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.

Posted in East Hudson Trails, Hikes, New York Trails, Profile, Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Future Mt. Tobias Trail

By Will Soter, Catskills Assistant Program Coordinator

Mt Tobias Scout Hike

On Nov. 2, the Trail Conference’s Will Soter, Erik Mickelson, and Kevin Simpson made their first trip to scout the route to the summit of Mt. Tobias. (Credit: Will Soter)

Mt. Tobias is not your typical Catskill hiking destination. Its relatively short, 2,540-foot summit and its lack of any official trails tend to keep hikers from seeking its peak. With the opening of the Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center in Mt. Tremper, there is now a renewed effort to construct a trail over this less-traveled mountain.

The trail will connect the Interpretive Center to the summit of Mt. Tobias in two phases: First, a bridge from the perimeter trail at the east end of the Catskill Center’s parking lot will cross the stream. From there, the trail will rise up the steep hill on a series of gently sweeping switchbacks. This trail will lead to a level open area that will then connect hikers to the second portion of the trail, which will start on an old woods road on the northeast side of Wittenberg Road. A third phase of construction will eventually tie into to the Willow Trail.

The hike up Mt. Tobias reveals clues of its history to the careful observer. Its lower slopes are criss-crossed by old logging roads and hardwood stumps. The abundance of chestnut oak and mountain laurel show that the ridge leading to the summit has seen a series of repeated fires. These fires were most likely deliberately set to encourage the growth and spread of blueberries, which can still be found sparsely scattered along the ridge to the summit. In searching the history of Mt. Tobias, there is not a clear picture of the mountain’s past, though there is certainly evidence and some record of tan barking, logging, and berry picking, as well as large-scale wintergreen harvesting. It is known that the Esopus Indians were active in the area; however, all that is clearly known is that they used the bountiful forest surrounding the mountain and creek below for hunting and fishing.

On Nov. 2, I had the pleasure of joining Trail Conference field managers Erik Mickelson and Kevin Simpson on their first trip to scout the route to the summit of Mt. Tobias. It was a wonderful opportunity to watch as Erik and Kevin assessed condition and possible locations for the trail. In just that trip alone, I learned a great deal about the processes involved in designing and creating a trail. Erik and Kevin carefully examined the soil to determine its composition and stability. They examined possible routes with a great deal of forethought, keeping in mind how a hiker would use the trail. It was interesting to see how they considered everything from safety and sustainability to key features and points of interest along the trail.

When the trail is complete it will serve to connect the Catskill Interpretive Center to the Indian Head Wilderness and Hunter-Westkill Wilderness. Currently, the Tobias Wild Forest serves as a bridge to link the Slide Mountain Wilderness to the Indian Head and Hunter-Westkill Wilderness areas. This newest section will act as a gateway from the Interpretive Center to these great wilderness areas of the central Catskills.

Construction on the first phase of the trail has already begun, and will be complete by late spring. If you’d like to help build the trail over Mt. Tobias, visit for info on how to get involved.

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

New Bridge Completed Over Stony Brook in Stokes State Forest

By Jean Brennan, Member of the West Jersey Trail Crew

New Bridge Completed on Stony Brook and Blue Mountain Trails

The finished bridge. (Credit: Monica Day)

In the spring of 2015, the West Jersey Trail Crew began work in Stokes State Forest on a new realignment of the Stony Brook and Blue Mountain trails, including a new 36-foot-long bridge over the Stony Brook. The park superintendent, Josh Osowski, decided to relocate the shared parking and trailhead area for the two trails, and the crew was asked to build the bridge.

On May 30, the abutment on the western bank of the stream was constructed. A gigantic rock just upstream of the bridge location was moved into place, using a griphoist winch as a come-along. Other large rocks were moved with a high line and set in place behind it, creating a firm foundation on that side. Three very large rocks topped off the new abutment.

On June 6, the crew constructed the abutment on the eastern bank. The stream curves and flows towards this bank, where a pile of rocks that were clearly the abutment for a historic bridge is located. The crew reused this abutment, but cleared the collapsed front edge and replaced it with boulders moved in with the griphoist. A massive flat rock was found approximately 100 feet away; all agreed that it would be an ideal “topper.” The challenge was to move it to the site and then place it on top of the other boulders. Two team members on a high line and three on a rope lifted and pulled this rock over the five-foot wall of the remaining old abutment and set it in place. The rock was wide enough to form the complete top of the abutment. The heavily eroded stream bank on this side was reinforced with rocks in an extensive rip-rap wall.

Highline Poles

Utility poles were used to create the base of the bridge. (Credit: Shelly Harvey)

September 12 was bridge construction day. Previously, two large utility poles had been brought by flatbed truck to the trailhead by Stokes Park staff. At the beginning of the day, the poles were dragged by tractor to the bridge site by park maintenance head Steve Marino. Two griphoists were used to pull the utility poles across the Stony Brook and into place. The leading end of the pole was lifted by the first winch, rigged as a high line, and the second winch was used to draw the pole across the stream.

Some fine-tuning of placement with rock bars was needed to make sure the pole was correctly in place on both rock abutments. David and Jim performed this task with two additional members verifying the alignment. Once the alignment was correct, the pole was trimmed for an exact fit between the banks.

After lunch, the process was repeated for the second pole, creating the base of the bridge upon which the decking would sit. The deck lumber, provided by Stokes Park, was cut to length, and by the end of the day, the deck was in place. The walkway is four feet wide, and since the bridge is quite high above the stream, side railings were required. To support the railings, an eight-foot-long deck board was installed every three feet to support outriggers for the railing.

Decking is installed on the bridge

Decking is installed. (Credit: James Mott)

Back at the site the next afternoon, the crew tackled the remaining tasks: railings and graded bridge approaches. Hand and side rail supports were cut to size and affixed to the deck. The angled outrigger railing supports were fabricated and installed on the long planks. The hand railing was placed on top of the supports, and a side rail was placed halfway up to prevent falling if a hiker slips.

Since the bridge deck is slightly higher than the trail on both ends, rock and gravel ramps were built. Bigger rocks were placed level with the bridge deck and then filled in with smaller rocks and crushed rocks and topped with river gravel. And with that, the new bridge was completed.

If you’d like to join the West Jersey Crew for an outing, we are on the trails most Saturdays throughout the fall and spring seasons. No experience is necessary; the crew provides on-the-job training for volunteers at any skill level. Contact crew leaders Monica and David at or check out the crew’s schedule at

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A Year in the Life of the Westchester Trail Tramps

By Westchester Trail Tramps Supervisor Mary Dodds

Westchester Trail Tramps

The Westchester Trail Tramps worked year-round performing trail maintenance, improvement, construction, and monitoring in 2015. (Credit: Mary Dodds)

The Westchester Trail Tramps has evolved into a year-round crew that performs trail maintenance, improvement, construction, and monitoring Wednesday and Friday mornings (and other days when necessary). We go where we are needed in northern Westchester and Putnam counties, with Teatown Lake Reservation serving as a home base on Wednesdays, and Ward Pound Ridge on Fridays. “When necessary” includes trail work beyond the scope or ability of individual maintainers; sometimes our work includes special projects not traditionally done by crews. Here’s a glance into our year.

Fisher on Camera

The Trail Tramps participated in a fisher tracking program over the winter.

While many crews were hibernating, the Tramps insisted on staying active, despite single-digit wind chills and knee-high snow. Leigh Draper, Teatown Preserve Manager (and former Trail Conference program coordinator) and Hillary Seiner, Teatown Conservation Scientist, provided the crew with the opportunity to participate in a fisher tracking program. (Fishers, for those of you unfamiliar with these animals, are in the weasel family.) Cameras and bait were set up in many parks and preserves in Westchester, and it was our job to retrieve them over each two-week monitoring period.

This project not only gave the crew the opportunity to learn about fishers, but also learn how to locate things using waypoints on hand-held GPS devices. All recoveries were off trail, which meant bushwhacking though deep snow. Teams went out two to four days a week from February 20 through March 31, recovering as many as six cameras in a park. At project completion, we were rewarded with a slideshow of the animals captured on camera–deer, coyote, fox, bobcat, raccoon, skunk, red tail hawk, owl, and yes, fisher. Not to mention the crew!

Projects included blazing and building the new Twin Lakes Trail at Teatown, blow down clearance at Mountain Lakes and the Briarcliff Peekskill Trails (our crew includes two B-certified sawyers), and the usual sprucing up of trails for warm weather hikers. We welcomed four John Jay High School senior interns, who participated in the construction of puncheon, stone causeway, and water bars. They also attended the invasive plant identification course provided to crew members by Linda Rohleder, Trail Conference Director of Land Stewardship and invasive plant expert.

Cold winter, hot summer. The Tramps did serious maintenance, suffering the thorns and ubiquity of outrageous invasive plant life while dodging ticks. We had one disappointment: We attempted the first-ever invasive survey by a crew of a heavily invaded preserve, but one of the two GPS units refused to acquire satellites, and the trails proved so overgrown that maintenance took precedent, forcing us to cut the survey short. A few weeks later, we returned to clear a major blowdown and restore the original route of a trail.

Projects included building stairs at FDR State Park, demolishing an old structure near a new trail and building boardwalk at Teatown, and blazing trails at Taxter Ridge. The crew assisted in re-blazing the Wilkenson Trail and clearing the Osborn Trail in Hudson Highlands. We also continued our relationship with John Jay High School by participating in two student volunteer projects: water bars at Leon Levy Preserve and Ward Pound Ridge.

What the next year holds: A new bridge on the Teatown Kitchawan Trail, (hopefully) more fishering, a (successful!) crew invasives survey, and building new trails at Teatown. We are dedicated to improving trails for hikers and continuing to find new ways to learn about and protect our natural world.

All work and no play…
Tramps love their work and love being outdoors. They also truly enjoy each other’s company. We hike together, go to movies together, and when Leigh Draper’s band Two Dollar Goat plays locally, we are there. There was a New Year’s Day hike (complete with champagne), a summer barbeque, and our annual holiday party in December. Tramp ladies even get (a little) dressed up and go out for lunch on a regular basis.
Want to join us? Contact Westchester Trail Tramps Supervisor Mary Dodds at or 914-261-7082 for more information concerning the Tramps or to be put on the WESTTTS mailing list.

Posted in East Hudson Trails, New York Trails, Profile, Trail Crew, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Giving Tuesday Challenge Raises More Than $65K


We’ve tallied your Giving Tuesday Challenge donations and we’re blown away: Our wonderful supporters helped us raise $32,501 from November 24 through December 1. Thanks to a generous contribution from the Janet Ross Fund, these tremendous contributions will be matched 1-to-1 for a grand total of $65,002. All of these gifts will be put to work to support building, maintaining, and protecting trails in our region.
Thank you!

Congratulations to each region or program on their restricted gifts:
Web- $4,500 (2 gifts)
Invasives Strike Force (includes Lower Hudson Partnership): $1,795
New Jersey- $ 1,511
East Hudson: $520
Catskills- $325
West Hudson: $230

There’s still time to make your year-end gift to support our work on the trails you love. Please make your donation now! Thank you!

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Your Guide to #OptOutside in the New York-New Jersey Region this Black Friday

Appalachian Trail Bear Mountain

#OptOutside this Black Friday, and trade crowds of shoppers for views like this shot of Bear Mountain. (Photo credit: Nick Zungoli,

Our partner REI is closing all of its stores on Black Friday, encouraging people to explore the outdoors rather than shop. If you choose to #OptOutside this year, here are three easy ways to plan your adventure in the New York-New Jersey area.

REI #OptOutside

Find a Hike/Find a Park
The Trail Conference’s Find a Hike and Find a Park databases at are the most comprehensive source for finding information on trails and parks in our region. Access detailed hike descriptions, maps, and more. You can also sort hikes by region, length, difficulty, and other criteria.

Find a Hike Map
Our Find a Hike Map provides a visual guide to our hike descriptions. Zoom in to view hikes in a particular location, or enter your address and search by proximity. For example, if you’d like to find moderate to strenuous hikes that are within 25 miles of our headquarters in Mahwah, N.J., the Find a Hike Map provides info on 134 hikes from 74 trailheads in 33 different parks. You can narrow that down by adding filters to find specific hike features, such as waterfalls, or looking for hikes that are accessible by public transportation.

Trail Store
Trail Conference maps and books are indispensable resources for connecting to and enjoying hiking trails in the region. Bonus: when you buy from us, you also support our trail work!

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New Section of Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain Opens with Ribbon-Cutting Hike

Text and Photos by Andrea Minoff, Assistant to the Long Distance Trails Crew Chief


Long Distance Trails Crew leaders, from left, Bob Fuller, Erik Garnjost, and Chris Reyling, officially opened the new section of the Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain on Saturday, Nov. 14.

A new section of the Appalachian Trail on the southwest shoulder of Bear Mountain in Harriman/Bear Mountain State Parks was opened this past Saturday, Nov. 14. Long Distance Trails Crew Chief Chris Reyling, assisted by Crew Leaders Bob Fuller and Erik Garnjost, cut the ribbon, cheered on by many Trail Conference volunteers, State Assemblyman Kenneth Zebrowski, Trail Conference Board Member Beth Ravit, and others.


Bob Fuller, right, and Jeff Raskin position new Appalachian Trail blazes.

The new .2-mile section—built by the Long Distance Trails Crew, an all-volunteer group of trail builders from the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference—replaced a deeply eroded trail. The crew’s last task was closing off the old trail just prior to the ribbon cutting. Since work began in March, close to 70 volunteers, including individuals and corporate and college groups, contributed more than 3,000 hours of volunteer time during more than 40 work trips.

The crew led a tour of the new route, designed to be a sustainable and enjoyable hiking experience as it winds its way up through cliffs, climbs a stone ladder, and reaches beautiful views. Many accolades were expressed for the trail, which includes a rock-pinned stone ladder out of a crevice and up the rock face. Soon after the ribbon cutting, a large group of Boy Scouts from Troop 16 in Washingtonville, N.Y., helped inaugurate the trail.

The crew and friends hike the new trail. (Photo credit: Marty Costello)

The crew and friends hike the new trail. (Photo credit: Marty Costello)

The relocation is very accessible, only a short, five-minute walk (two-tenths of a mile) from the Appalachian Trail/1777W Trail parking area on Seven Lakes Drive between Palisades Interstate Parkway and Route 9W in Harriman/Bear Mountain State Parks.

The Long Distance Trails Crew is hard at work on the trails many weekends throughout the season. No experience is necessary; the crew provides on-the-job training and offers a fun and rewarding day for volunteers at any skill level. Contact Crew Chief Chris Reyling at 914-953-4900,, or Crew Leader Bob Fuller at 732-952-2162, for further information.

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

Support Your Favorite Trails on #GivingTuesday


The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference’s #GivingTuesday Challenge Week is the perfect time to donate to trails this holiday season. Thanks to a 1-1 match from the Janet Ross Fund, every dollar you donate to the Trail Conference during the #GivingTuesday Challenge can have twice the impact! Not only is your gift doubled when you donate November 24 through December 1, you can choose to see your funds support trails and natural areas in your favorite region.

Starting Tuesday, you will have the option of designating your gift to trail work in one of our four regions—New Jersey, New York east of the Hudson River, New York west of the Hudson River, or the Catskills—or supporting the regional efforts of our Invasives Strike Force. Check out what each region has already accomplished, in detail, this year. 

As you celebrate Thanksgiving, take just a few minutes to give thanks for trails and the people who build and protect them—make sure to log onto our #GivingTuesday page on starting November 24. Your gift of $50 generates $100 to create and promote trails and trail lands. A gift of $100 equals $200 toward our mission of Connecting People with Nature. Every tax-deductible gift will make a difference in keeping access to parks and trails safe, open, and free.

Last year, our #GivingTuesday Challenge was a huge success, generating $66,000. You can help us do even more for trails this holiday season! Mark your calendars now, and visit our #GivingTuesday page starting Tuesday, November 24, to get your Trail Conference donation doubled.

Posted in Catskill Region Trail News, East Hudson Trails, Giving, New Jersey Trails, Trails, West Hudson Trails | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Double Your Gift to the Trail Conference During Our #GivingTuesday Challenge


Double your donation to the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference on #GivingTuesday—without digging deeper into your own pockets!

Thanks to a 1-1 match from the Janet Ross Fund, every dollar you donate during the Trail Conference’s 2015 #GivingTuesday Challenge Week can have twice the impact! Make your gift to the Trail Conference between November 24 and December 1 and every dollar you give will instantly be doubled.

As you celebrate family, friends, and home cooking this Thanksgiving week, be sure to take just a few minutes to give thanks for trails and the people who build and protect them by clicking on our #GivingTuesday page, which will go live at on Tuesday, Nov. 24. Your gift of $50 generates $100 to create and promote trails and trail lands. A gift of $100 equals $200 toward our mission of Connecting People with Nature. Every tax-deductible gift will make a difference in keeping access to parks and trails safe, open, and free.

Last year, our #GivingTuesday Challenge was a huge success, generating $66,000. You can help us do even more for trails this holiday season! In 2015, the Trail Conference maintained 2,128.13 miles of trails through the efforts of 1,777 volunteers who donated nearly 100,000 hours of service. With your support, we can ensure the gift of public trails will be enjoyed for generations to come.

So mark your calendars now! Visit starting Tuesday, Nov. 24, and click on our #GivingTuesday link to get your Trail Conference donation doubled.

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What We Can Learn About Bear Safety from Western Parks

By Sona Mason, West Hudson Program Coordinator

Black Bear-Jitze

Our behavior affects bear behavior. A fed bear, more often than not, is a dead bear. (Photo credit: Jitze Couperus/

Backpacking in the Western States is quite an eye-opening experience when it comes to the topic of bears. Here in the East, we’re almost apologetic to the public about nuisance bears—entire parks are closed and bears are euthanized out of an “overabundance of safety.” But out West, when a problem bear has to be put down, it’s the public’s fault.

Signage on Western kiosks, maps, visitor centers, and almost any sign related to trails and park boundaries makes it unequivocally clear that bothering humans for food is a learned behavior, one taught to bears by humans who dispose of high-calorie morsels alongside campsites or trails instead of trekking their waste out, or–god forbid–by tempting bears closer with food. Whether this is out of a misplaced need for excitement or “bear selfies” or both, our poor behavior on the trails is detrimental to these animals.

Our human scent is all over the food and garbage we leave out or throw away, and since animals operate in a world of smell, the association is a no-brainer for calorie-hunters such as bears: humans = food source. Here in the East, with development continually encroaching into wild habitat, thus removing more of these animals’ natural food sources, it would seem inevitable that bears would come sniffing around our garbage cans, which represent a veritable supermarket of deliciousness that would never occur naturally in the forest. It is therefore even more imperative that homeowners adjacent to woodlands lock up their garbage securely. So, too, when hikers and other human forest users bring food into the woods: Pack a plastic or paper bag, and carry out your trash. Wild animals learn to spend their energy elsewhere when unsuccessful at raiding trash–or campsites.

Perhaps our signage needs to be more visible and compelling, placing the blame for nuisance bears squarely on the shoulders of the general public. It worked for me when backpacking in the West recently. The internal discomfort generated by signs that placed responsibility for a wild creature’s needless death compelled me, even when tired, to do the responsible thing and not leave delicious-smelling wrappers, cores, leftovers, and even toothpaste out in the woods to “decompose naturally.” Perhaps we should guilt ourselves on this coast, too.

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