Breakneck Ridge: A Trail Steward’s Diary

By Brian Tragno, Breakneck Ridge Trail Steward, 2014 & 2015

Breakneck Ridge Trail Steward shares information with hikers. (Credit: Brian Tragno)

Breakneck Ridge Trail Steward Kali Bird, right, shares information with hikers. (Credit: Georgette Weir)

It’s a beautiful Saturday morning in September. The sun is just starting to shine over our pop-up tent in the parking lot next to the Breakneck Ridge trailhead. As we gaze north on Route 9D, we see a moving mass of colorfully dressed people begin to emerge from the path from the train station. It’s 9:20 a.m., and we’ve already seen over 100 people go up the trail since we set up at 8:30. From the looks of it, the next train is about to deliver at least 200 more eager hikers.

Some people head straight for the trailhead. These are usually hikers who have been up the trail before or have experience and want to try to get ahead of the crowd. Most others use the parking lot as a staging area to put on bug spray, have a snack, and use the restrooms (a new and much-needed addition this year). This gives us a chance to talk to people who may have questions, recruit volunteers, and distribute maps and water bottles. We pick up our super-sized laminated maps of the area and get ready to divide the masses of people into groups. We then instruct them on routes, trail markers, and Leave No Trace principles, and ask them to please bring a map for their travels. We also educate them on hike options besides Breakneck Ridge. Once everyone filters up the trail, we have a little time to regroup and prepare for the next train, which tends to carry even more than the one before it.

Trail Steward Brian Tragno

Trail Steward Brian Tragno

As the day goes on, there is a constant flow of people who have driven up or walked from nearby Cold Spring. Once it settles down, I prepare myself to hike up the trail. This is my favorite part of the day, but also one of our most important tasks. Being on the trail is the best time to interact with hikers and teach them about the landscape, the trail, and what they can do to protect and maintain it. Once I get back down to the trailhead, my fellow steward will head up for his trip.

It’s afternoon now, and the stream of people starting their journey begins to slow down considerably; those venturing out at this time are mostly locals going up for a quick hike. The number on our people counter is around 900, and will probably jump close to over 1,000 by the time we pack up. Last season, on a good day, the number of visitors we’d count on Breakneck Ridge was considerably less—closer to 600 or 700 hikers.

For me, it’s exciting to see so many new people who want to experience the outdoors. I hope these hikers continue to be educated by initiatives like the Breakneck Ridge Trail Stewards Program to increase the life of trails and create a better hiking experience for everyone.

About Trail Walker

Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with parks to create, protect, and promote a network of more than 2,100 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. The Trail Conference organizes volunteer service projects that keep these trails open, safe, and enjoyable for the public. We publish maps and books that guide public use of these trails. The Trail Conference is a volunteer-driven nonprofit organization with a membership of 10,000 individuals and 100 clubs with a combined membership of 100,000 active, outdoor-loving people.
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