Draft Trails Policy March

Things left to be considered for the final draft.

  • Addressing the multi use issue
  • Section 2.3 - How to we want to address the usage on single tracks? 

Trails Policy of New York - New Jersey Trails Conference

D R A F T based on Version Approved by Board, August 21, 2001

Table of Contents

  1. Overview
  2. Trails
  3. Trails Council
  4. Trail Management Guide
  5. Cooperative Management Agreements and Easements
  6. Communications
  7. Emergency Preparedness

Section 1 Overview

People seek an outdoor experience as a respite from the trappings and tensions of life and should be able to enjoy the natural peace and beauty of the lands through which trails pass.

The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (Conference) is a nonprofit organization established in 1920 for the construction, maintenance, and preservation of hiking trails. The Conference maintains hiking trails in a trail system which extends south into Hunterdon County along the Highlands Trail in New Jersey, north to NY Route 23 in the South Taconics and along the Long Path to the Mohawk River, west to the Delaware River and the blue line in the Catskills, and east to the Massachusetts, Connecticut and Nassau lines.

Trails are the Conference's core program. In addition to building and maintaining trails, the Conference seeks to protect the trail lands from indiscriminate and inappropriate misuse. The Conference works in close cooperation with various governmental agencies and nonprofits in the region and is the only coordinating organization for hiking trails in its area.

The Trails Council is a committee established under the bylaws of the Conference. Volunteers who are members of the Conference and of its affiliated member organizations carry out the work of Trails Council on and for the trails. Trails Council receives administrative and on the ground support from the Conference's staff.

1.1 Definitions

A trail is a defined pathway primarily intended to be used for recreational travel. It may or may not be marked; it generally will not be paved or otherwise improved, except as is consistent with the need for safety, preservation of the resource and its environment, or to be handicapped accessible.

  • A hiking trail is intended for foot traffic only, but can include accommodations for handicapped usage. Cross country skiing and snowshoeing are considered to be foot traffic.
  • Single track trail is a narrow trail which is not wide enough to allow two people to pass.
  • Non-motorized use trails do not allow motorized use, such as ATVs, four wheel drive vehicles, motorcycles, etc. but do allow some combinations of hikers, horses, mountain bikes, bicycles, etc. Snowmobiles, although motorized vehicles, are usable only in the winter and when trails are covered with snow. Since they can be used only during a limited season, their use on hiking trails is not necessarily inconsistent with the status of these trails as foot trails; snowmobiles may be allowed on some hiking trails on a case-by-case basis. These trails can also be referred to as multi-use trails, also called shared-use trails in some contexts.
  • Conference trails are those trails adopted and maintained by the Conference. ot mber clubs as specifically defined by the Trail Conference.
  • Conference-affiliated trails are trails not adopted as Conference trails, but maintained by Conference organizational members.

Conference organization members are Member (Clubs) and Partners

Land Manager is the entity who manages land on which the Conference maintains trails.

Maintaining Club is a member of the Conference and maintains trails.

Motorized trails are trails that permit motorized use. Some of these are public or private roads that are maintained (limited to blazing) as part of a hiking trail for continuity and because no off-road opportunity exists.

Trail assessment is the measurement of both the physical properties of the trail and the physical conditions of those properties. The former is quanitative and includes side slope, grade, width, and surface as well as the a list of constructed objects like waterbars, steps, bridges, and shelters. The physical conditions of the trail and objects along it can be either quantitative or subjective and depend on the standards for that type of trail. Thus a 5% side slope may be acceptable on a back country trail, but not on a handicapped accessible trail. A broken bridge or untrimmed vegetation is never acceptable.

Trails standards specify the acceptable grades, surfaces, widths, etc. and are based on the type of trail (front country, backcountry, handicapped assessible, etc), the trail user (hiker, mountain biker, equestrian, etc.), number of users, and the trail's purpose. In addition standards indicate acceptable signage, parking, blazing, etc.

Acroynms

  • AANR - Adopt a Natural Resource
  • ADA - Americans with Disabilities Act 
  • AT - Appalachian Trail
  • ATC - Appalachian Trail Conservancy
  • DEC - NY Department of Environmental Conservation
  • DEP - NJ Department of Environmental Protection
  • DEP-NYC - New York City Department of Environmental Protection
  • MOU - Memorandum of Understanding
  • NPS - National Park Service
  • USFS - US Forest Service

Section 2 Trails  

2.1 Conference Trails 

The Conference primarily is a voice for hikers and does not advocate for every trail related activity. The main emphasis of the Conference is to build and maintain hiking trails. However, the Conference supports the concept that trails should afford an appropriate and satisfying outdoor experience to the widest possible segment of the population. Thus, the Conference believes that, where appropriate, there should be trails on public land available to all responsible non-motorized users, provided that an appropriate network of hiking-only trails is also available in each trail system. The Conference may build and maintain multi-use trails and may cooperate with other trail groups in the maintenance of such trails. 

The Conference opposes the use of mountain bikes or horses in areas designated or being considered by the state as wilderness or natural areas or on dedicated hiking trails. This opposition also extneds to local municipalities who designate parkland land as a preserve. The Conference also supports the current NPS poicy for mountain bike route designation [36 CFR 4.30] requiring a written determination and/or special regulation stating that mountain bike use is consistant the protection of a park area's natural, scenic, and aesthetic values, safety considerations, and management objectives and will not disturb wildlife or park resources.

The Conference will not maintain trails in areas that charge an entrance fee or restrict hiking to members only, except upon the recommendation of the Trails Council and approval of the Board of Directors. A parking fee is not considered an entrance fee, since there is no charge if a hiker enters the park on foot or by public transportation. 

The Conference will not sign trail use agreements indemnifying other organizations except with Board approval.

2.2 Trail Use

It is the land manager's decision to determine allowed uses, though the Conference may offer recommendations and guidance. 

Communication and cooperation among the user groups, landowners, and land managers enhances the outdoor recreation opportunities for all groups. 

The Conference supports off trail use for orienteering and geocaching with the landowner's permission and following their guidelines.

2.3 Trail Management Principles

Fair and reasonable access to trails on public land should be based on the following principles:

Management: While the establishment and continuity of trails is ultimately the responsibility of the land managers or owners, volunteer user organizations should actively assist land managers in planning trails and trail systems. User groups should be responsible for building, monitoring, and maintaining the trails they use to appropriate standards to protect the resource from likely damage by their users as well as nature. For a multi-use trail, user groups should cooperate to determine who manages that trail and by what standards. Long term commitment to public trail management is necessary to sustain such trails as a recreational opportunity.

Resource Protection: Trail use should entail minimal damage to the treadway and minimal disruption of plant and animal life. When planning new trails, the purpose of the trail, the terrain through which it travels and the trail use density should be considered. Alterations to the terrain should only be made to prevent resource damage or alleviate dangerous conditions. When trails deteriorate, they should be assessed as to whether moving is a better alternative than repairing. If moved, the old trail must be rehabilitated.

Safety: Steep and or narrow trails should be single use and be appropriately signed so the user can accept the risk. Multi‑use trails must be appropriately wide enough to allow safe passing and two‑way use, and should have sufficient sight lines to avoid collision. Even though collisions are rare, it is important to impart an awareness of danger and need of alertness. Safety information and educational material, including signs indicating permitted uses, help to ensure the safety of all trail users.

Section 3 Trails Council

3.1 Responsibilities

As stated in Article 6.1 of the Conference bylaws:

"The Trails Council is a committee of peers consisting of the Chair of the Council, the chairs of each of the regional trail committees, and others as specified in the Trails Policy. Each regional chair is recommended by the Board Chair and approved by the Board. The regional committees follow the Trails Policy developed by the Council."

(If and when bylaws are changed, the Board of Directors recommend the words Trails Council Chair be substituted for Board Chair. This change will be automatically incorporated in the the Trails Policy and this paragraph removed.)

Within the jurisdiction of the Conference, Trails Council is responsible for:

  • Protecting, maintaining, and constructing trails and shelters according to trail and maintenance standards as detailed in the Trail Management Guide.
  • Managing, distributing, and updating the Trail Management Guide
  • Monitoring any land owned by or easements held by the Conference
  • Approving all major trail relocations
  • Giving preliminary approval of trail systems, co-alignments, and AT management plans
  • Providing training for trail volunteers
  • Approving conference affiliated trails
  • Providing guidance to the board and staff relative to trail issues
  • Submitting a consolidated budget on time
  • Complying with restrictions placed by land managers such as NY State DEC
  • Maintaining records of meetings, trail approvals, and other documentation
  • Coordinating with other committees as appropriate 
  • Seeing that MOUs are developed where appropriate or required
  • Other duties as assigned by the Board


Issues requiring Board approval are:

  • Changes to the Trail Policy except for material in the appendices.
  • Issues related to legal matters
  • Issues requiring significant expenditures other than those provided for in the budget
  • Adoption of any new trail(s) or trail system which is with a new partner in an area where the Conference does not already maintain trails. For example, a trail(s) in a new county park in a county where the Conference already maintains trails do(es) not need board approval.
  • Adoption of a trail system that could have significant impact on Conference resources
  • Requests for maintaining a trail in areas that charge an entrance fee, are restricted to members only, or require a permit.
  • Requests for co-alignment of another organization's trails on trails the Conference maintains, pending approval of the landowner or land manager.
  • Signing trail use agreements indemnifying other organizations.
  • Approving MOUs (for signature by the Board Chair).
  • Local management plans for the AT (which are in turn submitted to ATC for its approval).
  • Resolving issues that the Trails Council refers to it for decision

3.2 Membership

Members of Trails Council must be members of the Conference. Voting members include:

  • Chair of Trails Council, appointed by the Chair of the Board of Directors, subject to the approval of the Trail Conference Board. (as per the Conference by laws Article 6, section 6.1)
  • The chairs of the regional trail committees, Conference supervisors, corridor managers, AT overseers, and trail crew chiefs.
  • Staff members whose primary responsibility are trails or volunteers
  • Other volunteers and staff working on trail issues as determined by the Council chair.


The Trails Council chair may appoint any other officers that are necessary, such as secretary or vice chair. At least one member of Trails Council, known as the Board Liaison for Trails, must be a Conference board member. The chair and the board liaison may be the same person.

3.3 Meetings

The meetings of the Trails Council shall be open to all interested parties. Voting members are encouraged to attend. Trails chairs of maintaining clubs, maintainers, monitors and trail crew members are particularly welcome. Meetings will ordinarily be held bi-monthly.

3.4 Voting

A quorum of 16 voting members is required to transact official business. Decisions are usually reached by a voice vote of those present. Anyone present may call for a formal vote of Trails Council members. An issue is referred to the Board for resolution, when there are more than dissent from 20% of eligible voting members (round up). Both majority and minority opinions will be submitted.

3.5 Operational Responsibilities

Regional trail committees are responsible for the management and maintenance of trails within their region and to interact with the land managers. A list of regional trail committees is in Appendix A, which does not need board approval to be changed.

Members of a regional trail committee include the regional trails chair, supervisors, overseers, corridor managers, trail crew chiefs, and any other supervisory volunteers such as assistant chair, assistant supervisors or outreach coordinator. The Executive Director may assign a staff member to assist the regional trail committee.

It is recommended that a regional trail committee meet at least once a year to plan, submit their budget, and discuss trail management problems. This meeting may or may not include partners and is in addition to one-on-one meetings with a park manager.

Section 4 Trail Management Guide

The Trail Management Guide spells out guidelines and procedures for management of Conference trails, including but not limited to:

  • Trail assessment
  • Trail standards
  • Reporting requirements
  • Appointments, resignations, and removal of trail volunteers
  • Training
  • Requests for relocations, temporary closings, abandonment, reopening
  • Notification of changes
  • Emergency preparedness procedures
  • Conference affiliated trails
  • Forms for any of the above
  • Volunteer Policy
  • Youth Policy
  • Grants the Conference offers
  • Other appropriate materials

4.1 Training

The Trails Council is responsible for offering training workshops for trail maintainers, AT monitors, assessors, supervisors/overseers, chain sawyers, and other appropriate topics. It is also responsible for ensuring that appropiate one-on-one training be provided to new maintainers, monitors, and assessors. In addition roundtables are to be held annually for supervisors, trail crew chiefs, and regional trails chairs. 

Anyone using a chainsaw is required to be certified through an OSHA or USFS approved course and meet any current additional requirements. 

4.2 Assessment and Standards

Trail Standards -  The trail's purpose and standard class is largely determined by the landowner with the input of the user groups. The Conference will build/reconstruct trails to either the landowner's standard or to the appropriate standard specified in the Trail Management Guide

Where possible trails will be built or upgraded using universal design principles and signed appropriately. Standards are based on recognized standards from USFS, states and the ADA standards, but extended to better meet local needs, e.g. more frequent maintenance than USFS requires

Trail Assessment -  The Conference will assess trails periodically, so that all trails are assessed at least once every five years to determine that they meet the standards of their classification. A less formal assessment is a continuous process based on the input from maintainers reports and public trail problem reports. There will always be some non-compliance due to natural events that destroy parts of trails

Maintenance Standards - The standard for trail maintenance by Conference maintainers is the Conference's Trail Maintenance Manual. Other maintenance regulations such as for the AT and in Catskill Park exist and supersede Conference standards. See Section 4.8 for more detail on the AT and Section 4.9 for the Catskills. Catskill Park trail standards are defined in the Adopt a Natural Resource agreement (AANR) with the DEC as further described in Section 4.9. The AANR is to be provided to each new Catskill maintainer.

Trail Crews build/reconstruct to the full trail standards specified for the trail and that work is not considered to be maintenance. Trail maintainers are not responsible for bringing a trail up to standards but are responsible for retaining the standards.

4.3 Reports

Maintenance, monitoring, trail crew and sawyer reports are submitted semi-annually on the current forms on paper or electronically.

Assessment reports are made on the current forms on paper or electronically.

4.4 Co-aligned Trails

When two or more trails follow the same treadway, they are co-aligned trails and may have more than one maintainer. All the maintainers are responsible for the co-aligned sections unless supervisors have made other arrangements (which can be renegotiated when maintainers change).

Special cases: 

  • When the Highlands Trail is co-aligned, the maintenance responsibilities vary and is determined by agreements with chairs and supervisors.  
  • Co-aligned trails in the Catskills have only one maintainer. Except when following its own route, the Long Path in the Catskills is identified with distinctive Long Path marking only at trailheads and trail junctions


Another organization may request that their long distance trail be overlaid or co-aligned on a Conference trail. The form for requesting an overlay is in the Trail Management Guide. Such requests are first presented for approval to the Trails Council and then the Board.

4.5 Trail Relocations

There are three types of relocations - major, minor, and trivial. 

Major - A major relocation is one which would be visible on Trail Conference maps (e.g. more than 100 yards) or which moves the trail onto property owned by a different land owner. Major relocations require approval of public agency or private land owner, the regional trails chair and the Trails Council. Major relocations in the Catskill Park require DEC approval through the AANR planning process as described further in Section 4.12. Major relocations on the AT require following NPS/ATC procedures.

Minor - A minor relocation is not visible on a map, but is likely to be noticed by someone familiar with the trail. It requires approval from the regional trails chair who is responsible for consulting the landowner if further approvals are needed. For example: moving a trail 10 to 20 feet over a distance of 100 yards to avoid swampy conditions or erosion problems. In the Catskills, minor relocations are made only after consultation with the responsible DEC forest ranger.

Minimal - A minimal relocation is one which affects less than 20 feet of trail and does not involve major construction, such as a bridge. Examples include moving closer to a tree suitable for a blaze or to an adjacent less-eroded location. Even people familiar with the trail would not be likely to notice the change. A maintainer may handle minimal relocations without prior consultation with their supervisor or chair, but they should be reported to the supervisor. 

4.6 New trails

All proposed new trails must be approved by the land manager prior to requesting Trails Council approval. In special cases, Trails Council approval may be sought first, contingent on subsequent approval by the land owner. The specifics of what must be presented are in the Trail Management Guide.

Land managers have the final say on trail names and blaze details. The Conference does not name trails after living people.

4.7 Reporting Trail Changes

All new trails, abandoned trails, reinstated or reopened trails and relocations are to be reported on the Trail Update form in the Trail Management Guide. It specifies the details and mechanisms for such reporting and who gets notified. These reports are necessary to keep all of our publications up-to-date.   

4.8 The Appalachian Trail

The National Park Service (NPS) has delegated management responsibility of the AT to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC). In turn, ATC has delegated management responsibility for the AT in New York and New Jersey to the Conference. Thus the management is a joint responsibility of the AT local management committees, the Conference, ATC, NPS and state agencies. The details of these responsibilities are spelled out in ATC and NPS documents as well as the local management plans of the AT management committees.

Local management plans should be reviewed and approved by the Trails Council and the Board of Directors before submission to ATC. In other respects, the management of the AT should follow the Trails Policy.

By federal law, the AT is restricted to foot traffic only, except where grandfather clauses and special-use permits allow equestrian use (and bike use outside our area). 

4.9 Catskill Forest Preserve

Trails in the Catskill Forest Preserve are on New York State constitutionally protected "forever wild" lands. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has primary management responsibility for the trails and lean-tos within the Catskill Forest Preserve.  By agreement between the Conference and the DEC, many of these trails and lean-tos have been adopted by the Conference. An Adopt a Natural Resource (AANR) Agreement between the Conference and the DEC details maintenance standards and procedures to be followed within the Catskill Forest Preserve.

In the Catskills, maintainers are required to communicate with a forest ranger responsible for coordinating activity on their trail. More restrictive standards apply to Conference operations within designated Wilderness Areas than in Wild Forest Areas of the Forest Preserve. New trail construction in the Catskills is by delegation of responsibility from the DEC and must conform to the controlling DEC Unit Management Plan (UMP). 

4.10 Conference-Affiliated Trails

For trails to be considered Conference-affiliated, the organizational member must apply to the Trails Council for this status. The form for requesting such status is in the Trail Management Guide. The maintainers report directly to the landowner or governmental body, e.g. the Long Island Greenbelt Trail. A maintenance report is also filed with the Trails Council chair at least once a year. By adopting the affiliated trail, the Conference is committed to assist in the protection of that trail.

Section 5 Cooperative Management Agreements and Easements

Whenever the Conference maintains a trail on public land or on lands owned by a non-profit conservation organization, a cooperative management agreement should be entered into between the Conference and the public landowner.

Whenever the Conference maintains a trail on private land, permission must be requested obtained from the landowner. Ideally, the Conference should obtain a permanent easement to maintain the trail across the private land. If a permanent easement is is not possible, a written revocable agreement (which may be in the form of a letter) should be obtained.  

If the landowner will give only verbal permission, a written memorandum, stating the circumstances under which verbal permission was obtained, must be filed in the Conference office.

The Conference can provide some insurance for private landowners. 

Forms required by a partner are to be filled out and handled according to the requesting partner.  A copy can be obtained in the Trail Management Guide. For example New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation require all volunteers who give service in the state parks to file a Volunteer Service Agreement.

Section 6 Communications

6.1 Government partners

Communication and cooperation among user groups, landowners and land managers leads to an enhanced opportunity to provide the best possible hiking experience. In addition, open communication with government partners and land managers helps establish the Conference's credibility. 

Regional trails chairs (or supervisors by prior arrangement) should communicate regularly with park managers by phone and e-mail, and they should meet with them in person at least once a year. Regional chairs may arrange for maintainers to report minor issues (such as litter bags left for pick-up) directly to maintenance staff and to report directly to park rangers or police trail misuse that requires immediate action.

However, discussions with park officials of matters of policy, memorandums of understanding, etc. should take place only by or with the approval of the regional trails chair. Regional trails chairs should submit a list of their supervisors to their park managers and introduce them to the manager of the park they supervise.

6.2 Public meetings

When speaking or testifying before public bodies such as the DEC, Palisades Interstate Park Commision, zoning boards, greenway hearings, etc., one should be careful to distinguish between personal opinions and Conference opinions. Even if one does not identify oneself as a Conference official, governmental partners who recognize the speaker as a Conference official may assume that all remarks made by the speaker reflect Conference policy, unless the speaker clearly points that his remarks reflect only his or her own opinions.

6.3 Press contacts

The Board of Directors adopted a press policy on November 22, 1988, which states:

"Press Announcements by Conference officials: Any Conference official who submits any article or letter to the editor of an outside publication using their Conference title should submit the article to the Conference office for review beforehand. This policy does not apply to letters addressed to government officials unless such letters make policy for the Conference."

When speaking to the press, clear remarks with the Trail Conference office if at all possible.

Section 8 Emergency Preparedness

The Conference office must be notified of any emergency conditions as soon as possible. The existing reporting structure should be used to notify the affected regional trails chair, supervisors and maintainers as necessary to get coverage of the problem as early as possible.

The Trails Council shall develop and maintain action plans that detail how to deal with various emergencies such as injury, fire danger, storm damage, lost hikers, and trail closures. These plans are part of the Trail Management Guide and Volunteer Handbook.

Appendix A- Regional Trail Committees

This appendix is not part of the formal part of this document and may be changed without explicit approval to reflect the current state of what trail committees exist.

  • West Hudson - South - Harriman-Bear Mountain and Sterling Forest trails, excluding AT and LP.
  • West Hudson - North - New York trails west of the Hudson River, north of Harriman-Bear Mountain and south of the Catskills, excluding AT and LP.
  • New York Trails East Hudson - all New York trails east of the Hudson River except the Metro Trails.
  • Long Path North - the Long Path north of the Catskills
  • Long Path South - the Long Path south of the Catskills
  • Dutchess -Putnam Appalachian Trail Management - the AT in Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester Counties including blue side trails
  • Orange-Rockland Appalachian Trail Management - the AT in Orange and Rockland Counties including blue side trails
  • Metro- all trails in the five boroughs of New York City
  • Catskill 3 - all Conference trails in the Catskills within DEC Region 3 including the Long Path
  • Catskill 4 - all Conference trails in the Catskills within DEC Region 4 including the Long Path
  • New Jersey Appalachian Trail Management - the AT in New Jersey including blue side trails
  • North Jersey - Ramapo Mountain State Forest, Ramapo County Reservation, Campgaw Mountain County Reservation, Northern Wyanokies, Ringwood State Park, Stonetown/Monksville and New Jersey Palisades.
  • Central Jersey - Rockaway River Wildlife Management Area, Pyramid Mountain, Farny Highlands, and Garrett/High Mountain. [Morris County, Southern Wyanokies, High Mountain, Wayne, Pequannock Watershed, etc.?]
  • West Jersey - Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, High Point State Park, Jenny Jump State Forest, Pequest Wildlife Management Area, Stephens State Park, Stokes State Park, Swartswood State Park, Wawayanda State Park, Worthington State Forest
  • Highlands Trail - West - overall management of the trail from the Delaware River to Hudson River with co-aligned section maintainers reporting to the local committee
  • Highlands Trail - East - overall management of the trail from the Hudson River to Connecticut with co-aligned section maintainers reporting to the local committee