From NYC to Breakneck Ridge, No Car Needed

Breakneck Ridge Station Trailhead

When you exit the train at Breakneck Ridge Station, you’re steps away from the trailhead.

Breakneck Ridge is one of the most popular hikes in the Hudson Valley. The appeal isn’t only in the challenge—it’s widely regarded as the most strenuous trek in the East Hudson Highlands—or the spectacular views. Breakneck is also a favorite hiking destination thanks to its easy access to New York City, no car needed.

Thrive has created a great video highlighting just how simple it is to reach Breakneck from Midtown. On weekends and holidays, three trains depart for the Breakneck Ridge station from Grand Central on the Metro-North Hudson Line (two in the morning and one in the early afternoon). The video points out two popular routes—the Breakneck Ridge Loop and another loop that ends in the town of Cold Spring, where you can grab a bite to eat before heading back to the city.

Keep an eye out for a cameo by the Trail Conference’s own Breakneck Ridge Steward, Brian Tragno, who worked from Memorial Day through Columbus Day helping hikers with information about the area and providing maps and water. Make sure to say hi when our stewards return to Breakneck next spring.

Posted in East Hudson Trails, Hikes, Trails, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sawing At Brooks Lake: Meet the Trail Volunteers Who Clear Blowdown

Massive oak blocks trail and provides a sawing challenge

By Bob Fuller, West Hudson Sawyer

harriman blowdown trail conference sawyers

Sawyers Erik and Steve inspect the massive blowdown. (Photo credit Kim Waldhauer)

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference certified sawyers and swampers (assistants to the sawyers who help carry equipment; help analyze blowdown for the safest way to cut; provide crowd control; and watch out for danger, such as movement of the tree being cut) are frequently out sawing to keep the trails clear. Depending on storm activity, hundreds, if not thousands of blowdowns are cleared every year from the trails by our dedicated volunteers.

Steve Zubarik, one of our many sawyers, also maintains the blowdown list for Harriman/Bear Mountain State Parks and coordinates the efforts of the sawyers in this area. Recently he received a report of a massive oak blowdown at Brooks Lake; after inspecting the site, he noted that this was a major cutting job that would require rigging and a larger-than-usual sawing crew to safely remove the tree from the trail.
On Oct. 14, Steve, Erik Garnjost, Chris Reyling, Kim Waldhauer, and I got to work clearing the trail.

This was an extremely large and heavy oak that had broken off at the base and was resting on a steep slope perpendicular to the trail. This was a major sawing job that would require great care to be safely cut and removed from the path.

After careful inspection and planning, the first step was to put a sling (yellow in the picture below) through the crotch of the tree and attach a belay line to an anchor tree to make sure the fallen oak would not slide down as it was being cut. This was done by myself and sawyer/master rigger Chris. We removed any loose rocks that had been dislodged by the tree in order to provide safe footing in the area. Erik then began sawing.

harriman blowdown trail conference sawyer

Erik begins sawing while Bob watches for movement of the tree. Note the belay line and sling through the crotch of the tree, preventing the trunk from sliding down. (Photo credit Kim Waldhauer)

The section of tree blocking the trail was over 24 inches round. It had to be carefully cut from both sides, with wedges pounded in as needed to keep the kerf—the slot made by the saw—open. This was done by using an angled cut, and the plan was for the upper portion of the trunk to slide by the lower trunk without pinning the saw in the cut. Erik finished the first cut, separating the main trunk into two pieces, and the top section of the tree slid by the lower section—just as we had planned. (Of course, that’s not always what happens in the world of sawing blowdowns.) This pulled the belay line taut.

Erik and I finished cutting sections from the main trunk, then Erik cut the smaller trunk. As each piece was removed the main trunk would rotate, but was prevented from sliding by the belay line. Then it was time to safely lower the main trunk and get it completely off the trail.

harriman blowdown trail conference sawyers

Chris tugging with the rope puller, Bob belaying, and Erik and Steve rotating the trunk with rock bars and pick-mattocks to get the trunk off the trail. (Photo credit: Kim Waldhauer)

We attached another sling (green in the picture) to the upper part of the trunk and set the rope puller to two trees off to the side. Slowly, as Chris tugged with the rope puller, I belayed, and Erik and Steve rotated the trunk with rock bars and pick-mattocks, we moved the trunk down and to the side—but it was still perpendicular to the trail, with the trunk now completely blocking an adjacent portion of the path.

We removed the belay. At Steve’s suggestion, Erik used a rock bar to pop the trunk off a rock that was holding it from moving down farther. That caused the trunk to quickly slide down the slope, out of the way.

harriman blowdown trail conference sawyers

Steve helps pick up the rigging ropes now that the tree is safely cut and off the trail. (Photo credit: Kim Waldhauer)

With the tree safely cut and cleared from the trail, it was time to clean up and go to the next blowdown—another slider tree on the Popolopen Gorge Trail, which was easily taken care of thanks to the expertise of this crew.

If you’re interested in becoming a sawyer or swamper, check out our intro courses offered through Trail U.

Posted in Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails, Trails, Uncategorized, Volunteeriing, West Hudson Trails | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

My Trail to Becoming a Volunteer Supervisor

By Patrick J. Dalton, Trail Conference Supervisor of Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve in Staten Island

Patrick J. Dalton Trail Conference Supervisor

Patrick J. Dalton didn’t hesitate when asked if he was interested in becoming a Trail Conference supervisor. (Photo contributed by Patrick J. Dalton)

In May 2014, I renewed my Trail Conference membership and rekindled my dormant passion for hiking and outdoors solitude. It had been three months since my second lower-back surgery, and my reasoning at the time was to get involved with the organization to keep myself active. But I didn’t imagine just how far that first step would actually lead.

I’d registered for a few Trail University workshops, starting from the very beginning with Trail Maintenance 101, and would soon be assigned a maintenance sector on the Long Path in Harriman State Park. But it was another Trail U course that proved to be more critical for me. On June 25, I attended the Intro to Map & Compass/Land Navigation workshop at Tent & Trails in Manhattan, where I first met Hank Osborn, class instructor and the Trail Conference’s East Hudson Program Coordinator. At the conclusion of the workshop, during a Conference-related conversation, Hank asked where I lived. When I replied, “Staten Island,” he asked, “Would you be interested in becoming a supervisor?” Without hesitation, I said, “Yes!”

Supervisor? How does that happen? Guidance, of course. Hank introduced me to Metro Chair Dawson Smith, who jointly advised me to build a Conference resume that included a number of specific Trail U workshops—and off I went. From learning about stone cribwall and stair construction at Bear Mountain to tread and drainage at Sterling Forest to leadership in Haines Falls, I attended over 10 TC workshops between June and mid-September. I even conducted two TM-101 workshops myself in Staten Island.

Five months later, as supervisor at the newly adopted Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve in Staten Island, I’ll never view a trail the same way ever again. It’s not just about loppers and folding saws—it’s forging and maintaining relationships with volunteers, parks staff, and other volunteer organizations; its flexibility that doesn’t exist on a calendar; it’s applying skills I didn’t possess just seasons ago.

When I departed the compass workshop that evening in late June, I was shown a path on the map that wasn’t there hours earlier—and how to traverse it as well.

If you’re interested in becoming a trail supervisor or would like information on any of our other on-trail volunteer opportunities, check out our openings.

Posted in East Hudson Trails, Profile, Trail U, Trails, Uncategorized, Volunteeriing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

West Mountain Appalachian Trail Relocation Officially Open

Long Distance Trails Crew celebrates with ribbon cutting and BBQ.

By Bob Fuller, member of the Long Distance Trails Crew

AT Relocation on West Mountain Ribbon Cutting

The Long Distance Trails Crew celebrated the opening of the AT relocation on West Mountain with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. (Photo credit: Andrea Minoff)

Last Saturday, Oct. 18, was a big day for the Long Distance Trails Crew (LDTC). The morning began at the Trail Conference Annual Meeting held in Ossining, NY, where the entire crew received the Paul Leiken Extra Mile Award for its members’ efforts during the last two work seasons on the Long Path relocation in the Catskills. Crew member Marci Layton also received the Distinguished Service Award for her many contributions as a swamper, trail crew member, and map and guidebook field checker.

Following the awards portion of the meeting, the crew headed out to Harriman State Park to put the final touches on the new Appalachian Trail (AT) relocation. This included closing off the old section of the trail, scraping out and painting over the old blazes, and painting the final new blazes at each end of the relocation. The crew also raked the new trail to make it clearly stand out in the leaf covered terrain for the subsequent trail work hike and ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Raking the new AT on West Mountain

Raking the new trail. (Photo credit: Andrea Minoff)

In the afternoon, the crew led a hike to the north (uphill) end of the relocation, first passing by and highlighting previous work by the West Hudson South and Long Distance Trails Crews. The group traveled up the old, eroded trail so everyone could see why the path was being replaced, and arrived at the ribbon-cutting site.

LDTC member Bob Fuller introduced the crew and our distinguished guests: Ed Goodell, Trail Conference Executive Director; Chris Connolly, Trail Conference Board Chair; Ed McGowan, Palisades Interstate Park Commission (PIPC) Park Naturalist; Soňa Mason, West Hudson Program Coordinator; and John Mack, Harriman/Bear Mountain Trails Chair. We talked briefly about the relocation work, which took 10 months to complete with over 35 individuals putting in around 1,800 hours of volunteer time. The new relocation is .4 miles long and is exactly .123 miles longer than the section of trail that it replaces. This is no doubt due to the extensive planning by Crew Chief Chris Reyling, who holds the Long Path End to End certificate number 123, which is a very special number to him.

AT Relocation West Mountain LDTC

Putting the final touches on the new trail. (Photo credit: Andrea Minoff)

With the entire LDTC crew behind them, Chris Reyling and Crew Leader Erik Garnjost cut the ribbon using a giant pair of scissors created just for this occasion. The hike down the relocation began with crew members pointing out many of the sustainable features of the new trail, as well as major rock work including steps, massive crib walls, and giant stepping stones.

Following the conclusion of the ribbon-cutting ceremony and trail-opening hike, the crew set up for a celebratory BBQ featuring ribs, hamburgers, hot dogs, salads, snacks, and more-than-you-can-eat desserts. What a perfect way to end a busy and rewarding day for the crew.

crib wall at west mountain ldtc

The LDTC shows off their work on the upper crib wall. (Photo credit: Bob Fuller, LDTC member)

The LDTC’s next work trips are Nov. 8-9, Nov. 22-23, and Dec. 6-7. The crew provides training and the opportunity to learn new skills while being rewarded with the results of your day’s work. All you need to provide is a completed Volunteer Services Agreement, lunch and water, gloves, hard hat and safety glasses if you have them (the crew will provide them if you don’t), a smile, and a desire to work hard and safely in the great outdoors.

The crew will have more outings later this fall and beyond, so please join us. Contact Crew Chief Chris Reyling 914-953-4900 or, for more information.

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails, Hikes, New trail, Trails, Uncategorized, Volunteeriing, West Hudson Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Protect Your Trails: Report ATV Activity

By Georgette Weir, Trail Walker editor

Illegal ATV Activity on Trails

Report illegal ATV activity to Park Police and to the Trail Conference to help with our advocacy efforts.

“We made a trail for you,” hollered the ATV rider from his mount. He and two companions had bull-dozed their four-wheelers up a steep slope, through dense blueberries nearly to a viewpoint in the Fishkill Ridge Conservation Area (owned and managed by Scenic Hudson) in Dutchess County. They had, in fact, been following a Trail Conference- maintained footpath up from an area riddled with old woods roads and off-road vehicle paths (East Hudson Trails Map #102). In the conservation area, as in the neighboring Hudson Highlands State Park, the use of off-road vehicles is illegal. Hiking solo, I held my tongue, turned my back on the trio, and continued, a bit uneasily, on my way.

Susan Sterngold also wisely opted against confrontation during one of her encounters with ATVers in Harriman State Park. “I was having a lovely walk in the Ladentown area with my dogs, just enjoying the woods and daydreaming, when I heard a rumbling in the background that soon became a ROAR,” she recalls. “Luckily the drivers were polite and slowed down, enough for me to take their picture. I waved and they waved and they went on.”

Hikers and walkers encountering off-road vehicles illegally using trails on public parklands and private preserves is an old, familiar story throughout our region. It’s not just the roar that disturbs the peace—it’s the speed that threatens and may even endanger pedestrians, and the erosion, widened corridors, and destroyed vegetation that degrades the environment.

Laws and regulations—such as New York State Parks’ ban on the use of ATVs in state parks—are frequently broken and rarely enforced. In New Jersey, hard-won legislation that imposed registration, licensing, and strong penalties for illegal ORV use has been effectively ignored since it was adopted in 2010. A deadline that the state identify three sites for ATV parks within three years was missed, and the strong penalties in the law have been removed as a consequence. Just one ATV park has been built, in Cape May County in 2013; no additional sites have been identified. Cuts to operating budgets for parks in both states in recent years reduces the likelihood of successful enforcement measures.

To highlight the ongoing problems that illegal off-road vehicles bring to our parks and trails, the Trail Conference asks hikers to report their sightings as soon as possible. In New York State Parks, in our region, call the Park Police at 845-786-2781 immediately if you spot powered vehicles within a park. In New Jersey, call 1-880-WARN-DEP (1-880-927-6337).

Be prepared to report the time and location, including the park, name of trail/path being ridden on, and nearest cross paths or intersections. Is it a single unit or a group? What color is the vehicle and are there distinguishing features? If a license plate is visible, note the color, number, and state. Do not place yourself in danger or take it upon yourself to challenge, antagonize, or attempt to stop or control the riders.

What you can do is report illegal trail use via a form on our website; these reports are not for immediate action, but are collected for our reporting and advocacy work on behalf of trails and parks. We ask that you report sightings to us even if you have already made a report to police.

Posted in East Hudson Trails, Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails, New Jersey Trails, Trails, Uncategorized, West Hudson Trails | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Looking for the Best (Free!) Full-Body Exercise? Try the Trail Building Workout

By Tina McGill, AmeriCorps member of the Palisades Trail Crew, and Soňa Mason, West Hudson Program Coordinator

Working on the Trail

Give the trail building workout a try by volunteering with one of our trail crews. (Photo credit: Josh Erdsneker)

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is proud to present its very own GREEN GYM!

Tired of smelly, expensive indoor venues and boring workouts? Visit our spacious outdoor woodland facilities, which offer cardio warmups with unparalleled views and a wide range of trail building workouts to tone all of your muscle groups.

Activities begin with a scenic hike into trail work sites to get the blood pumping. All muscle groups will then be thoroughly tested using the following tools:

Upper Body
• Arms: clippers and hand saws; carrying tools to work site, working the winch
• Biceps and triceps: small sledge hammers, stone shapers, drill
• Shoulders, core, and overall balance: carrying buckets of crush
• Core, back, and shoulders: rogue hoe, pick-mattock, rake; upgrade to 10 lb. sledge hammers for a real challenge and stress-release workout

Lower Body
• Legs: Squats when picking up medium rocks and crush buckets
• Quads and back: rogue hoe, pick-mattock; dead lifting and carrying small to medium rocks

Full Body
• Side-hilling with a rogue hoe or pick-mattock (voted the best overall conditioning calorie-burn)
• Exercise your spatial intelligence by visualizing how to orient irregularly shaped rocks around obstacles and set them in the most stable positions.

Bonus effects of trail building workouts include comradery, a sense of accomplishment, and improved hiking paths for everyone to enjoy.

Best of all: It’s free!

To find an upcoming trail crew outing near you, check out our calendar. All volunteers should BYO lunch, water, and work gloves. We supply the tools, dirt, rocks, and fun.

Posted in Hikes, Trail U, Trails, Uncategorized, Volunteeriing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

State Steward at Kaaterskill Falls Is Step Toward Safer Hiking

Kaaterskill Falls Steward Regina Willis

You can find trail steward Regina Willis at Kaaterskill Falls through Oct. 13. (Photo credit: Georgette Weir)

For the past month, and extending through the upcoming Columbus Day holiday, Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC) Backcountry Steward Regina Willis has been monitoring hiker activity along the Kaaterskill Falls Trail in the Catskills Thursdays through Mondays, sharing information about the history of this iconic landmark and its natural environment, and giving novice trail users tips for hiking safely at the falls and elsewhere. (Tip No. 1: Hiking in flip-flops can be hazardous to your wellbeing.)

Regina is a master’s student at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science & Forestry (Syracuse). A resident of nearby Coxsackie, Regina says she grew up going to Kaaterskill Falls and hiking in the Catskills. The temporary job as a steward at Kaaterskill Falls has been a great excuse for her to break away from her computer-focused scholarly task of completing her thesis (statistical analysis of stream data), and get outdoors. “I have the best ‘office’ view of anyone in the DEC,” she says with a big smile. Visitors have been very receptive to her help, she reports, as have local people who are happy to see the official presence on site.

The DEC assigned a steward to Kaaterskill Falls in September, after two fatalities at the site this summer. The department, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, local officials, and other partner groups are working together to develop a comprehensive, long-term approach to improving safe public access and hiking at Kaaterskill Falls, as well as to protect this much-loved natural resource, which is a significant tourist destination and therefore of economic importance to nearby Catskill communities.

Jeff Senterman, senior program coordinator for the Trail Conference, says, “This autumn has been spectacular in the Catskills and there has been a lot of tourist traffic at the falls area. Having a steward in place during this busy time has been great. The Trail Conference commends the DEC for adding this position and, with the Catskill Conservation Corps program, we look forward to working with the department to support the backcountry steward program next year.”

For Regina, whose last day on the job will be Monday, Oct. 13, it will soon be back to her desk work.

Posted in Catskill Region Trail News, Hikes, Profile, Trails, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment