Trail Conference Conservation Corps: Megalithic Crew

2016 Trail Conference Conservation Corps Megalithic CrewThe Megalithic Trail Crew is serving on a major relocation and restoration effort on the Bear Mountain section of the Appalachian Trail known as the Upper East Face.

Everyone with an interest in trail building and stewardship is welcome to join these crews for a few hours or a full day—our Corps members will teach you everything you need to know about their projects. They’re in the field Thursdays through Mondays through early fall; visit for details.

Interested in joining us? Have questions? Get in touch:
Phone: 201.512.9348 x 817

Updates from the Megalithic Crew

July 21, 2016
Leaving Your Mark
Text and Photos by Crew Member Ashtyn Elizondo

Volunteer Eric works on his first set of stairs at Bear Mountain.

Volunteer Eric works on his first set of stairs at Bear Mountain.

“Leaving your mark” is a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately when talking about service on the trails. That’s because anyone who helps out is leaving a permanent mark on trail history. I like the idea that we become a community on the trail, but then return to our previous work and admire what was, what is, and what will be over time.

As an added bonus, sometimes people share with us how much they enjoy the trails we’re giving so much time and effort to, from all of that de-duffing to building crib wall. Just this past weekend, I spoke with two hikers about the trails on Bear Mountain. One was retired from the military and asking questions about the surfacing, crush rocks, and stairs that we had near Perkins Tower. After explaining the purpose of each item, along with how and why we are building the trail, he told me and first-time volunteer Nobuyori that he was impressed with all the work we did and how much effort we put into it. I thanked the man, and told him that hearing a thank you is the most rewarding part of what we do.

An 8-inch rise (stair height) makes for a smooth hiking pace up and down Bear Mountain

An 8-inch rise (stair height) makes for a smooth hiking pace up and down Bear Mountain

The next interaction came a few hours later near the worksite, when a hiker shared that he’s hiked Bear Mountain for almost 20 years and is impressed with the progress of the Appalachian Trail rehabilitation here. When I told him the projected finish date is 2018, he gave me a big smile and a firm handshake and said he can’t wait to hike the completed trail. Experiences like these are special, allowing you to grasp the dynamics involved in building and maintaining trails, what they provide hikers, and how they enjoy their experiences over the years.

We’ve been very busy creating an improved trail experience over the last two weeks. We completed a B+5 (base stair plus five stairs) with the help of first-time volunteer Eric. Ellie and Tim are working on a trick B+14; the trick is removing buried rocks, or shaping those rocks to the shape of the stair. (Insert Stair Dynamics )

If you’re interested in seeing some of these techniques in person, come join us! New volunteers are always welcome. Find more info on Trail U events throughout the region at

To volunteer with us, visit our crew outings page.

July 7, 2016
Go Stair Power!
Text and Photos by Crew Member Ashtyn Elizondo

Volunteers with the Megalithic Crew helped install 11 stairs in just two days on Bear Mountain.

Volunteers with the Megalithic Crew helped install 11 stairs in just two days on Bear Mountain.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have done it—we have installed the season’s first set of stone stairs on Bear Mountain, totaling 11 stairs in just two days. Now I know what some of you may be thinking—11 stairs doesn’t sound like a lot. In reality, it takes three teams of four to get that many stairs completed in just a couple days. In the words of Crew Leader Ellie, “if we do just three stairs, that’s a good day; if we get four, that’s a perfect day.”
On June 25, we held a Trail University workshop on stair building, attended by eight volunteers. We started the first day by talking about the Bear Mountain Trails Project, showing everyone the worksite, and hiking to some of the finished areas of the trail. Once we split into teams, we started work on installing our base steps.

Base steps act as the starting point for the stairs, with crush placed behind them for the next step to be set upon. This barrier-like step will have no gargoyles because it uses the tread sides to hold it in place. Once installed with crush in place, we can work on the first step. We make sure to fill the crush level to where it is just under the edge of the base step. You want this so you have points of contact, which won’t allow the step to slip. Our goal when placing these steps is an 8-inch rise—the height of the step from the face of the step—which allows for a smooth hiking pace.

As you can imagine, this can be a tricky task. When placing a step, it needs to be level from front to back and side to side, have good points of contact, and meet your rise goal. When inserting these steps, we used a combination of grip-host, rock bars, and pick and pull techniques. Since we were dragging the step, this changed the crush levels, which affected the rise, or levelness, or contact. When we fixed contact, we lost rise height. When we added or removed stones, we lost our levels. Once steps are in place, gargoyles are installed to hold the stairs in place, and the area needs to be re-duffed. Thanks to great teamwork and problem-solving, we installed nine steps one day and two steps the following day.

If you’re interested in seeing some of these techniques in person, come join us! New volunteers are always welcome. Find more info on Trail U events throughout the region at

To volunteer with us, visit our crew outings page.

June 23, 2016
Progress! Progress! Progress!
Text and Photos by Crew Member Ashtyn Elizondo

Megalithic Crew-Rockland Conservation and Service Wow! What a month it has been. We have had tremendous progress at Bear Mountain, but not all of it happened on the trail—some came from getting to learn, train, and perform new techniques with machines and skills.

Why the big “yippee”? Well, these new experience will come in handy for the rest of the season and after. We had our first large volunteer group, Rockland Conservation & Service. The group was full of college students with similar degrees, backgrounds, and passions for the environment who were learning ways to get involved in conservation. Each was interning to perform separate tasks of their choice, such as trail maintenance, public outreach, or GIS. It gave the Bear Crew a chance to teach, show, and explain trail work and maintenance.

First, we showed the group a site where we laid out parameters and would remove vegetation, explaining the need to plan ahead to reduce short- and long-term effects on local plants. You don’t want to go in and just remove plants with little regard to their ability to regrow and repopulate. We had them remove the top layer of soil, which looks like dark chocolate. This is called duff, and its removal is called de-duffing, which reveals that nice peanut-butter-looking soil layer that is more compacted and acts like glue for stepping stones. After hours of work, we had a beautifully new, cleared path that links to the end of the progressing, trail thanks to the Rockland County Conservation & Service Corps.

Next was CPR and Wilderness First Aid training taught by Matt Kane, who did a really great job re-creating classroom and field scenarios where we accessed the situation, talked to the patient, moved the patient properly, and used our first-aid materials. For example, in one scenario we had someone with a broken leg. But before we could even touch the leg, we had to go through procedures where we took into account the situation, the patient’s response levels, breathing, pulse, spine, body orientation, and medical history. Then we could only use materials in our packs, or what we would have on a hike. My group used a first-aid splint, rope, a flexible booklet, sticks, and warm and wet clothing and gear for padding. You would think, “Hey why don’t I just take all the proper stuff we need with me?” but Matt said you can’t plan for every injury, and sometimes you don’t have the right materials, so it’s important to know how to plan smartly and properly improvise.

Boxer Skid Steer Bear MountainLastly, thanks to a wonderful machine called a Boxer skid steer, which can operate as a forklift or bucket, we were able to lift and move gargoyles and stairs. A Boxer skid steer is a ride-on, motorized machine that helps transport various heavy objects. Training on this machine, to me, was a difficult but rewarding challenge because we all had to be patient while taking into consideration the path and every obstacle that could cause issues. The hardest part was moving up and down steep slopes without dropping the stair. We had to take into account weight distribution going up or down, left or right, going either forward or backwards. Thanks to Kevin Simpson, Bear’s Crew Manager, we all got to operate and become pros at this machine. Also thanks to him, we got 100 gargoyles and 72 5-foot-wide stone stairs in their planned locations. I’m excited to say we are starting to install them.

This has given some insight into us as crew members, on our skills with people, and our ability to share our knowledge with others who are new or continuing to learn how to work on trails. It’s not just digging and chopping away at the area; it takes planning, science, and math to make sure a trail will last and have little-to-no effect on the environment.

Trails are a gateway for the masses to appreciate nature and maybe wonder, “Hey, how does all of this get made? And can I help?” Well, curious readers, check for details on upcoming work trips and how you can get involved. Come leave your mark on trail history.

May 26, 2016
Meet the 2016 Trail Conference Conservation Corps Megalithic Crew
Text and Photos by Crew Member Ashtyn Elizondo

2016 Megalithic CrewThe Megalithic Crew, a.k.a. the Bear Crew, has officially started building trails! We’re led by Ellie Pelletier, with Dan Murphy, Tim Palombo, and Ashtyn Elizondo rounding out the Corps members on the crew. Ellie is from Connecticut, went to Hawaii to study marine biology, and is a veteran with the Trail Conference Conservation Corps—this is her third season at Bear Mountain. Dan is from New Jersey, went to Nols Unviersity in Wyoming, and has volunteered with the Trail Conference’s West Jersey Crew; as a new member, he hopes to continue to work with AmeriCorps as a future career path. Tim is a new member from New Jersey, but lived in San Diego for 10 years, where he hiked up and down California, enjoying its vast beauty and helping in trail clean-up crews. He hopes to get into forestry management or become a park ranger in the future. Ashtyn Elizondo is a new member from Texas who went to school for marine biology and hopes to use his degree to travel and explore other coastal areas. He’s new to the Northeast and is enjoying the forest and mountains of the area.

2016 Megalithic CrewOur three weeks of training started at the end of April on the Undercliff Trail, a path on Breakneck Ridge. The first week was tough since we had to acclimate quickly to our new work site and the trials it brought us. We divided into two teams of two to cover more ground. Our first week gave us lots of practice and experience with rock bar techniques, single and double jacks, stone busters, grip host, stone drilling, and lots of crush techniques. Tim and I spent our first day filling in a huge hole we formed from a large rock that was made into a retaining wall; the crush was 2 feet deep, 7 feet long, and 3 feet wide. On the first day, most of us needed that grip host to bring rocks uphill—gravity and a heavy rock always win—but we also used our rock bars and ever-so-slowly stacked rocks underneath to help elevate it up.

2016 Megalithic CrewWeek 2 included a day at Undercliff, three days at the Catskill Interpretive Center (CIC), and a day on the Highlands. At the CIC we experienced lots of rain and mud, but we powered through it to de-duff, develop a tread path, and side-hill/back slope a new trail. The trail will eventually connect to Mount Tobias. Work on the Highlands included this challenge: Place stepping stones for a stream without damaging or silting up the area or water. We were able to successfully place six stepping stones. The highlight of the day was knowing the importance of your surroundings—because one of the other team’s crew members got lost on his way to another crew! Thanks to our wilderness training, we were able to connect with our missing member.

The third and final week of training, at Bear Mountain, was and still is the biggest brain teaser—I’m speaking, of course, of crib wall. Building crib wall takes lots of patience because the rock sometimes wins and says, “Nope, try another.” When building crib wall, you dig at an angle where the stones will press against the bench of the trail. This holds up the tread to help reduce erosion and uses gravity and stone friction to last for decades. Crib wall is like a jigsaw puzzle, but with different sized rocks that need to fit almost perfectly. The good news was that the foundations for the areas that were de-duffed all had their first base stones, but this rock puzzle got a little more tricky as we built higher and higher.

As an AmeriCorps member, you work with a variety of people with different experiences, personalities, and opinions/views. Since training started, three crews have been working side by side: Palisades, Taconic, and Megalithic. That’s a total of 11 individuals working 8-hour days in good and bad weather; what we have accomplished on Undercliff, in Highlands and the Catskills, and at Bear Mountain is amazing. Eight of us are completely new to trail building with only related experiences. Experiences and environments like these are always surprising because every job has its struggles, but to watch and be a part of a group that at the beginning and end of every day are all smiling, joking, or laughing, is something special. That to me makes this job so much fun, and makes every day not feel like work at all—just a long volunteering vacation with a new family. I can’t wait to work with everyone at Bear Mountain and see how the season turns out!