How to Build a Sturdy Dry Stone Trail Structure Using Stones That You Find Right on the Trail

The techniques used in building dry stone walls can be applied during the construction of a number of trail features, including water bars, steps, armoring, and crib walls.

By guest blogger Peter Welch, president of The Stone Trust. Illustrations by Brian Post, executive director of The Stone Trust.

Dry Stone Technique on Trail. Credit: Georgette Weir

Trail Conference Megalithic Crew member Kevin Stamey uses the principles of dry stone walling on the trail. (Photo credit: Georgette Weir)

In the rocky Northeast, building a solid trail structure using the materials right at hand is definitely a possibility—if you follow the rules.

First off, it’s unlikely that perfectly flat, squared off stones will be right where you need them. That’s OK though, because building with stone is about using the correct principles and what you have on hand. Building with stone is a problem-solving exercise; as we like to say on the job, “The stones aren’t going to move themselves.”

Before we get started, a quick safety reminder:
• Take care of yourself and others working with you—don’t throw stones, and keep a neat and tidy work area.
• Sturdy shoes, clothing, gloves, and eye protection are very important to the stone mason—they should be for you, too.
• Lift with your knees, not your back. Roll materials if necessary. Building is not a contest of strength, it is a contest of wit and smarts.
• Take your time to stretch and breathe when you are building. Standing up and looking around every now and again is helpful to keep from getting frustrated. Drink water!

Now, let’s get going!

1. Keep Stones Level

Walls for trail building should be built so that the stones and courses (layers of stones), are level. Stones should be level both into the core of the wall and along the face (visible side of the wall). Stones that are not level will tend to slide, causing internal stress in the wall and eventually leading to structure failure as the wall shifts over time. This rule is especially important when building on sloping ground. When setting down the first course of stones, you can dig into the ground to adjust the height of the stones. Also, this first course is where you will want to use the largest stones.

2. Set the Length of the Stone into the Wall

Setting the length of a stone into a wall means placing it so the end of the stone is the part visible in the final wall. In other words, the length of each stone is perpendicular to the direction of the wallThink about how firewood is stacked, with each piece perpendicular to the overall direction of the stack, so all you see are the ends of the pieces. A stone wall should be built the same way.

“Trace walling” or “face walling” refers to placing stones with sides visible. When stones are placed this way, the resulting wall is much weaker.

The following diagram shows a course in two walls viewed from above. The correctly built, “ends out” wall is on the left; the wall on the right is built incorrectly with the stones’ sides facing out.

Dry Stone Walling: Set the Length of Stone Into the Wall

3. Build with the Plane of the Wall

To build with the plane means to align the stones so that the faces of the wall are even. String lines  are especially useful in keeping an even plane to the wall.  Use taught strings to create a guide that you can line up the stones to. The outer most “bump” of each stone is what should be in-line. By building with this in mind, the wall will look smooth and even when finished. This applies when examining both the cross-section and top view in each course, as seen in the diagram below.

Dry Stone Wall Construction: Build with the Plane

4. Heart the Wall Tightly

The wall should be built as solid as possible. Gaps in the interior of the wall, between the face stones, should be tightly filled with small stones. The tighter the hearting , as these small stones are called, the stronger the wall.

Hearting takes place as the wall is being built. It is important to make sure each course is completely hearted before beginning the next course. Fewer, larger hearting stones are much stronger than many small stones. Anything that can be easily shoveled is too small to use for hearting—and absolutely no concrete or soil should be used! Hearting stones are much more effective if they are flat or angular. Rounded stones tend to act like ball bearings. Hearting stones should be placed individually, not randomly thrown into the wall.

Not properly hearting a wall allows stones to move independently of one another, resulting in a structurally weak wall that will not last.

5. Two Over One and One Over Two

Once you have set the first course of stones and completed the hearting, you are ready to build the next course.

“One over two” means that each stone crosses a joint below, so that it is sitting on two stones below it. What should not be done is stacking stones in a manner that creates vertical joints running from one course to the next. Walls with running joints are not only very weak, they look bad.

In the diagram below, the face of two walls is shown. The correctly built wall, with the “one over two” principle applied, is on the left; you can see the vertical joints running up the incorrectly built wall on the right.

Dry Stone Wall Construction: Two Over One

So there you go! These are the basic rules of walling, which will help you create strong, beautiful stone walls.

To learn even more about dry stone walling, we’d love for you to join us during the Trail Conference’s first-ever dry stone wall workshops, taking place April 15-17 and May 28-30 at Trail Conference Headquarters in Mahwah, N.J. Three instructors from The Stone Trust will be teaching dry stone walling techniques as we build a wall in front of the new headquarters building at the historic Darlington Schoolhouse. For more information and to sign up, visit

Happy trail building!

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Fully Funded NYS EPF Designates $300M for Hikers to Get Paid to Explore Trails

A.T. Thru HikersYesterday, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the final 2016-17 New York State budget includes a $300 million Environmental Protection Fund—the state’s largest EPF budget ever.

Not only is this a historic moment for open space protection in New York State, it’s an unprecedented time for trail users, who are poised to benefit immensely from this announcement. In a surprise move, the entirety of the EPF has been designated for hikers, runners, and bikers to explore the state’s trail systems.

Starting today, New York State residents who sign up on a first-come, first-served basis will be eligible to receive $1 per every mile traveled along a trail. This new focus of the EPF is expected to boost tourism and reduce obesity rates.

A grassroots campaign founded by a group of young Brooklynites burned out by startup culture has been credited for this last-minute budget change in favor of adventure-seekers. Using the hashtag #MoreHikingLessWork, the movement gained momentum with those in search of a more authentic, “unplugged” alternative to the typical 40-plus-hour work week.

“Participants are encouraged to tell their bosses, both literally and figuratively, that they’re ‘taking a hike’ and will not be returning to the corporate drudgery slowly killing their soul,” said #MoreHikingLessWork founder Hudson Hillary. “Once free from the shackles of responsibility, pick a trail—any trail! All the trails!—and enjoy your newfound freedom.”

The April 1 start date for enrollment in the EPF’s hike-for-pay program coincides with the beginning of spring and the start of many thru-hikers’ journeys on long-distance trails, such as the Appalachian Trail—the first section of which was opened in Bear Mountain State Park.

It also happens to be April Fools’ Day.

All $300 million of the New York State Environmental Protection Fund may not actually be going to trails, but this historic level of funding does mean the Trail Conference will be able to further our mission throughout the state.

New York State may not be paying anyone to hike, but we’d still love to see you on the trails… find a hike and how to get involved with the Trail Conference on our website.

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Join Photour Adventures for an Earth Day Celebration

Submit your best nature pictures in the Capture the Beauty of the Earth photo contest to be featured at the event! Plus: Enjoy refreshments, wine, a raffle, and more

By guest bloggers Susan Magnano and Michael Malandra, owners of Photour Adventures

Harriman water flow, by Michael Malandra

Harriman water flow, by Michael Malandra

Photour Adventures is celebrating Earth Day at the Elements Gallery in Suffern, N.Y., on Friday, April 22, and we want you to join us! We will showcasing entries in our Capture the Beauty of Earth photo contest, and raffling off prizes from local businesses to fundraise for the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. The event will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. at 14 Lafayette Ave. in Suffern. Light refreshments and wine, compliments of Torne Valley Vineyards, will be served.

Michael Malandra and Susan Magnano, owners of Photour Adventures, hosts workshops that "put the adventure back in photography."

Michael Malandra and Susan Magnano, owners of Photour Adventures, host workshops that “put the adventure back in photography.”

Before the event, we are inviting local photo enthusiasts to enter the contest. The challenge: Capture the Beauty of the Earth. Entries will be digitally featured at the Gallery during our Earth Day event, and everyone in attendance will be able to vote for their favorites.

There are three categories in the photo contest: Viewer’s Choice, Best in Show, and Best by a Young Photographer (younger than 18 years old). Prizes include a $250 full day Photour Adventure workshop, $175 young adult Photour Adventure workshop, and a 12×18 matted print of their work.

To enter, send a high resolution image (300dpi) with a title, contact name, phone number, and email address to All images must be submitted by Sunday, April 17.

We will be raffling off great prizes from the Trail Conference, Campmor, Mia’s Kitchen, Ole Ole, and many more.

Photour Adventures will continue celebrating Earth Day with a Harriman State Park Photography Workshop on Sunday, April 24, and a Ringwood State Park Photography Workshop on Friday, May 6. We invite amateur and professional photographers to join us on our adventures, where we will go to amazing locations and teach you how to work the light and your equipment to capture the beauty around you. For more information, visit

Posted in Giving, Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails, Hikes, New Jersey Trails, New York Trails, Profile, Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Registration Now Open for April & May Dry Stone Wall Workshop Weekends at Trail Conference HQ

Photo simulation of the dry stone wall to be built at Trail Conference Headquarters this spring. (Photo credit: Brian Post)

Photo simulation of the dry stone wall to be built at Trail Conference Headquarters this spring. (Photo credit: Brian Post)

Registration is now open for the two freestanding dry stone wall workshops scheduled to take place April 15-17 and May 28-30 at Trail Conference Headquarters in Mahwah, N.J. The purpose of these workshops is to construct a dry stone wall along the front of our new HQ at the historic Darlington Schoolhouse and expose the art and craft of dry stone walling to the larger Ramapo Valley community with its abundant stone walls. Homeowners, contractors, and dry stone wall enthusiasts of all skill levels are invited to participate.

Our dry stone wall workshops are a collaboration between the Trail Conference and The Stone Trust from Dummerston, Vt. The Stone Trust advocates for the preservation of existing dry stone walls and promotes using the correct structural standards for the construction and restoration of dry stone walls. The instruction for these workshops will be led by three of the top Dry Stone Walling Instructors in North America. They hold certification from the Dry Stone Walling Association of Great Britain (DSWA–GB), and will be using the creation of a dry stone wall in front of the Schoolhouse as an unparalleled teaching tool in the New York City metro area. These workshops qualify for landscape architect continuing education credits.

Construction of a freestanding, dry stone wall is an essential requirement in the Trail Conference’s restoration and renovation of the historic Darlington Schoolhouse. The wall will run over 160 feet along Ramapo Valley Road and be 3.5-feet tall. It will be built to mimic historic stone fences from the time period in which the building was originally constructed, using a variety of local fieldstone and quarried stone. Neighboring Ramapo College of New Jersey has donated fieldstone, while quarried stone has been donated by Legacy Stoneworks, Inc. / The Hillburn Granite Company, Inc. Over 100 tons of stone will be used to complete the wall.

Visit for more information. Registration is open at

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Trail Blazing at Mills-Norrie State Park Continues this Spring

By Georgette Weir, Volunteer Trail Supervisor

Volunteers of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference are reblazing trails through Mills-Norrie State Park. (Photo credit: Georgette Weir)

Reblazing of the trails through Mills-Norrie State Park is expected to be completed this spring. (Photo credit: Georgette Weir)

Volunteers from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference have been out reblazing trails at Mills-Norrie State Park in a project that began this past winter and, as of mid-March, was expected to be completed this spring.

Several trails have new blaze colors that that now align with the park’s already published trail map. The trail routes and colors were determined in the 2013 park master plan. Park managers turned to the Trail Conference for help in updating the markings of trail routes and ensuring the approved trails are open and safe for hikers.

The Trail Conference expects to continue to assist the park in maintaining trails in the park, and welcomes new hands to join hike-and-work outings. Volunteer Trail Supervisor Georgette Weir will be happy to let you know what is involved in this outdoor community service program. Contact her at

Posted in East Hudson Trails, Hikes, New York Trails, Trail U, Trails, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Long Distance Trails Crew Chief Chris Reyling Named ATC Mid-Atlantic Volunteer of the Year

By Members of the Long Distance Trails Crew

Long Distance Trails Crew Chief Chris Reyling has been honored by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as Mid-Atlantic Volunteer of the Year.

Long Distance Trails Crew Chief Chris Reyling has been honored by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as Mid-Atlantic Volunteer of the Year. (Photo credit: Andrea Minoff)

Congratulations to Long Distance Trails Crew Chief Chris Reyling, who was named Appalachian Trail Conservancy Mid-Atlantic Volunteer of the Year!

Long Distance Trails Crew (LDTC) members submitted the nomination of their crew chief to the ATC in January. Chris, along with Potomac Appalachian Trail Club volunteer John Hendrick, was officially recognized by the ATC Mid-Atlantic region as Volunteer of the Year on March 12. The following morning, Crew Leader Bob Fuller made the happy announcement to core LDTC members and friends of the crew during a Wilderness First Aid training session at Trail Conference Headquarters.

Over the past 13 years, Chris has given more than 2,300 hours to work on the Appalachian Trail. His initial involvement began in 2002, as maintainer of the “first” A.T. section from Route 17 to the Lemon Squeezer. In 2011, Chris organized, recruited, and trained the first Long Distance Trails Crew, an all-volunteer, technical trail crew. As LDTC Crew Chief, Chris supervises the crew and actively participates, from inception to completion, in every work project on the A.T. in Orange and Rockland Counties.

From March to December, on biweekly work trips, the crew relocates and rehabilitates trails, including constructing rock steps, crib walls, bridges and other elements, as required, with a focus on designing and building a sustainable and aesthetically pleasing trail.  In addition to the A.T., the crew also works on the Long Path and the Highlands Trail.  In the words of a crew member, “Chris is a patient and supportive educator, providing on-the-job training from basic safety to technical work and all that is in-between.  I have learned that planning and building a trail is much more than just creating a path for hikers.”

Throughout the year, Chris scouts to evaluate projects or to find a new route for a relocation, helps secure approvals, and designs the new trail sections. He is famous for his trail blazes. He uses a template and level to make them perfectly rectangular and plumb, for which he gets much good-natured ribbing from the crew.

Under Chris’ leadership, the crew has completed four major and three minor A.T. relocations. Most recently, the LDTC completed a highly technical 0.2 mile relocation on the southwest side of Bear Mountain. They built almost 100 stone steps, including a four-step pinned stone ladder.  The project was done during 43 trips by 73 volunteers including individuals and corporate and college groups, working a total of 3,400 man hours over a seven-month period.

“Chris Reyling is a knowledgeable, dedicated, skilled, and inspirational leader of the Long Distance Trail Crew who has brought great passion and commitment to his work over many years of service,” said Bob Kuhn, deputy general manager of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, which is responsible for the A.T. in Bear Mountain-Harriman State Parks, in his letter accompanying Chris’ nomination. “The list of accomplishments completed by this crew in Bear Mountain-Harriman alone is both impressive and laudable. Given the heavy usage of the A.T. in these parks, the public benefit that results from this work is truly incalculable.”

Chris enthusiastically spreads the word about the crew on an ongoing basis to encourage participation and to publicize the work. He was recently quoted concerning the latest Bear Mountain work on the front-page of The Journal News. On two occasions, ribbon-cutting ceremonies have been held to open the new trails with government officials in attendance, which helps to educate them about conservation and use of open space.

In 2014, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference recognized the crew’s significant contributions with the Paul Leikin Extra Mile Award. The crew appreciates Chris’ diligence in ensuring that all members are recognized with Appalachian Trail Conservancy pins, patches, hats or vests, as appropriate for level of service.

Following Hurricane Sandy, as a certified sawyer, Chris, along with other volunteers, cleared thousands of blowdowns, many on the A.T. When not out working on the trail, Chris serves on several volunteer leadership committees of the Trail Conference. When asked about his motivation, Chris, who completed a section hike of the entire Appalachian Trail in 2010, says he “gives back” to repay the help and fellowship he found along the Trail.

Chris is an inspiring leader. The trust, admiration and loyalty which he has earned from a core crew of about a dozen volunteers has enabled the LDTC to do its productive and valuable work.  Off trail, the crew “family,” including significant others, dines out, hikes, and spends weekends together, pursuing other outdoor activities. For this reason, the crew submitted Chris’ Volunteer of the Year nomination and is thrilled that he received the recognition.

Posted in Appalachian Trail, Harriman-Bear Mountain Trails, Hikes, New Trail, New York Trails, Profile, Trail Crew, Trails, Volunteering, West Hudson Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Trail Builder Goes to Washington

By Ama Koenigshof, Trail Builder and Educator

Ama lobbying in DC

In February, Ama went to Washington, D.C., to meet with representatives and talk about the importance of trails.

It’s early February, which means most of my trail work is taking place indoors. Currently, I’m on the train heading to Washington, D.C., for the Corps Network National Conference and Hike the Hill, an effort by the American Hiking Society and the Partnership for the National Trails System to give environment-minded folks access to members of Congress and land management agency officials to advocate for trails.

At the Corps Network National Conference, I’m representing the Trail Conference and the Trail Conference Conservation Corps by giving a talk on our unique model of mobilizing volunteers. It’s six action-packed days of presentations, workshops, networking, meetings, and inspiration alongside the staff and partner agencies of conservation and service corps from all around the country.

For the second year in a row, I’m taking advantage of my time in D.C. to also educate our senators and members of Congress about the Trail Conference during Hike the Hill. For a person who “teaches people how to stack rocks” for a living, meeting with our U.S. representatives can be a daunting task. What do I talk to them about? How do I convey the importance of what we are doing on the ground in a way that they can relate to? How do I inspire them to vote in ways that will positively affect our organization? What do I wear?

Thankfully, I have some help. I’m working with Karen Lutz, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s Mid-Atlantic regional director, to schedule our Hike the Hill meetings together as much as possible. Both the Corps Network and Hike the Hill provide participants with talking points and information on relevant legislation and appropriations. Since December, I’ve been studying a spreadsheet I made on the senators and members of Congress who represent regions the Trail Conference covers. The sheet includes info on their districts, what committees they are part of, and what causes they stand for. Before I left for D.C., I met with Trail Conference staff to get up to speed on the hot topics in our regions, made packets for each U.S. representative—including relevant reports and trail maps—and picked out what I was going to wear. (I left the suit coat at home this time in favor of comfortable and professional-looking dresses.)

My first meeting this year is with a staff member from New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez’s office. I look over my spreadsheet and talking points and arrive no more than five minutes early—after factoring in the time it will take to get through security at the Senate Hart Office Building, meet up with Karen, and navigate back staircases and strings of people in suits to find the Senator’s office. Karen is a Capitol Hill pro, so I let her talk first and learn from her expertise. We keep everything short and to the point. I tell stories about all the wonderful work we are doing in New Jersey, give statistics, and share the legislation and appropriations that affect us. I ask for support of the Public Lands Service Corps Act, which expands the authorization of the Secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior to provide service opportunities for young Americans, thereby promoting our Conservation Corps. Karen asks for support of the reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which provides funding for the protection of land and water conservation projects, outdoor recreation access, and the continued preservation of our nation’s historic, cultural, and iconic landmarks. The staff member seems fairly engaged; we thank him for his time and leave. Once I am back in the quiet, sun-filled hallway, I take a deep breath and head to the next meeting.

Learn more about the Trail Conference’s advocacy and conservation efforts on our website.

Posted in AmeriCorps, Conservation Corps, New Jersey Trails, New York Trails, Profile, Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment