Trail Conference Conservation Corps: Palisades Crew

2016 Trail Conference Conservation Corps Palisades CrewThe Palisades Crew serves in Sterling Forest, building and rehabilitating trails, to meet sustainable trail standards. This season, the crew is focusing on constructing the Redback/Eagle multiuse trail loop.

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 Palisades Crew

July 21, 2016
People for Trails: Volunteer Brian Lanius
Text and photos by Crew Member Robert Fernandez

Brian Lanius is an invaluable volunteer--and a mountain unicyclist!

Brian Lanius is an invaluable volunteer–and a mountain unicyclist!

On Sunday, July 17, the Palisades Trail Crew, along with weekly volunteer Brian Lanius, completed their two first sections on the Red Back-Eagle Loop. That morning was a hot one. The forest air was heavy with moisture, and if you were not in the shade, you were surely baking in the sun. We were pushing ourselves to finish this section by lunch so that we could go lay out new trail on the other side of the loop.

Brian came down the hill from out of out of nowhere, as he usually does. Brian is an example of one of those amazing volunteers that our crew relies on for morale boosts. In fact, Brian is one of the hardest-working people I have ever met. When Brian sees something that needs to be done, he pounces on the task with no hesitation. Not only is Mr. Lanius an invaluable, he is a gosh darn mountain unicyclist. That’s right—he rides his unicycle on trails. He has given us a few opportunities to capture him in action; videos and pictures coming soon!

To top it all off, Brian is not afraid to get dirty—which, in my opinion, is one of the most necessary traits of a trail builder. Although this is only my first season of trail work, it is clear to me that in this profession, you must be willing to get down on your hands and knees, rain or shine. The first time I got a chance to work with Brian was near the completion of the entrance to trail section B. I was trying to move a large rock by myself; Brian had been given the task of root removal and tread work. As I worked on my rock, Brian kept peering over; he seemed eager. Then all of a sudden, as I started to get the rock up, Brian came dashing over and started to throw smaller rocks under the bigger one to elevate it. I was shocked. It was working, as I knew it would; my shock came from his abundant willingness to help. After he assisted me, he went back to his task.

As we neared lunchtime this past Sunday, Brian was working on digging a hole for mineral soil to help complete trail section A. Crew leader Sean and I moved on to the other side of the loop while Brian finished up his section. We began to tool out (transporting tools from one site to another) and made our way to Section E, to start laying out some new trail. At the end of the day, we went to collect the remaining tools on section A. It was there that we found a beautifully completed turn on the trail. We gawked at Brian’s beautiful trail crafting and dedication to the Trail Conference.

It’s the work of our incredible volunteers that helps make our service worthwhile. We would like to see even more members of the community get excited about this project. So far, the people who have come out to help us have been nothing but great. Why don’t you get involved, too? Sign up for our email updates to stay on top of our progress. Email to get on the list.

July 7, 2016
Kids on the Trail
Text and photos by Crew Member Robert Fernandez

Kids from Nature Place Day Camp joined the Palisades Crew in building trail in Sterling Forest.

Kids from Nature Place Day Camp joined the Palisades Crew in Sterling Forest to learn trail-building skills.

Hello, y’all—I’m Robert Fernandez, an AmeriCorps service member and Palisades Trail Crew Member with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. We have been working on the Red Back Trail at Eagle Lake in Sterling Forest since the end of April. Our crew is comprised of two other seasonal members, not including our project managers. We rely heavily on volunteers to stay within our projections, and often have large groups come out with us. These groups give us a moral boost for sure; sometimes it is just the push we need to get through the week.

On Friday, July 1, we welcomed a group of kids involved with a progressive outdoor/hiking/camping program called Nature Place Day Camp would be joining us. I have to admit, my first thought was, “Kids on the trail?” And then I asked myself, “How will we get them to listen to us? How will we get any work done?”

As it turned out, they were not your “run of the mill” kids. They ranged from ages 12-16 and came ready to get involved. We began our climb to the worksite and did so with little complaining from the group. At the worksite, we began with a tool-oriented safety meeting. This bright group seemed to get the gist of safety in the field and didn’t need much explaining.

When we finally broke them up into groups, we let them choose which tasks they would be working on. We later found out this delegation was key, and really made it easier to get work done. At first, they didn’t understand why we had to “clip roots” or “remove duff layering” and move “mineral soil.” But with a little reasoning and nudging, they found their niches and began to get into the groove of trail building. With their hardhats and other safety gear on, they worked the morning away.

Before we knew it, lunch was upon us. They would only be staying until 2 p.m., so we had to make the most of the remaining time. As lunch came to an end, the kids almost seemed eager to get back to work. They did what they could and were on their way out.

After they left, we continued to work on the sections the group had started. I began to think about the “nature view” experience. These were kids who were already part of a great outdoor program, but at such a young age, they were probably never really given an opportunity to experience work in the field. We put tools in their hands, gave them projects, and trusted them to be safe and serious. We treated the situation like any other volunteer group, while still keeping our eyes peeled for any out-of-line behavior. In the end, I believe the respect we showed them was returned. Their camp leader later informed us that they had a blast and would be willing to come back another day. A great success in my book!

June 23, 2016
Hikers, Mountain Bikers, Horseback Riders, and Sidehill-billies
Text and Photos by Crew Leader Sean Miller

For the past month, the Palisades Crew has been busy ramping up work on the Redback/Eagle multiuse trail loop. The crew has undergone wilderness first aid and CPR training and certification at Trail Conference Headquarters. We have added two regular members from the Rockland Conservation & Service Corps, who will be serving on the trail Monday through Thursday. There is a large portion of the trail that has been completed on the southeastern part of the loop. Volunteers are welcome to bring their mountain bikes to give our new trail a test run!

Over the course of the last four weeks, the Palisades Crew has been fortunate enough to welcome around 50 volunteers offering their time to the project. Although the crew has been settling in and completing more trail every day, our volunteers have been the lifeblood of this project! On Friday, June 17, we had a group of more than 20 volunteers come in from a Goldman Sachs branch in Manhattan. Although it was the first time they had ever built trail, they worked hard to complete over 150 feet of trail from start to finish. Our crew is looking forward to completing this trail with the continued help of the community.

Interested in learning more? Crew work trips are every Thursday through Monday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sign up online, or contact Trail Builder/Educator Ama Koenigshof via email or call/text 616-337-2481.

May 26, 2016
Meet the 2016 Trail Conference Conservation Corps Palisades Crew
Text and Photos by Crew Leader Sean Miller

Building the Redback/Eagle Multiuse Trail Loop.

Building the Redback/Eagle Multiuse Trail Loop.

This year, the Palisades Crew will be focusing their work on the Redback/Eagle multiuse trail loop within Sterling Forest State Park in Orange County, N.Y. This is an exciting project for us as it will add horseback riding to the list of acceptable adventures within the park. In addition to bringing equestrian sports to Sterling Forest, this trail will allow for hiking, mountain biking, and cross-country skiing in the winter.

The crew will consist of three full-time service members: Tori Welch and Sean Miller, both hailing from Buffalo, N.Y., and Jordan Fernandez of Hawthorne, N.J. All three are new additions to the Trail Conference family. Jordan is a northern California native who in recent years relocated with his family to Hawthorne. He just completed his degree in English at William Patterson University in Wayne, N.J. Jordan has a background as a private sub-contractor in construction and demolition, and plays a mean banana maraca, as well as guitar. Jordan is excited to go above and beyond expectations on this year’s project.

Tori is a recent graduate from SUNY Fredonia, earning her bachelor’s degree in environmental science. She is new to trail work and construction, but is very quickly becoming an invaluable asset to the team due to her interest in the field and ability to adapt and learn. Tori likes to play the bongos and always keeps a good beat.

Sean is leading this year’s crew as they begin side-hilling the new multiuse trail. He has been transitioning from residential construction to trail work since the spring of 2014, when he led the Palisades Interstate Park trail crew on multiple projects. Sean is a cross-country skier, snowboarder, paddler, and banjo player/singer. Since making the job switch, Sean has decided to pursue a degree within the field to become a more specialized part of the conservation community.

All three members are avid kayakers, backpackers, and hikers, and aspire to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail someday.

In the last few weeks, the crew has been training all over the Hudson Valley, learning a wide variety of trail principles, and has even had the opportunity to spend time assisting in building the first of many trails at the Maurice D. Hinchey Interpretive Center in the Catskills.  We began with stone stair construction on the Undercliff Trail leading up to Breakneck Ridge in the Hudson Highlands. It was made very clear to us why our program exists early on. The amount of people hiking through that specific section reached triple digits on the weekends, and with that much use comes just as much abuse. Steady slopes turned into slippery slides with wet soil, making an uphill climb impossible without sliding backwards a few inches. A stone staircase was deemed to be the most effective fix for the areas with grade above 15 percent.

Once the crews had a good understanding of stone stairs we moved onto Bear Mountain to learn stone crib wall construction. The crews finished their training with side-hilling and timber crib construction in the Catskills, building a trail that will connect to Mt. Tobias (a previously inaccessible peak by trail) at the Catskill Interpretive Center in Mt. Tremper, N.Y.

Learning all of the proper techniques and where to apply them in such a short time was a challenge for the crews, but every member seems to be improving their knowledge and ability daily. Although we may not employ all the things we’ve learned in our first few weeks, it is a good feeling knowing we are well prepared for the season to come.

The Palisades Crew is looking forward to connecting with the community while building the Redback/Eagle multiuse trail loop. We invite volunteers from local mountain biking, hiking, and equestrian groups, as well as people just trying to kindle a new hobby in outdoor recreation, to join us. People of all experience levels and ability are encouraged to come out and assist in building this trail. Regardless of your skill, there is always there is always a task to be done. We are looking forward to hearing from you and hope to establish a core of volunteers as inspired and excited as we are here at the Trail Conference.