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

Posted in Darlington Schoolhouse, Trail U, Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Advocacy, Lobbying, and a Call to Action in New Jersey

By Adam Page Taylor, Trail Conference Volunteer

Say "no" to pipelines that create a severe negative impact on local trails.

You can make a difference! Say “no” to pipelines that create a severe negative impact on local trails. (Photo credit: NorthJersey Pipleine Walkers via the Coalition Against Pilgrim Pipeline)

On Jan. 11, my volunteer work for the Trail Conference led me to Trenton. The flags atop the State House snapped briskly as I walked up to the building’s front entrance. Members of the carpenters union, most clad in neon T-shirts pulled over hooded sweatshirts, had assembled and were milling about to stay warm. New Jersey Education Association members walked by, displaying pins of support for various issues affecting our schools. Despite having been a volunteer for the Trail Conference for the past six months, this way of supporting trails was entirely new to me.

Last fall, I was volunteering at Trail Conference Headquarters a few times a week, assisting the Invasives Strike Force with GIS mapping. One afternoon in mid-December I began talking to Peter Dolan, New Jersey Program Coordinator, about the Pilgrim Pipeline and its potential impact on a number of trail sections overseen by the Trail Conference. The proposed project involves two parallel pipelines, each 178 miles long, sending Bakken shale oil and refined products such as kerosene between Albany and Linden, N.J. It quickly became clear that there was plenty of advocacy work to be done, and a need for volunteers to assist with this critical endeavor.

Why? Because my voice matters. I tend to think advocacy, in very simple terms, consists of sharing and listening. One shares his passions and reasons for supporting or opposing a cause with individuals who agree or disagree with his view. Actively listening to their responses provides insight into how to potentially win them over, or realizing their stance is absolute, and your energies are better utilized elsewhere. Just as important is actively listening to the responses of your supporters and learning how to be more effective in communicating your message to those who share your goals. Having just started work on my master’s degree in sustainability studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey and with 15 years of event management experience under my belt, I pledged to help the Trail Conference by encouraging others to take action in what they believe is just for trails and organizations that maintain and protect them.

A few days into 2016, I received an e-mail from Peter introducing me to New Jersey Bill A4197, which would authorize spending of the open space funding N.J. voters approved in November 2014. The State Senate had voted unanimously to approve the bill, and State Assembly approval would be a critical step in obtaining the promised funding, which would benefit groups that support open space preservation efforts throughout New Jersey—groups like the Trail Conference.

Two days, later I was participating in a discussion with members of the New Jersey Keep It Green Coalition about how to best mobilize our supporters and help secure passage of the bill. We talked about how to improve our communication about advocacy issues to our members and how to encourage members to respond to “calls for action” when necessary, whether that be writing letters, picking up the phone, or showing up at an event in-person. I admire this attitude; I feel it’s critical for any organization to be consistently evaluating, refining, and strengthening the communication it has with its members. The Trail Conference must listen to what is important to its members while also sharing what is important to the organization.

With a call to action in place for Bill A4197, we assembled in Trenton on that brisk day in mid-January, encouraging members of the Assembly to pass the bill as they entered the State House floor. The bill was indeed passed by the Assembly, but Governor Chris Christie pocket-vetoed it the following week.

As Bill S969, the open space funding was again approved with strong bipartisan support by the Senate on March 14. Now known as Bill A780, it must receive Assembly Appropriations Committee approval before moving to the Assembly Floor for a vote. It will then be sent to the Governor’s office for signature. The Trail Conference’s work on the issue will continue until these voter-mandated funds have been distributed.

It was a trails advocacy issue—the Pilgrim Pipeline—that sparked my interest in helping the Trail Conference’s conservation efforts, and within a month I found myself lobbying at the state capital on behalf of the organization. It’s more important than ever to ensure that the interests of the Trail Conference and its members are represented on both a local and state level. When done with righteous intention, at the end of the day, both advocacy and lobbying efforts are about speaking up for what you believe in. Call yourself an advocate, call yourself a lobbyist, call yourself someone who believes in something so deeply that you take action.

Get involved, make a difference! Here’s how you can help our advocacy efforts:

Posted in New Jersey Trails, New York Trails, Profile, Trails, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ask a Trail Builder: Understanding Grade Reversals

Erik Mickelson headshotBy Erik Mickelson, Field Manager

The trail I maintain has issues with water channeling down the tread. What can be done to fix this?

It sounds like your trail has a lack of grade reversals. A “grade reversal” is not what happens when trail builders reduce the quality of their work by playing too many video games instead of studying for that test on bog-bridging. A grade reversal literally refers to a reversing, or changing the grade of a trail—going downhill to uphill, and then back downhill again (or vice-versa). In one word, a grade reversal is all about drainage.

Ideally, when you lay out a trail, grade reversals are built in. Just how frequent these reversals occur is a subject of debate, and I won’t try to answer that here, but I will talk about two types of post-hoc, or post-construction, add-on grade reversals: grade dips and rolling grade dips. The idea of both reversals is to shed water off the trail before a rill (a shallow channel cut into the soil by erosion) becomes a gully, and the trail washes into, or becomes, a stream.

A grade dip is the construction of a depression in the prevailing, or running, grade.

grade reversalsA rolling grade dip involves a grade dip as well as a “speed bump” of soil piled up on the downhill side of the dip. Ramp heights should be kept close to dip depths.

Grade dips with a half-circle shape are called “knicks.”

knickRather than abrupt channels, grade reversals should be soft and smooth undulations that are almost unnoticeable while walking through them. Of course, achieving this is often easier said than done here in the rocky Northeast, where dips may be more practical than rolling grade dips. It’s important to also note that when grades start to exceed 15 percent, dips alone are more practical, as rolling grade dip ramps will only increase the steepness of the trail.

If grade reversals are built on side-hilled trails, the outflow can drain down the mountain. If the outflow is steeper than 15 percent, there’s a good chance it will be self-cleaning. Otherwise, like most after-the-fact drains, they’ll have to be monitored and cleared of debris. If there are large volumes of water exiting the drain, and/or grades exceed 25 percent, then adding some rip-rap (rock) to the outflow will help reduce the chances of the outflow eroding. For non-side hill trails, a channel and/or pit or sump can be added to the outflow so drainage water has a place to collect or disperse away from the trail.

Want to learn more about trail building? Sign up for a Trail University workshop!

Posted in Hikes, New Jersey Trails, New Trail, New York Trails, Science, Trail U, Trails, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lobby Days: Promoting the Importance of Trails

Trail Conference staff and volunteers annually attend lobby days in the New York capitol to speak with elected officials about issues that affect our work and mission, such as funding for the Environmental Protection Fund and the Catskill Park. You can find recaps of two of our recent visits below. We’ll be posting updates on the legislature’s final votes on these important initiatives at

Catskill Park Awareness Day
By Doug Senterman, Catskills Program Coordinator

Catskill Park Awareness Day 2016

The Catskill Park Coalition received an official proclamation from the State Assembly honoring Catskill Park Awareness Day.

On Feb. 9, organizations and individuals from around the Catskills traveled to Albany to speak with elected officials for Catskill Park Awareness Day. Created to help secure funding to build a modern Catskill Park, the day is organized by the Catskill Park Coalition (CPC). The Trail Conference is a founding member of the Coalition and sits on its steering committee, which decides the group’s priorities for each year:

2016 Catskill Park Awareness Day Requests
• Support for a $300M Environmental Protection Fund
• Creation of a $4M line item in the EPF for the Catskill Park and Forest Preserve
• Creation of a Catskills line item in the DEC Aid to Localities budget of $500K
• NYS DEC Forest Ranger and Division of Lands & Forests support
• Catskill Interpretive Center improvements and support
• Priority land acquisition
• Support for park stewardship programs

Catskill Park Awareness Day 2016

Trail Conference staff and volunteers joined other environmental groups to meet with New York State elected officials, such as Sen. George Amedore Jr., second from right,  during Catskill Park Awareness Day.

A number of Trail Conference staff and volunteers assembled for this year’s Catskill Park Awareness Day, meeting with 47 representatives from Niagara Falls to Montauk, including legislators from every part of the Catskills region. We also had the opportunity to speak with members of every important committee related to the Catskills, from Environmental Conservation to Agriculture to Small Business Development.

As a result of our in-person efforts, the Coalition received an official proclamation from the State Assembly honoring Catskill Park Awareness Day. Thanks to everyone’s enthusiasm, a letter was circulated by Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther—before our morning meetings had even concluded—in support of our request for a permanent line item in the NYS Environmental Protection Fund.

On March 11, news broke that the Senate Democratic Conference had included our request for a $4 million line for the Catskills in the Environmental Protection Fund in their budget priority letters to the Senate majority leader. One day later, the State Assembly put its full support behind the $4 million Catskills budget. This was a monumental step towards securing the 2016 funds needed to start building a modern Catskill Park.

We now need to ask representatives in the Senate and Governor Andrew Cuomo to include an ongoing $4 million budget line for the Catskill Park in a fully-funded Environmental Protection Fund budget. How you can help:

• Use this email form, provided by our Catskill Park Coalition partner, Catskill Mountainkeeper, to ask your State Senator for support.
• Tell Governor Cuomo to support the Catskills budget. Call 518-474-8390 or use this email form.
• Thank the Assembly and Senate Democrats for including this critical funding in their budget proposals.

We’ll keep you posted about NYS budget negotiations at To find out more about the Catskill Park Coalition, including how you can get involved in promoting the Catskills year-round, visit

EPF Lobby Day
By Sona Mason, West Hudson Program Coordinator and John Leigh, Volunteer Coordinator

Trail Conference staff and volunteers met with New York State representatives to advocate for open space during the EPF Lobby Day.

Trail Conference staff and volunteers and several other environmental groups met with New York State representatives such as Sen. George Latimer, far right, to advocate for open space during the EPF Lobby Day.

Every winter, staff and volunteers from the Trail Conference travel to Albany with several other environmental groups to meet with elected officials and ask for their support in funding the New York State Environmental Protection Fund (EPF). The EPF pays for programs that protect open space and parks, enhance trails, and more, so it’s important that the Trail Conference be an active participant on EPF Lobby Day, organized by We Love New York and The Nature Conservancy. Luckily, we went to Albany this year with one influential politician already on our side: Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In January, Cuomo announced his commitment to funding a $300M EPF—the highest in state history and more than double what we’ve seen since 2011—in his executive budget. Our job on EPF Lobby Day was to convince representatives to back the Governor’s proposal.

Lobby days in Albany are surprisingly genial, with most legislators happy to meet with us (and perhaps relieved to find a friendly crowd). During our visit on Feb. 24, several elected officials expressed intimate knowledge of their districts and a passion for protecting the environment. They demonstrated their support for our concerns, and most were, in fact, already supportive of the EPF.

For more information about the EPF, including how the EPF has benefitted each county throughout the state, visit

Posted in Catskill Region Trail News, New York Trails, Trails, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment