Thanks for Voting! REI Donates $66K to the Bear Mountain Trails Project

Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain

Thanks to everyone who voted for the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain in REI’s Every Trail Connects campaign. (Photo credit: John Leigh)

UPDATE: On August 21, REI announced the donation of an extra $10,000 to each project in the Every Trail Connects campaign. That brings our total to $76,145!

Thanks to the overwhelming support of our members, volunteers, partners, and friends, the Trail Conference’s restoration of the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain State Park has received a huge boost: Because you voted for our trail project on the A.T., REI will donate $66,145 to help complete our work.

This generous donation is part of the national retailer’s Every Trail Connects campaign, which aims to inspire stewardship of the outdoors. REI earmarked $500,000 to invest in 10 trails around the country, with votes tallied at deciding where the funds would go. Every vote for the Appalachian Trail gave the Trail Conference $5 for the Bear Mountain Trails Project. Voting kicked off at 3:01 a.m. EST on August 14 and lasted a mere 37 hours before all $500K had been allocated. The A.T. received 13,229 votes, and we thank each and every one of you for backing us.

The money donated will go toward building a safer, more enjoyable Appalachian Trail through Bear Mountain State Park—the most heavily used section of the A.T. Three million annual visitors to Bear Mountain create an unusual amount of wear on the park’s trail system, necessitating an upgrade to the hiking paths originally built in the 1920s. Since 2006, the Bear Mountain Trails Project has seen 1,745 volunteers working alongside professional trail builders and Conservation Corps members to make these trails more sustainable. Volunteers on this project have spent over 60,000 hours building 17,131 linear feet of trail, including 1,805 stairs and 11,631 square feet of crib wall to ensure the trail will endure for generations to come.

The crew working on the Bear Mountain Trails Project hit the 60 percent completion point on the Upper East Face portion of the Appalachian Trail relocation this summer. This fall, they’ll finish the Trails for People Exhibit at the foot of Bear Mountain. This interpretive exhibit, built directly along the Appalachian Trail, will explain the history of the park, trail-building techniques, and why constructing sustainable trails is so important. It will serve as an unofficial gateway to more than 50,000 acres of backcountry habitat.

With just 1,145 feet of trail remaining until we reach the Perkins Memorial Tower at the top, the Bear Mountain Trails Project is expected to be completed in 2017. To get the job done in that timeframe, we’re looking for enthusiastic volunteers who are interested in helping us rebuild this historic trail and donations to fund our $250,000 budget. Find out how you can get involved at, or contact Trail Builder Ama Koenigshof at 616-3337-2481 or

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Giving, Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails, New trail, Trail Crew, Trails, Volunteeriing, West Hudson Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vote for the Appalachian Trail in REI’s Every Trail Connects Campaign!

Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain

Vote for the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain State Park at (Photo: Jeremy Apgar)

Vote for the Appalachian Trail in REI’s Every Trail Connects campaign!

Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has been connecting people with nature. REI supports our mission, and is donating up to $75,000 to our trail-building project on the Appalachian Trail in Bear Mountain State Park–but we need your help!

Vote for the Appalachian Trail at Ten trails are vying for a total of $500,000, so your early votes are important. Each device (computer, tablet, smartphone, etc.) is allowed one vote per day. Every vote gets us $5 closer to building a safer, more sustainable, and more enjoyable trail.

With just a few clicks, you can help us complete this project and preserve the Appalachian Trail. Vote now, and help spread the word!

About the Bear Mountain Trails Project
The Appalachian National Scenic Trail (A.T.) is one of the most storied and revered hiking paths in North America, if not the world. Spanning 2,189.2 miles from Georgia to Maine, the first section of this “super trail” across the Appalachian Mountains was constructed in 1923 through Bear Mountain State Park by volunteers of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

The trails in Bear Mountain State Park welcome an exceptionally large number of users and receive an uncommon amount of wear due to their location near New York City. In 2006, the Bear Mountain Trails Project was established to build a sustainable trail system throughout the park, focusing on the original—and still the most heavily used—portion of the Appalachian Trail. Over the past nine years, more than 1,745 Trail Conference volunteers have logged nearly 65,000 hours of service on the project, completing 65 percent of the trail restoration.

The Bear Mountain Trails Project has been made possible through the active support of the National Park Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, Palisades Interstate Park Commission, Palisades Parks Conservancy, and the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails, Hikes, Trail Crew, Trails, Volunteeriing, West Hudson Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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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 , , | 8 Comments