Trail Maintainers Are Getting a Crash Course in Invasive Species

Teacher extraordinaire, Linda, in action

The Trail Conference’s Linda Rohleder, right, gave invasives training to the Westchester Trail Tramps crew earlier this year.

Trail maintainers are the Trail Conference’s front line in keeping hiking paths open and safe. They remove blowdowns, clear overgrowth, reblaze trails, and report hazardous conditions and suspicious activity. Some of these defenders of the trails may soon add another skill to their repertoire: invasive species warriors.

The maintainers are great students! Shown here identifying a leaf with the help of Linda.

Armed with their new knowledge, the Westchester Trail Tramps will now work on an invasives survey in Montrose Point State Forest.

On May 6, the Westchester Trail Tramps, led by Mary Dodds, became the first crew to receive invasives training from Linda Rohleder, the Trail Conference’s Director of Land Stewardship and Coordinator of the Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management. Keen on her crew gaining the skills to properly identify and remove invasive species along the trails they maintain throughout the Hudson Hills and Highlands region of Westchester and Putnam counties, Dodds enlisted Rohleder for an intro course at the beginning of trail work season. Held at Teatown Lake Reservation, a handful of crew members and high school interns working under their guidance learned about Japanese barberry, garlic mustard, and other species on the New York State Regulated and Prohibited Invasive Species list. After a presentation with plenty of photos and tips, Rohleder took the crew into the field to identify species firsthand. Armed with their new knowledge, Dodds and her team plan to complete an invasives survey of Montrose Point State Forest, which will help in determining the feasibility and prioritization of removal on trails there.

The maintainers’ invasives course that was piloted with the Westchester Trail Tramps is a condensed version of the workshop Rohleder uses to train Invasives Strike Force surveyors, but also includes information about removal strategies. This new course customized for trail maintainers is currently under development; groups of maintainers and trail crews interested in scheduling a workshop at their park should contact Linda Rohleder ( to work out details. At this time, the workshop is only offered to Trail Conference maintainers.

Posted in East Hudson Trails, Invasive species, Trail Crew, Trails, Volunteeriing | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Highlands Trail in Chester, NY: A Stroll Through Wilderness That Might Not Have Been

By Sona Mason, West Hudson Program Coordinator 

The Highlands Trail is finding new life in Chester, N.Y.

The Highlands Trail is finding new life in Chester, N.Y. (Photo credit: Sona Mason)

In Chester, N.Y., not far from the hamlet of Sugarloaf, the Highlands Trail (HT) has been given the chance to “get back to nature,” courtesy of a major conservation victory. On Christmas Eve, 2014, a 400-acre parcel that had been slated to become a 222-unit residential development was purchased by the Open Space Institute (OSI) to remain forever green. This acquisition, made possible by the Trail Conference and its partners, is an important step in creating an uninterrupted greenway connection between Goosepond Mountain State Park and Sterling Forest State Park. For the HT, that means a major portion of the trail is now rerouted off a busy roadway and onto beautiful woodlands.

Highlands Trail in Chester Map

You can view and download a map of the Highlands Trail through Goosepond South at

The Highlands Trail, blazed with teal diamonds, leaves its road walk from Sterling Forest along Lakes and Laroe roads, turns onto Bull Mill Road, and right into the forest, just past the bridge crossing over Trout Brook. A new kiosk and bench, compliments of OSI, welcome you to this part of the trail with a short history of the parcel’s acquisition and map of the trail and property. Since this property joins up with Goosepond Mountain State Park’s southern end, it’s been named Goosepond South by OSI, who hopes to hand it over to the New York State Parks system in a few years.

Access the trail via a gravel parking pullout located just after the crossing of Trout Brook on Bull Mill Road, about 1/4 mile from the intersection of Laroe Road in Chester. The easy first few hundred yards of the trail skirt the edge of an open wildflower field, along the edge of a line of stately sycamores and grand old sugar maples. The path turns at the bend of Trout Brook, which presents superb pebble-skimming opportunities. Steadily climbing uphill, the trail passes through a variety of ecosystems, including quiet red cedar groves, to a view sweeping west toward Sugarloaf Mountain. From there the trail heads downhill, crossing over Bull Mill Road, onto the northern part of the property. It travels across a rushing stream and hummocky wetland, ending uphill at a stone wall marking the boundary with Goosepond Mountain State Park.

Lovely scenery on the HT

Lovely scenery on the HT

Future plans will connect the HT with trails in this neighboring park. Until then, we have a new view and pleasant stroll over wilderness that might not have been, as Howie Cohen, neighbor and avid volunteer on the trail, remarked. “We shiver at the thought of what could have been if not for the like-minded people who know the power of the land’s natural beauty and helped preserve this land,” Cohen said. “My wife Vicki and I are so appreciative of the Trail Conference and OSI for investing their resources in our backyard.”

While the trail is open, there’s still work to be done on the reroute—and we could use your help! Volunteers are working on this project throughout the summer, including some Wednesday evenings; find planned work dates here. Anyone with an interest in contributing to the creation of a beautiful, sustainable new HT is welcome to help. No experience is necessary; we provide tools and training on-site before getting started. We’ll also be holding a special Trail University workshop on how to build a stream crossing on August 1. Please sign up for the free workshop so that we can bring enough tools. For more information about the HT reroute in Chester and volunteer opportunities on the trail, contact West Hudson Program Coordinator Sona Mason: or 201-512-9348 ext. 16.

Posted in Trail Crew, Trails, Volunteeriing, West Hudson Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reaching Out in Westchester: Sharing the Trail Conference Mission

Text and photos by Andrea Minoff, Trail Conference volunteer

Trail Conference Tabler Volunteers

Trail Conference volunteer Carolyn Hoffman spread the good word about getting outdoors at the Clearwater Revival Music Festival. (Photo credit: Andrea Minoff)

Over the past several years, I have participated in several outreach events in Westchester County for the Trail Conference. If you are a not a “boots on the ground” kind of person, ie. someone who likes to go out on the trails and get dirty, this is a fun and casual way to give of yourself for the benefit of the organization. That is pretty much why I got involved. My partner Chris Reyling, Crew Chief for the Long Distance Trails Crew, was encouraging me to be more active in volunteering for the Trail Conference. I said I like to talk and I ended up becoming an ambassador for the organization. (I also ended up becoming Assistant to the Crew Chief, but I digress.)

So what exactly does one do at an outreach table? The Trail Conference arranges to have a booth at outdoor events around the region. The canopy on the one we use in Westchester has a large banner in front that says, “Ask us where to hike!” That draws people in, and you take it from there. To start the conversation, I usually ask them where they live and their level of familiarity with hiking. We are primarily there to convey information–to educate the public about the Trail Conference and to encourage folks to get outdoors and enjoy nature. But the conversation often results in the sale of maps, books, and memberships… and sometimes I recruit a new volunteer!

To date this summer, I have participated in two very successful outreach efforts in Westchester: the Hastings-on-Hudson Street Fair on Main Street, held the evening of June 12, and the Clearwater Revival Music Festival at Croton Point Park, Croton-on-Hudson, on the weekend of June 20-21. Between the two events, almost 50 maps, books, and memberships were sold. But perhaps more importantly, I had conversations with hundreds of potential and current hikers about the Trail Conference and exploring the outdoors. (A bonus benefit of serving at the Clearwater Festival is that you get to hear some really good music!)

I enjoyed working with and meeting some new fellow volunteers. Thanks to those who staffed the booth at the two events–Carol Ann Benton, Jane and Walt Daniels, Carolyn Hoffman, Jane Levenson, David Margulis, Gloria Neil, and Raina Stoutenburg–and to East Hudson Program Coordinator Hank Osborn for the staff support in organizing the Clearwater effort.

The Trail Conference has booths at events all across the region to increase public awareness of what we do for the hiking public. So share your love of hiking and help at an event near you. The Trail Conference provides training and pairs you with an experienced outreach volunteer. If you have a suggestion for a possible outreach appearance or would like to volunteer, please email Volunteer Coordinator John Leigh:

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Long Distance Runners Meet Long Distance Trails Crew

By Bob Fuller, Crew Leader, Long Distance Trails Crew

Tom Panek AT Long Distance Trails Crew

Tom Panek (center), president and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind guide dog school, met the Long Distance Trails Crew on a run with his guides Benedicte Uguen (left), a school teacher in Chappaqua, N.Y., and Nick Speranza (right), a retired NYPD detective. (Photo credit: Bob Fuller)

This June, while working on our Appalachian Trail relocation project on the southwest shoulder of Bear Mountain, the Long Distance Trails Crew (LDTC) had the distinct pleasure of meeting Tom Panek, a blind long-distance trails runner, along with his guides Benedicte Uguen and Nick Speranza.

Tom is the president and CEO of Guiding Eyes for the Blind, a nonprofit organization based in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., that provides guide dogs to people with vision loss and service dogs for children with autism. When we met him, Tom was on a trial run of the Appalachian Trail, preparing to accompany his good friend and ultra-running superstar Scott Jurek through Bear Mountain. Just a few weeks later, Scott became the record-holder for fastest thru-hike of the A.T.

The LDTC took Tom and his guides for a tour of the nearly completed lower section of the relocation, explaining the purpose and design of the new trail, as well as the construction techniques (crib walls, steps) and tools (rock bars, hammers, high line) used to construct it. It was thrilling for them and the crew to see and feel the new trail in a whole new way.

If you’d like to join the Long Distance Trails Crew for an outing, they’re on the trails many weekends throughout the season, including this weekend, July 17-19. No experience is necessary; the crew provides on-the-job training and guarantees a fun and rewarding day for volunteers at any skill level. Contact Crew Chief Chris Reyling at 914-953-4900,, or Crew Leader Bob Fuller at 732-952-2162, for more information.

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails, Hikes, New trail, Trail Crew, Trails, Uncategorized, Volunteeriing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

When Is a Hike Really a “Hike”?

By Erin Roll, Trail Walker Contributor

Palisades GWB

A hike on the Carpenter’s Trail along the Palisades–with views of the George Washington Bridge and New York City–is still a hike. (Photo credit: Erin Roll)

“If you can get a cell signal, it ain’t hiking.”

That was a meme that someone had posted on the wall of a hiking-related Facebook group that I belong to.

It was definitely intended to be humorous. I certainly got a grin out of it–and come on, you don’t go hiking if you’re going to be talking on your cell all the time, right?

But the more I thought about that meme, the more I found myself wondering about its other, hidden meaning. I was sensing this attitude–which I have seen among certain other hikers and outdoors people–that you’re not really hiking unless you’re out in the deepest, remotest backcountry, miles from “civilization.”

Where this attitude comes from is subject to debate. Maybe it’s the influence of Thoreau, Emerson and the other Transcendentalists writing about a return to nature and the simple life in the 19th century. Perhaps it’s because of the (idealized) image of the free, independent individual that keeps showing up in the American mythos. Or maybe it’s a not-so-hidden desire to say, “Hey, look at me, I’m out here roughing it–top that, slackers!”

There is obviously nothing wrong with a long trek in the deeper woods; as with so many other hikers, my bucket list includes at least one overnight on the Appalachian Trail. But I think the assumption that a hike has to be both long and remote in order to be considered a hike is an erroneous one.

Here in New Jersey and New York, we are very fortunate to have–both because of geography and conservation efforts–a wide range of excellent parks and trails, including many within a few miles of (or actually in) New York City.

I remember leading my family on a hike one morning on the Long Path in the Palisades. It was summer, and the woods were at their greenest and leafiest. At one point my mother said something to the effect that it was hard to believe we were right across the river from the city.

So, then, what really makes a hike?

That’s a question, I think, that each of us can only answer for ourselves. We all have different reasons for going hiking: exercise, scenery and vistas, checking out the local flora and fauna, adventure, mental or spiritual health, or getting that perfect selfie to post on Instagram.

I think we can agree, though, that a hike depends as much on someone’s mindset as much it does on geography–perhaps even more so. A hike is more than just walking from one point to another; it should also be about using your senses–listening to bird songs or waterfalls, smelling pine trees and flowers–and actually being aware that you’re putting one foot in front of the other. To put a slightly Zen spin on it, it’s about being in the moment, whether you’re hiking two miles from the city or 200.

If you’re a hiker who’s satisfied by nothing short of a week atop a Colorado 14er, that’s fine. If you prefer a short walk in the woods near your house or in your nearest state or county park, that’s fine, too. What matters is that it is fulfilling to you.

But back to that meme about the cell signal. It still has a point: unless there’s an emergency, or your phone doubles as your GPS unit, keep the phone stashed away and enjoy the hike.

A Trail Conference member since 2009, Erin Roll is a reporter and editor with North Jersey Media Group, as well as a part-time graduate student at Montclair State University. She also maintains a hiking/outdoors blog on WordPress called Trail Heads and Wandering Minds.

Posted in Hikes, Trails, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Scott Jurek: The Newest (and Fastest) Appalachian Trail Finisher

By Jeremy Apgar: Trail Conference Cartographer, hiker, runner, and fan of inspirational people

During these summer months, amazing people complete their Appalachian Trail thru-hikes in either Maine or Georgia.  On Sunday afternoon, a thru-hiker named Scott Jurek climbed Katahdin in Maine to reach the end of his northbound Appalachian Trail journey, which is a great accomplishment in and of itself; however, he also completed the 2,189-mile trek in only 46 days, 8 hours, and 7 minutes to set a new record for fastest supported thru-hike of this iconic footpath.


Scott Jurek completes his Appalachian Trail journey on Katahdin. (Photo credit: Luis Escobar)

For some perspective, that is 47 miles per day, every day, for nearly 47 days.  Or like completing nearly 84 marathons consecutively, all the while passing through 14 different states and encountering more than 500,000 feet of elevation change. That’s akin to climbing and descending Mount Everest 18 times, on some of the nation’s most challenging, rockiest, root-crossed sections of trail.

Who is Scott Jurek?  In the world of ultrarunning, his accomplishments have made him a superstar.  He holds the U.S. record for longest distance run in 24 hours (165.7 miles… or 6.5 marathons in one day), has won the prestigious 100-mile Western States Endurance Run seven years in a row, and has won several other major events including the Badwater Ultramarathon (135 miles starting in Death Valley in mid-July, with 120 degree temperatures).  In combination with his running, he is also a major advocate for plant-based diets (vegan since 1999), and he co-wrote the bestseller Eat & Run in 2012.


Scott Jurek guides blind friend Tom Panek on Bear Mountain. (Photo credit: Jeremy Apgar)

So on May 27, Scott began his journey from Georgia and methodically worked his way northward.  Nearly a month after he started, Scott passed through the New Jersey and New York portions of the A.T., and I was lucky enough to join fellow Trail Conference staffers Josh Howard and Melissa McCutcheon on June 24 at Bear Mountain to welcome him to our sections of trail.  Being able to run with Scott where the A.T. was established back in 1923 was an incredible experience.  When we caught up with him near the summit, Scott was doing something we did not expect from someone attempting to beat a speed record: Wearing a bright yellow “guide” vest, Scott was leading his blind friend Tom Panek on the difficult climb up Bear Mountain.  We joined in with the group of runners following Scott until we reached Perkins Tower, where Scott and Tom were met with news cameras; it turns out these two recently completed the Boston Marathon together, and Scott decided to guide Tom as a way to help raise awareness for his friend’s guide dog non-profit (Tom’s non-profit is working on training guide dogs specifically for running; read more about Tom, a Westchester County native, here:  News12 Hudson Valley story, story, story).


Scott Jurek leads a group of followers, including the Trail Conference’s Melissa McCutcheon and Josh Howard (green shirts at back of the pack), down Bear Mountain. (Photo credit: Jeremy Apgar)

After the interview, we all passed Perkins Tower (which Scott and his wife touched for good luck) and descended the east face of Bear Mountain.  It was pretty cool being led by Scott down this section of trail, which includes more than 800 handhewn granite steps that were put into place with help from more than 700 Trail Conference volunteers.  At the Bear Mountain Inn, Scott took a short refueling break before continuing on through the Bear Mountain Trailside Zoo (he enjoyed watching the two big bears playing around) to get to the Bear Mountain Bridge.  Josh, Melissa, and I had been running with him for three miles and decided to stop at the bridge; Scott covered nearly 30 more miles that day. Later, we found ourselves in some of the News12 Hudson Valley footage from up at the summit; check out the short video here!

After leaving New York, Scott soon got to Vermont, where he faced thunderstorms and extremely muddy conditions.  In New Hampshire, a combination of a stomach bug and the awesome terrain of the White Mountains slowed him down and established a question mark about his ability to get the speed record.  Finally, Scott entered Maine, where he canoed a river crossing with help from locals, trudged through the 100-Mile Wilderness, and, after nearly three days of going without sleep, climbed nearly 4,000 feet to claim his victory and complete his personal journey. He called it, “The hardest thing I’ve done in my life!”… which is saying a lot, based on his extensive resume.

Over the course of those 47 days, Scott encountered challenges that many hikers can relate to: painful muscle and knee injuries, foul weather, knee-deep mud, and even a stomach bug for good measure.  However, his determination to continue moving forward, his experience with ultrarunning and ability to keep going when physically–and mentally–drained, and his support from an excellent crew and hundreds of ordinary people along the way are what ultimately allowed Scott to complete what he has referred to as his “masterpiece” on top of a list of extraordinary accomplishments of human endurance and perseverance.  And speaking of his support crew, led by his wife Jenny, I think Scott would agree that they played a crucial role in his accomplishment, and that surrounding yourself with other people who inspire you is a great way to help you reach your goals.

Beyond the amazing feat itself, Scott accomplished his goal to “inspire others to explore the outdoors and their own personal and life goals.”  Daily updates on social media and an online GPS tracker helped inspire fans and keep them informed of his progress. Everywhere Scott went, people shouted words of encouragement, ran alongside him, or even provided vegan snacks.  During our short time with Scott, we witnessed more than 25 people running along at one point or another, so who knows how many more hundreds of everyday people were able to directly feed off Scott’s inspirational journey.  And through it all, Scott and his crew made sure to not let the desire to set a record supersede his desire to spread an inspirational message; with his down-to-earth nature and smiling optimism, he posed for hundreds of photos, spoke with and cheered on fellow thru-hikers all along the way, and, on the day we joined him, even guided his blind friend up to the summit of Bear Mountain.  The previous overall fastest supported thru-hiker, Jennifer Pharr Davis, has been an inspirational ambassador for the A.T. since her trek in 2011, and I’m sure Scott will join her in this role.  Jennifer still holds the records for fastest supported thru-hike by a woman, and fastest southbound supported thru-hike; furthermore, as a result of Scott’s journey, she has gained many new fans who recognize just how amazing her own journey was.


While refueling near Hessian Lake, Scott Jurek was gracious enough to pose for a photo with me and others. (Photo credit: Melissa McCutcheon)

Lastly, as a result of the high-profile coverage of this feat of endurance, many have expressed their personal opinions about hiking the A.T. and running the A.T.  Some like to walk on the trails; others like to run on the trails.  As someone who enjoys experiencing our region’s trails both as a walker and a runner, my favorable opinion of Scott Jurek is admittedly a bit biased, but I feel that the phrase “hike your own hike” is important to keep in mind.  Especially along the Appalachian Trail, this phrase embodies the concept of being respectful of every person’s individual personal journey and not passing judgment, as long as it doesn’t restrict the enjoyment of others, harm wildlife or the trail, or promote illegal activities.  Scott completed his journey through a combination of running and walking, often for 20-24 hours each day; many may not realize that much of the running was done at a pace on par with a fast walk, especially on uphill sections of trail.  Walking, running, skipping… it is all using your feet to move forward along a foot trail to reach your goal, and each method allows one to enjoy and take in the beauty of being on a trail, however they choose.

So please join me in congratulating Scott Jurek on his incredible accomplishment!  It was an honor sharing in 0.14% of his incredible Appalachian Trail journey!


Scott Jurek and his crew celebrate on Katahdin. (Photo credit: Luis Escobar)

Read more about this amazing journey here:

I’ll end this post with a great quote from Scott that we overheard from his Bear Mountain summit interview:

Reporter Question:  What have been some of the struggles?

Scott Jurek:  Some of the biggest struggles I would say are, each day, trying to get myself to get out and do the same thing over again. I mean, when I finish at night…I mean, two nights ago, I finished at 1 a.m. in the morning, and the next morning I’m waking up at 5:30 and hitting the trail again. And that’s the biggest thing, is every day I’m like, “Oh man, I just finished 50 miles!”, you know, so jubilant, and then I remember right away that I’m going to have to wake up and do that again. So, as much as I love being out here, it’s a struggle, and life is a struggle, and it’s in times like that that you learn the most.

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Trails | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Whole Foods Market, AmazonSmile Make Donations to the Trail Conference

Jenn at Whole Foods' 5% day!

Membership and Development Manager Jennifer Easterbook at Whole Foods’ 5% Day.

Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market recently invited the Trail Conference to take part in one of its community giving days, known as a 5% Day. Trail Conference representatives deployed to the Paramus, Ridgewood, and Edgewater Whole Foods Market stores on April 8 to engage and educate shoppers about the Trail Conference mission of connecting people with nature. Five percent of the day’s net profits from each of these stores was then earmarked to support Trail Conference programs. It was a great honor to be chosen for a Whole Foods 5% Day this year and to be recognized in the communities where we work. We thank Whole Foods Market for this wonderful opportunity and for the generous contribution of $17,427.84 from our neighbors and friends who shop there.


When you shop, make sure you shop AmazonSmile. It’s the same shopping experience you know and love, only Amazon will donate 0.5% of the price of eligible purchases to the Trail Conference—at no cost to you! Bookmark this link and support us every time you shop. Thank you to our AmazonSmile supporters for raising $77.08 in the first quarter in 2015!

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