Bringing Our Mission to Albany on Catskill Park Awareness Day

By Jeff Senterman, Director of Catskill Conservation Corps & Senior Program Coordinator

CatskillAwarenessDay

Dozens members from the Trail Conference and other like-minded organizations visited lawmakers in February.

On February 10, dozens of representatives from the Trail Conference and a number of other organizations attended the third annual Catskill Park Awareness Day in Albany. During this day of advocacy, we educate lawmakers about the importance of the Catskill Park and the Catskill Forest Preserve to the region’s local communities, to visitors, and to New York State. As members of the Catskill Park Coalition—an alliance of like-minded groups committed to broadening public appreciation for the park and seeking resources to enhance and maintain it—the Trail Conference and fellow attendees chatted with legislators about the work we do and why it should be supported.

During our visit, the Catskill Park Coalition requested the following from Albany in 2015:
• Environmental Protection Fund: Support the creation of a dedicated line of $4 million in the Environmental Protection Fund for the Catskill Park.
• New York State Forest Rangers: Fully fund an Assistant Forest Ranger Program in NYS DEC Regions 3 & 4 and establish a 2015 Academy for Forest Rangers.
• Land Protection: Act on a number of priority parcels for acquisition in the Catskills.
• Recreation Plan for the Park: Help to secure funding to conduct a planning process for a Catskill Park Recreation Plan.
• Catskill Association for Tourism Services: Support additional funding in the amount of $100,000 for CATS to implement its marketing program in 2015.

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To Ski or Not to Ski

By Sona Mason, West Hudson Program Coordinator

SkiTracksNYNJTC

The window for cross-country skiing in our region is very small. Make the most of it! (Photo credit: Sona Mason)

Although Nordic skiing often tops those charts that rate calorie-burning activities, I find that a little hard to believe–does anyone ever feel as out of breath on skis as when running? Maybe it has to do with speed. Like other exercise, how fast you go ratchets up your energy expenditure, and my pace while skiing is probably more in the leisurely range… which reflects need for a review of the aforesaid charts.

You certainly don’t need to be an Olympic-level athlete to enjoy cross-country. There are two types of Nordic skiing: classic and skate skiing. Skate skiing, which resembles ice skating with giant “skates,” is likely the one that accounts for the higher calorie burn, as it is incredibly aerobic and faster than the traditional classic technique. But skate skiing requires more skill and balance, so most people start off with classic, which resembles striding with extra glide. Each type uses different skis; skating requires a wide, groomed track, while classic can go almost anywhere–including the backcountry.

Unsuspecting hikers in our parks this winter may have encountered a pair of flat tracks in the snow. That would be the long, skinny footprint of a backcountry skier. Creating that track usually requires some effort on the part of the first skier out in virgin terrain. Thus when a subsequent skier discovers post-holes that a walker has made through the tracks, the temptation to catch up with and poke them in the behind with a ski pole is almost irresistible, since they will have rendered the track unstable. Human feet leave large holes and kick-ups in the snow, which send skis into a wobble. After a night freeze cycle, the track can become unusable. So a special plea to hikers: Please walk next to and not on the ski tracks. Skiers have such a small window within which to make the most of the glorious white stuff, while hiking can be had all year.

For the curious snow-hiker who has never given it a try, the special charm of cross-country skiing lies in the smooth, dancing, graceful motion, with a free glide over the snow that snowshoes cannot give. So make the most of the gorgeous snow out now and experience a float through the white landscape. It’s not going to around all that long.

Ready to strap on some skis and explore our region? We’ve got tips on where to find the best parks and trails for cross-country skiing in New York and Jersey, including where to rent equipment.

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A Snowshoeing Revival in Phoenicia

By Jeff Senterman, Regional Programs Manager and Catskills Program Coordinator

WinterSnowshoeTrail

With the right preparation, winter is the perfect time to explore new trails. (Photo credit: Amber Ray)

Everyone knows that in winter, skiing and snowboarding reign supreme in the Catskills. But what about those people who like a slower pace and want to enjoy the outdoors in the colder months? Jess and Tim Luby of Catskill Mountain Storehouse, a new outdoors store in Phoenicia, have an answer. Jess explains: “The woods are incredibly beautiful in winter and we want people to get out there and see just how amazing they are. And the best way to do that is on a pair of snowshoes.”

To this end, Storehouse will be offering snowshoe rentals. “All around Phoenicia, there are so many opportunities for snowshoeing, and we want to spearhead a revival of the sport in the area,” says Tim. “From the new section of Long Path in Phoenicia, to the Kenneth Wilson Campground, there are tons of suitable trails for all ability levels close to our shop. We’re very excited to help people discover this sport and how breathtaking these trails are in winter.”

But, as the Lubys are quick to point out, there’s more to Phoenicia in the winter than just snowshoe rentals. People think of the town as more of a warmer weather destination, but it’s also great here in wintertime, says Jess. “Brios is still churning out their wood-fired pizza, Mama’s Boy has amazing hot chocolate, and places like Tenderland Home have beautiful winter-themed homegoods that make Phoenicia worth the visit.”

The Lubys invite you to stop by to talk trails so you can start planning your winter adventure. “We won’t just send you off with your snowshoes,” says Tim. “We’ll talk to you about your ability level and what it is you want to get out of your trip before we recommend a good trail for you. It sounds cliché, but it’s safety first, especially in winter.”

The Trail Conference looks forward to continuing our work with Storehouse and the Lubys, helping the many visitors and hikers to the Catskills have a great time. In 2015 we will be working with Storehouse to hold a number of meet-and-greets and help recruit for the ongoing trail building at the Catskill Interpretive Center just down the road in Mount Tremper.

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The Weekly Forced March

Getting kids to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature.

By Hank Osborn, East Hudson Program Coordinator

KidsHikingNoTech

Enjoying the woods–no iDevices necessary. (Photo credit: Hank Osborn)

Almost every weekend, year-round, my wife and I enjoy a good hike with our adolescent children. We love our local trails, the exercise, and getting out into nature. The children do not share our views. They require encouragement to join us every time. They actually enjoy each hike, every weekend, but then they seem to forget by the following Saturday or Sunday that they had fun in the woods. There seems to be a powerful force affecting their memory and motivation.

We have to work to get the children out of the house. They resist us. “Do we have to go? Can I stay here? I went last weekend.” To which we respond, “Yes, you went last weekend and you loved it; and no, you cannot stay home; and yes, you have to come on the hike today.”

KidsHikingFishkillRidge

Without iPhones, Lila and Callie take a break during a hike they thoroughly enjoyed on Fishkill Ridge. (Photo credit: Hank Osborn)

I think our children are representative of many kids in this modern age of miniaturized and highly powerful in-your-face-technology. The children would rather sit around on the couch and zone out on their iDevices then walk through the woods—or do anything at all.

It takes cajoling. We have to repeat ourselves and be firm and not give in to their desperate offers to negotiate. “I’ll go on the hike if I don’t have to do the dishes tonight. I’ll walk the dog if you let me skip the hike. I can’t hike now, I just took a shower, can we do it later?” To which we respond: “Nope. No, and no—get in the car now.”

We drive to the local trailhead, unload ourselves, and announce, “leave your screens in the car.” There is often surprisingly little fuss at this request—except for the consistent rebuttal of, “but we need our phones to take pictures.” To which we respond: “Sorry. Let’s go.”

The next hurdle is the hiking-through-the-woods part—and guess what? The children love it! They laugh and run and smile and joke and play and absolutely enjoy themselves. See the accompanying photos as proof.

KidsCrossingAStream

Maya has a great time crossing a rushing stream–even with her iPod back in the car. (Photo credit: Hank Osborn)

Sometimes we hike a loop, other times we go out-and-back, and sometimes we drop a car and hike from point to point. At the end of the hike, when we all pile back into the car, the children are often subdued and a little tired. They gobble up their iDevices and stare at the screens. We sometimes hear, “Mom, Dad, that was awesome.” We don’t hear it every time—but sometimes.

My wife and I are not changing the world, but it feels as if we are fighting against it. The power these little machines have over our children is very, very strong. It wants to keep them inside on the couch and out of the woods. We feel we are doing the right thing by fighting against that corruptive power, getting our children to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature through our weekly forced march.

Want to get your kids unplugged and into the woods? Find a family-friendly hike in your area using our hikes database.

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New York-New Jersey Trail Conference: A Legacy of Advocacy

By Peter Dolan, New Jersey Program Coordinator

NJHL Ghost Lake

NYNJTC members and volunteers are instrumental in preserving green spaces.

When you think of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it our maps and books, which thousands rely on to enjoy their weekend hikes? Is it the solitary maintainer, clipping back his trail segment to allow safe access? Maybe our crew outings, trail construction projects, or Trail University workshops?

I would venture the guess that very few readers had “advocacy” spring to mind as one of the major functions of the Trail Conference, and yet nothing could be closer to the heart of what we do. A history of the Trail Conference, entitled “Vistas & Visions” and published 20 years ago, opens with the following quote:

“This trip last Sunday made us realize how blessed we are, who live in this big metropolitan area, to have so near at hand for our constant enjoyment so many beautiful mountains and trails. And I am afraid that as we go over the trails, we forget that it is the hard work of a few that makes possible the enjoyment by many.”

- Angelique Rivolier, Director of the Inkowa Outdoor Club, describing a hike on a new section of the Appalachian Trail near Sterling Forest, April 1930

Sterling Forest Casino

Thanks in part to the efforts of NYNJTC members and volunteers, the Sterling Forest Casino bid was rejected.

Though the quote is nearly 85 years old, the same recognition rings true today—that it is the hard work of a few that makes possible the enjoyment by many. In the past year alone, the Trail Conference has leapt into the fray of battles against numerous threats—including the casinos in Sterling Forest and Woodbury, the LG building atop the Hudson Palisades, development along the Shawangunk Ridge, and dissipating open space funding for New Jersey.

Most recently, a bill has been proposed which would allow hunting on Sundays in New Jersey. The current ban on Sunday hunting allows outdoor recreationalists of all stripes—whether they be hikers, birders, bikers, trail runners, cross-country skiers, or anyone else—at least one day a week in which to enjoy the great outdoors without worrying about the sound of gunfire (as well as its potential dangers, however small the odds). Many of our members have already expressed their dismay with this bill, which caters to a small group of outdoor enthusiasts to the detriment of all others.

As with all of our previous advocacy efforts, we rely on a well-informed body of the public to show that they care about these issues. By educating our members and showing them how they can be involved, we hope to provide them with a voice to let their representatives know how they want their public lands treated. And in return, we rely on the eyes and ears of our members to let us know about the latest threats to the trails we all know and love. You can always stay up to date on the latest trail-related issues by checking out our advocacy pages.

So, next time you envision our organization in your mind’s eye, remember—sometimes it’s just as much a Trail Conference job to pick up your phone and call a legislator as it is to pick up your loppers and cut back branches in the trail!

It can be hard to find good environmental advocates. If you want to learn more about being involved in our advocacy program, or if you have skills and resources that you think would be valuable in any of our current efforts, please don’t hesitate to contact our Volunteer Coordinator John Leigh at jleigh@nynjtc.org. We’d love to hear from you.

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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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