By Zak Parkin, Darlington Schoolhouse Crew Member
Greetings Wilderness Enthusiasts,
I am reporting from the frontlines of the Darlington Schoolhouse in Mahwah, NJ, where Project Manager Kevin Simpson, Kevin Stamey, Joe Knight, and I have been battling the elements to complete some very unique stonework for the new New York-New Jersey Trail Conference headquarters. The project started in November with the creation of a retaining wall and two crib walls to support the walkway; by February we were in the midst of finishing the walkway with irregular dry-set bluestone paving. The main walkway is 12 feet in width and 1,800 square feet, but here’s the catch—the path has to meet ADA standards for wheelchair access to a public building. This means the stones need to be smooth, the joints need to be super tight, and the grade of the walkway has to be very gentle. In fact, there’s word that this walkway could be the first of its kind in the nation.
How do you dry-set stonework in the throes of winter, battling blizzards and sub-freezing temperatures, you ask? Well, we found ourselves scratching our heads and asking the same question at the start of this project. This kind of work is seldom done during these harsh winter months, so we had a good amount of learning and innovating ahead of us. Keeping the ground and the stone-dust surfacing material from freezing was a real challenge, but that’s the only way to move forward with this kind of stonework.
To counteract the sub-zero temperatures, we got our hands on a large thermal blanket—the kind most often used by gravediggers to thaw the ground. Each night we put the blanket on the ground in the area where we would be working the next day. In the morning we then moved the blanket to our stone-dust pile and let that thaw while we template, cut, and moved our custom bluestone pieces into place. Our new methods have proven successful, and despite the cold conditions and frequent snowfall we finished this beautiful new pathway on February 27.
But there’s still work to be done: We’re adding a smaller walkway that wraps around to the front entrance of the original schoolhouse, building stairs to the secondary side entrances, and creating a trail that connects to the neighboring Ramapo Valley County Reservation. The new headquarters are officially open on March 25, so stop by and check out what we’ve been up to soon.