Pictured: Wetland in the Doris Duke Wildlife Sanctuary at Sterling Forest State Park.

By Sona Mason, West Hudson Program Coordinator

“It’s better than a Christmas present.”

That was a comment made by John Leigh—Trail Conference volunteer coordinator, Orange County resident, and Renaissance Faire enthusiast—upon  hearing the Gaming Commission’s announcement December 17 that no casino would be built at Sterling Forest or Woodbury.

His view was echoed by many: hikers concerned about the impact on trails and access in the parks; nearby residents worried about traffic and  cultural impacts; anyone living within the Ramapo watershed, the protection of which was a major reason for the preservation of what is now Sterling Forest State Park; and “Rennies,” the extended Renaissance Faire community, who worried that the “improvements” promised by the Genting Corporation would  replace the idiosyncratic Faire with a Disney-fied strip mall.

An enormous, collective sigh of relief was breathed by many groups, most of them, including the Trail Conference, advocating against the Tuxedo casino under the umbrella of the Sterling Forest Partnership.  Many of those taking the lead in defending the park were responsible for preserving it in the first place.

At Woodbury, where Caesars proposed a massive casino development adjacent to Harriman State Park, the Trail Conference and local residents put up spirited opposition.

The good news was especially welcome here at the Trail Conference, since the new  trail we are building just a stone’s throw away from the proposed site,  in the Doris Duke Wildlife Preserve part of Sterling Forest, would have been negatively impacted by the traffic, noise increase in the area, not to mention the blight on our viewshed.

The final leg of the Doris Duke Trail is planned to be built in 2015, and will incorporate views of New York City on the distant horizon from the ridge top. A massive casino resort in the foreground, with its accompanying bustle and blaring open-air concerts would simply not have added to the “getting away from it all” experience that hikers seek. Not to mention that increased traffic would have made access to the trails more difficult and dangerous with inebriated revellers driving around at all hours.

A heartfelt thanks to all the individuals who pressed on at researching documents, participating in endless meetings,  writing letters, standing up and speaking when they would rather be  resting up after a full day’s work. Their countless hours of dedicated effort in pushing back against the casino proposals was rewarded.

The forest will remain a forest. The watershed intact. The solitude of walking in the forest, peaceful.

A Christmas present indeed.

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Long Path Stream Crossing in Harriman Is Last Project in 2014 for Long Distance Trails Crew

Long Distance Trails Crew installs large stepping stones at heavily used stream crossing on Long Path in Harriman State Park

Text by Bob Fuller, pictures by Marty Costello, members of the Long Distance Trails Crew

This December worktrip was our last for 2014.  We went out on a very rainy Saturday to set up the high line and then on a beautiful, but cold, Sunday rearranged giant stepping stones at the Long Path crossing of the Lake Skannatati inlet stream.  Many of you will remember this as a very difficult crossing especially in high water and in the winter when the rocks ice up.   Some of us remember falling into the cold winter water here.  We wanted to make that a thing of the past.

Sunday morning the stream was running deep and fast and right in the middle of the stream was a giant rock (1500 lbs or more) we wanted to reposition as a stepping stone.  This made just getting a sling under the rock a very COLD and WET challenge.  Not only was there no place to stand, you couldn’t see the bottom of the rock or the bottom of the stream bed and everything (slings, feet, and even heavy rock bars) were pushed downstream by the current.   Finally we got a sling on the rock and the rock in the air only to find that we had to reposition the sling multiple times and flip the rock to make it fit just where it was needed.  This took all morning and we finished the first rock just in time for a late lunch.


Hikers use the new crossing

Hikers used the improved crossing even before the crew had left

After lunch we moved more rocks into place and by late afternoon hikers were already using the new crossing.  It’s hard to convey in words both the challenge and feeling of accomplishment that comes with a job well done.

We have a video of this outing at

Many more crew videos and pictures can be found at (pictures) and (videos).

We will have more outings beginning in early spring so please join us.  Contact Crew Chief Chris Reyling 914-953-4900,, for more information.

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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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