Palisades Crew at Sterling Forest State Park



First you helped us save Sterling Forest…now help us restore its trails.

In 1998, the effort to protect Sterling Forest from development lead a coalition of over 30 organizations to purchase and permanently protect 14,500 acres of unbroken deep-forest habitat. Subsequent acquisition efforts have increased the size to nearly 22,000 acres.


Now the Trail Conference invites your participation to enhance the trail system in this special park. 


Recognizing our expertise in developing trails and volunteers, New York State Parks has asked the Trail Conference to develop an expanded corps of volunteers and to assess, inventory, design, build, and restore the trails in this forest. This crew of volunteers, ranging over Sterling Forest  and parks and NYNJTC trails in the region, is thus known as the Palisades Region Trail Crew.


In order to restore existing trails, volunteers will be trained how to identify unsustainable problem areas and how to repair trail structures. A series of both entry-level and advanced hands-on workshops will teach volunteers to layout and design sustainable user-friendly trails, and build, restore, remediate, and maintain trails. There will be opportunities and training for all levels of ability and interest. Details on how to repair and install crib wall, tread hardening by rock paving, stairs, trail bridges, drainage structures, stepping stones, and turnpikes will be taught as needed. 

(The Palisades Region Trails Project at Sterling Forest will not involve advanced rock work; training in those techniques is available at our Bear Mountain Trails Project.)

Visit our Trail U schedule to find upcoming training opportunities at Sterling Forest.

Link to Map to purchase


Come be a part of the next step of the protection of Sterling Forest State Park


 Trail Crew Trips:  2015

 Join our Trail Crew building trails for the rest of the season on Saturdays. 9 AM start time.


Sign up on individual crew days here, or mail: [email protected]

Trail-U Workshops!

Check out our upcoming schedule for 2015 tba shortly

2014 Events

At our Trail U Workshops: Intro to trail Building techniques. Participants learned trail restoration, building and design techniques, including sustainable methods of mitigating soil erosion in a watershed.


Above: Volunteers quarry rock for stone steps that will bridge an intermittant stream.


 Try the Trail Building Workout

By Tina McGill, AmeriCorps member of the Palisades Trail Crew, and Soňa Mason, West Hudson Program Coordinator

Green Gym Article Pic

Give the trail building workout a try by volunteering with one of our trail crews. (Photo credit: Josh Erdsneker)

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is proud to present its very own GREEN GYM!

Tired of smelly, expensive indoor venues and boring workouts? Visit our spacious outdoor woodland facilities, which offer cardio warmups with unparalleled views and a wide range of trail building workouts to tone all of your muscle groups.

Activities begin with a scenic hike into trail work sites to get the blood pumping. All muscle groups will then be thoroughly tested using the following tools:

Upper Body
• Arms: clippers and hand saws; carrying tools to work site, working the winch
• Biceps and triceps: small sledge hammers, stone shapers, drill
• Shoulders, core, and overall balance: carrying buckets of crush
• Core, back, and shoulders: rogue hoe, pick-mattock, rake; upgrade to 10 lb. sledge hammers for a real challenge and stress-release workout

Lower Body
• Legs: Squats when picking up medium rocks and crush buckets
• Quads and back: rogue hoe, pick-mattock; dead lifting and carrying small to medium rocks

Full Body
• Side-hilling with a rogue hoe or pick-mattock (voted the best overall conditioning calorie-burn)
• Exercise your spatial intelligence by visualizing how to orient irregularly shaped rocks around obstacles and set them in the most stable positions.

Bonus effects of trail building workouts include comradery, a sense of accomplishment, and improved hiking paths for everyone to enjoy.

Best of all: It’s free!

To find an upcoming trail crew outing near you, check out our calendar. All volunteers should BYO lunch, water, and work gloves. We supply the tools, dirt, rocks, and fun.


Our latest volunteer spotlight can be found at: and below:

Volunteer Spotlight: Mark Popadak, Palisades Trail Crew

By Charlotte Rutherfurd and Tina McGill, AmeriCorps members of the Palisades Trail Crew

Mark Popadak Mike Popadak Palisades Crew

Volunteer Mark Popadak, left, and his brother Mike Popadak, an AmeriCorps member of the Palisades Trail Crew, work in Sterling Forest State Park. (Photo credit: Charlotte Rutherfurd)

Mark Popadak of Union, NJ, has amassed over 439 hours of volunteer service since May of this year. On an average day, he’s working alongside his brother Mike Popadak, an AmeriCorps member of the Palisades Trail Crew in Sterling Forest State Park, building trail rain or shine.

We thought we’d ask Mark what motivates him to volunteer with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

How did you decide to join the Trail Conference?
“Since I was out of work at the time, I took the opportunity to volunteer with the AmeriCorps trail-building program at the Trail Conference alongside my brother.”

Are you enjoying working with your brother?
“We do everything together outdoors: hiking, canoeing, and backpacking. We have our moments, we always do. But I think we make a pretty good team. We’ve been best friends since we were born.”

What kind of trail work do you enjoy most?
“I like making trails and seeing the end result. It’s great to work with friends, learn all that I can, and have lots of fun working in the mountains. At the end of the day, I like looking back and saying, ‘That was a good day.’

“We’re trying to build trails for generations to come. You can walk down our trail and see what we did. How many times have you walked down a trail and said to yourself, ‘How interesting that [it] goes this way.’ That’s because someone [purposefully] routed it there. The stone work we’re doing is built to last, too. … Those heavy stones that we moved are going to always be there. To me, the satisfaction comes when the work is done. I like to walk through our work at the end of the day and say, ‘Check this out!'”

While volunteering, Mark often stays over at the Welch Trail Education Center in Harriman State Park. Lodging is available upon request for anyone actively volunteering with a Trail Conference crew during the trail season (May through Oct. 12). Amenities include 10 beds, on-site camping, showers, and a full kitchen. Click here for more information on joining the Palisades Trail Crew on a work trip or for a workshop and to check out their schedule.


From Wheelchair to Trail Builder

Trail work helps this AmeriCorps member rebuild herself after she is hit by a car.

By Charlotte Rutherfurd, AmeriCorps member of the Palisades Trail Crew

Charlotte Rutherfurd

Charlotte Rutherfurd,  AmeriCorps member of the Palisades Crew, trail building at Sterling Forest this year.

Two years ago, I couldn’t hike. Actually, I couldn’t even walk. I was hit by a car going 30 mph in Manhattan, spending three weeks in the hospital and four months in a wheelchair after sustaining tibia, fibula, pelvis, and clavicle fractures. During those months of rehab, I left my job in advertising and lived with my parents as they cared for me. One thing inspired me through that recovery process: the vision of hiking again. I used to plan hikes while sitting in my wheelchair, mapping out the different trails I wanted to experience and visualizing the feeling of walking through the woods with a backpack on.

Now here I am, a member of the Palisades Crew working in Sterling Forest State Park, making hiking trails — through the strength of my own body. Every morning at 8:45, we hike about two miles on the Doris Duke Trail to our work site. And as we walk through the woods, I get to marvel at our accomplishments throughout the summer. First, we pass by the sidehilled portion of the trail that we started in May, where we bench cut our way through about half a mile of the forest to build new trail. Next, we walk across the section of stones we set to armor a stream crossing, where we sank seven large boulders to create a permanent and safe walking surface in a watershed setting. Lastly, our massive stone paveway and staircase is the jewel in our trail crown, as we took almost a month to quarry, stage, and set crushed rock and gargoyle stones to build more than 160 feet of dry masonry.

What I enjoy most about seeing our work is that everything we did was all built through the power of the crew’s and the (awesome!) volunteers’ own sweat. Machines didn’t sink our steps, make crush, or excavate soil. We did that with muscles and tools. And our work is strong — built to last. For years to come, hikers will enjoy these trails as part of a user-friendly and environmentally sustainable mode of outdoor recreation.

As I make that trek, I’m reminded of the time when I couldn’t hike, and am thankful for my recovery.  And I think of how lucky I am to be given this opportunity by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference and AmeriCorps to strengthen the hiking community as it strengthened me in my time of weakness.

Trail U: Armoring A Stream Crossing on July 26th: 


“Why would you armor a stream crossing?”

Great question: What exactly is armoring, and why do it?


This weekend our first Trail-U workshop focused on exactly that. Participants learned how to build a safe passage across an intermittent stream, free of unstable, slippery stones. Students set and sank large boulders with flat surfaces into a bed of rock to create a permanent and safe walking surface across a submerged stream that periodically floods after storms.


We all were invigorated this past Saturday with the energy and enthusiasm of our volunteer participants: Jesse, TJ and Cian armored the muddy, upper stream crossing by moving and placing stepping stones into crush and smaller rocks, allowing water to flow between the stones.  John, Paul and Kathy worked on the drier stream crossing further below, moving and setting a large rock into the side of the seasonal stream to guide periodic floodwaters away from the trail surface preventing future erosion.  


It was rewarding to see how accomplished participants felt at their handiwork, as well as acquiring deeper understanding of trail building. Each brought their own experience and sense of humor to the day: Paul’s jubilation at discovering how to use a simple rock bar to move a one thousand pound boulder,

Armoring Project Complete!and TJ's demonstrating the techniques of moving exceptionally heavy blocks and clearing stones from the cow pastures that he learned growing up on a dairy farm, and giving us a glimpse into the fascinating world of international engineering projects.


We set a total of 5 large stepping stones this Saturday as well as a number of gargoyles. (Know what we mean by ‘gargoyle’?) We would never have accomplished all of that without the help of our enthusiastic volunteers. Thank you guys!


Future trail projects on the menu for this year include: armoring more stream crossings, stepping stones across streams, side-hilling steep contour paths, corridor clearing, stone-and-dirt landings where needed and generally creating a beautiful trail. We welcome all volunteers to participate in this most satisfying of ways to give back.


Our next  Trail-U workshop will be repairing a more traditional stream crossing by setting sturdy stones across a stream bed, on Saturday, August 16th. Bring a friend. Sign up:


 Jun 6th Trail Progress Update:

Wow! 800 Feet of New Trail at Sterling Forest and We’re Just Getting Started

Memorial Day  kicked off the start of summer, and we’re heating up on the Doris Duke side-hilling project! 

Palisades Trail Crew at work on new trail

A big hearty thank-you to our awesome volunteers who helped us complete around 800 feet of new trail since the start of this season’s project.

Looking forward to the next couple of weeks, we’ll continue to bench-cut our way through the park’s Doris Duke Loop Trail to create a scenic, sustainable side-hilled trail up Sterling Mountain, and eventually to a great new view of NYC in the distance. We hope to open the trail to hikers by hunting season this year, and could use all the help we can muster. (The Doris Duke Wildlife Sanctuary is off limits for hunting.) Even if you have only a few hours, you will be most welcome.

Remember we’re also continuing our Thursday evening  program, ending around 7:30pm. So if you would like to get some outdoor time in the forest with us, let us know. We'd love to get dirty and move rocks with you! 



Sidehilling Party on a Sunday in April 


It's amazing how much a few volunteers can accomplish together. A large section of new trail was side-hilled within a few hours on the Doris Duke Trail, and with the help of our indeispensible volunteers, we hope to complete the entire loop this year. Thank you Ed, Joe & Bob!

This section of the Doris Duke trail will link up with the Allis trail, which joins up with the Appalachian trail in the north, and the Sterling Ridge Trail to the south, all the way to Ringwood State Forest in New Jersey.

Early April: Doris Duke Parking lot cleared for surfacing

More parking at the new trailhead! The park has enlarged the trailhead parking for the Doris Duke Trail by removing a derelict building on site, and the ground needed some debris removal before the surface can be smoothed and hardened for cars.

A bunch of stalwart volunteers  (including little ones) cleared the area in no time at all. Now we will have room for more hikers to enjoy this new trail-in-progress!

 Thank you everybody for the cheery smiles, amazing fast work, and good company!