Obituary - Elizabeth Levers

Elizabeth Levers, Grande Dame of the AT, Laid to Rest

From: Trail Walker, Jan/Feb 1999 

Elizabeth Levers, past president of the New York - New Jersey Trail Conference (1970 - 1972), former Chair of the Appalachian Trail Conference, and former Chair and Corridor Manager of the Conference's Orange-Rockland Counties' AT Management Committee, died on November 1, 1998 at her senior home in Wyoming. Known for her key activity in the early land acquisition planning for the AT in New York, as well as setting the standard for AT management for our region, Elizabeth was a no-nonsense woman who literally devoted her energies 7 days a week to the AT after her retirement from an administrative post at Columbia University. In 1979, she received recognition from President Jimmy Carter for her outstanding efforts as a trail volunteer.

Many New York Boy Scouts earned their Eagle Scout badge with her help and encouragement. Elizabeth was a bit of a trend-setter, in her down-to-earth, no-nonsense way: she was a member of the first camping party that went behind the Great Wall of China when it was opened, canoed through England and adventured in the Australian outback. There was only a positive attitude within her, a belief that anything could be done but that one might just have to try several ways. She gave everyone a chance to do their best. She was an Honorary Life Member of the Appalachian Trail Conference, and the NY-NJ Trail Conference.

From Vistas & Vision, the Trail Conference's 75th anniversary history, author Glenn Scherer profiled Elizabeth:

Elizabeth Levers: Trail Builder and Environmentalist

Liz Levers took her first childhood hike near Lake Hopatcong, NJ. Her grandfather made her a tent from an old sail, so she could sleep out under the stars. This introduction led to a lifelong dedication to the outdoors.

As a college student at Columbia in the ‘30s, Levers joined the Green Mountain Club. Very quickly she learned that ‘trails aren't just there, you have to put them there'. She started out by throwing aside the branches other people had cut. Over time she moved up to clearing and blazing.

Her early inspirations and role models were Bill Burton and Sam Wilkinson, both Trail Conference Presidents and legendary trail blazers. "These men and the many other leaders I met in the early days of my hiking were all so kind and so generous in their time," relates Levers. "They taught me a great deal about trails, leadership and conservation."

Over the years, Levers became known for her boundless energy. She took on the challenge of becoming co-editor of the New York Walk Book, and for a 1976 revision of the Appalachian Trail Guide hiked and wheel-measured all 108 miles of A.T. in New York. When she discovered that the phone company had replaced all of their utility poles in Vernon Valley, NJ (inadvertently removing all of the Appalachian Trail's white blazes!), Liz didn't call for help. She wrote and printed leaflets, placed them at shelters, then put new blazes on all the poles. When water was needed at a New York campsite, she provided carfare to a dowser who discovered an underground spring on the first try.

Lever's disgust over the trashed conditions of Harriman Park shelters inspired the creation of Litter Day in 1965. "Gradually I became interested in conservation, as well as hiking," explains Levers. "I guess when one becomes a hiker, conservation sort of rubs off on you." The effort went far beyond collecting a few gum wrappers. "Along one brook we hauled out furniture, a bathtub, broken glass, tires of course, buckets of paint, you name it. We got two big piles 20 feet across for the town to pick up."

Elizabeth Levers' leadership in New York's Appalachian Trail is legendary, as was her modesty. When asked about her scouting of the 108-mile section, and of her negotiations with 150 property owners, she merely said, "It was great fun! We had a very good time."

Her career in education (Levers was bursar at Columbia University, then student financial aid officer at Long Island University and NYU) gave her a strong interest in young people. She organized 30 Eagle scout projects for young Boy Scouts. Her motivation is easily explained. "Who is going to take over the trails next? She demands to know. "You need an ongoing belief in this kind of thing to keep the trails alive."

Elizabeth was my mentor. She was the reason I got involved in trail work, and, later, in the administrative tasks of a trail supervisor and committee chairman.

- Gary Haugland, Chair Long Path South Committee

Without Elizabeth Levers' dedication to trails, the AT as we now know it in Putnam County would not exist.

-Jane Daniels, former Co-chair, Putnam County AT Management Committee

Elizabeth's memorial is the AT in New York. A tireless lady, she wandered through the woods for mile after mile working to move the AT off the roads. The permanent blazes stand as tall, strong and bright as Elizabeth's dedication.

- Fred Gerty, Regional Forester, NY Dept. of Environmental Conservation, & Dutchess County AT Management Committee member

Elizabeth's enthusiasm for the park and particularly its trails system unfailingly inspired me. She could be compellingly frank about her conservation outlooks, but was a lady first and foremost.

- Nash Castro, former Executive Director, Palisades Interstate Park Commission

Elizabeth had the unique quality of reaching out to others and utilizing their aid in building the Trail Conference as an organization.

- Meyer Kukle, Honorary Life Member

Elizabeth had an amazing ability to endure the longest, and sometime contentious, meetings where nothing seemed likely to be accomplished, then - like an experienced distance runner - her energy and determination kicked in to finish with a breakthrough of some kind.

- Ken Lutters, Sr. Landscape Architect, NY Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation - Taconic Region

Liz had an incredibly effective approach, best described as quiet but strong, that always produced results. Liz could make things happen!!

- Ron Rosen, Chair, Dutchess/Putnam AT Management Committee