From Wheelchair to Trail Builder

Trail work helps this AmeriCorps member rebuild herself after she is hit by a car.

By Charlotte Rutherfurd, AmeriCorps member of the Palisades Trail Crew

Charlotte Rutherfurd

Charlotte Rutherfurd,  AmeriCorps member of the Palisades Crew, trail building at Sterling Forest this year.

Two years ago, I couldn’t hike. Actually, I couldn’t even walk. I was hit by a car going 30 mph in Manhattan, spending three weeks in the hospital and four months in a wheelchair after sustaining tibia, fibula, pelvis, and clavicle fractures. During those months of rehab, I left my job in advertising and lived with my parents as they cared for me. One thing inspired me through that recovery process: the vision of hiking again. I used to plan hikes while sitting in my wheelchair, mapping out the different trails I wanted to experience and visualizing the feeling of walking through the woods with a backpack on.

Now here I am, a member of the Palisades Crew working in Sterling Forest State Park, making hiking trails — through the strength of my own body. Every morning at 8:45, we hike about two miles on the Doris Duke Trail to our work site. And as we walk through the woods, I get to marvel at our accomplishments throughout the summer. First, we pass by the sidehilled portion of the trail that we started in May, where we bench cut our way through about half a mile of the forest to build new trail. Next, we walk across the section of stones we set to armor a stream crossing, where we sank seven large boulders to create a permanent and safe walking surface in a watershed setting. Lastly, our massive stone paveway and staircase is the jewel in our trail crown, as we took almost a month to quarry, stage, and set crushed rock and gargoyle stones to build more than 160 feet of dry masonry.

What I enjoy most about seeing our work is that everything we did was all built through the power of the crew’s and the (awesome!) volunteers’ own sweat. Machines didn’t sink our steps, make crush, or excavate soil. We did that with muscles and tools. And our work is strong — built to last. For years to come, hikers will enjoy these trails as part of a user-friendly and environmentally sustainable mode of outdoor recreation.

As I make that trek, I’m reminded of the time when I couldn’t hike, and am thankful for my recovery.  And I think of how lucky I am to be given this opportunity by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and AmeriCorps to strengthen the hiking community as it strengthened me in my time of weakness.

Learn more about the Trail Conference’s AmeriCorps  program.

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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