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Trail Conference Receives Support from REI to Expand Trail and Summit Steward Program
Source:New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
Trail and Summit Stewards will be stationed at popular trails on Breakneck Ridge, in the Catskills, and at Bear Mountain State Park
Update Aug. 22: Trail Stewards will be welcoming visitors at Bear Mountain beginning Sunday, Aug. 28.
MAHWAH, N.J. July 13, 2016—As the allure of unplugging from technology and reconnecting with nature draws more people outdoors, the need to protect our natural places has become paramount. With a generous $30,000 grant from REI, the Trail Conference’s Trail and Summit Steward Program is expanding in 2016 to educate and assist the public in the safe, enjoyable, and responsible use of hiking trails.
Visitors to Breakneck Ridge, the Catskills, and for the first time, Bear Mountain State Park, will encounter Trail Conference Stewards providing helpful outreach and information about park regulations, hiker safety, preparedness, and other best practices. In addition to readying hikers for their journeys, stewards also help discourage and mitigate misuse of trails and the surrounding lands through their education and public relations work.
“The wealth of online information makes it much easier these days for people to get outdoors and experience nature, which is good,” said Ed Goodell, executive director of the Trail Conference. “The REI grant enables us to help more people experience the outdoors and protect it at the same time.”
“We are thrilled to support the expansion of the Trail and Summit Steward Program with our partner, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference,” said REI Outdoor Programs and Outreach Manager, Tri-State Region, Melissa Abramson. “As we see the number of outdoor enthusiasts increase in the tri-state region, the Steward Program will provide hikers and campers with essential information and guidance for a successful experience on the trail, along with reinforcing the importance of taking care of our parks and green spaces.”
The Trail Conference Trail Steward program originated on Breakneck Ridge, just north of Cold Spring, N.Y., in 2013. Widely recognized as one of the most popular and difficult public transit-accessible day hikes in the country, Breakneck is a destination that draws, on average, more than 750 daily visitors on weekends between Memorial Day and Columbus Day.
Prior to the Trail Conference’s Steward Program, lost hikers on Breakneck were a daily occurrence, with emergency services performing rescues nearly every weekend. Many visitors are unprepared for the trail’s extremely steep terrain; tourists often arrive without proper footwear, maps, or sufficient water, and frequently have no idea where to hike. Trail Conference Stewards guide and often redirect underprepared visitors to safer, more appropriate hiking experiences. In 2015, the Stewards observed a 25 percent increase in trail visitors to Breakneck and virtually eliminated the need for search and rescue operations while on duty. Through the 2016 July Fourth holiday, Trail Conference Stewards were on track to see a 50 percent increase in the number of visitors counted on Breakneck last season.
With the support of REI, Trail Conference Stewards will be available for an additional 500 hours to help hikers at Breakneck. The Stewards will be able to stay longer during the weekends, and the program will be extended into November. Additional support for the Steward program on Breakneck has been provided by Mountain Tops, Putnam County Tourism, and Dutchess County Tourism.
“The Trail Stewards at Breakneck Ridge are a tremendous asset,” said Taconic Regional Director at New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Linda Cooper. “Hikers from all over descend upon Breakneck Ridge to test themselves and hike a mountain worthy of its name. Thanks to the proactive work of the Stewards, the hiking experience at Breakneck Ridge is enhanced. State Parks is thrilled that this effective program will be expanding its reach.”
The Catskill Mountains are one of New York’s last wild places. Since 2015, Trail Conference Summit Stewards have patrolled the summit areas of Giant Ledge/Panther Mountain, Slide, Wittenberg, and Cornell mountains. Working closely with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, our Summit Stewards address the unique concerns of these peaks, including the protection of fragile, higher-altitude ecosystems. Illegal camping, particularly above 3,500 feet and less than 100 feet from trails and water sources, is a serious problem in this region. While the Stewards have no enforcement responsibility, they can be highly effective in reporting illegal use and using education and diplomacy to curtail “stealth” camping. In the Catskills, our program will add additional service hours in currently served areas. With the support from REI, the Trail Conference will field an additional steward at Platte Clove Preserve, which abuts Indian Head Wilderness and the popular Devil’s Path and Long Path hiking trails. Additional support for the Steward program in the Catskills has been provided by the Catskill 3500 Club, Catskill Center, Catskill Mountain Club, Hunter Foundation, Deer Mountain Inn, The Roxbury Motel, Rock and Snow, Adirondack Mountain Club, and Kenco Work and Play Outfitters.
“Thanks for all of your work to get and keep this program running,” said Jeffrey Rider, DEC Region 3 Senior Supervising Forester. “Given what we learned last year, I expect that this is going to be a great partnership.”
Bear Mountain State Park, straddling Rockland and Orange counties, receives more than 3 million visitors a year, with an estimated 250,000 park users getting a taste of hiking on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) from the base of Bear Mountain. The Trail Conference has partnered with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, National Park Service, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and Palisades Interstate Park Commission with support from REI to rehabilitate this important section of the A.T.—the original section of the Trail, built by Trail Conference volunteers and opened in 1923. This improvement project includes the Trails for People interpretive exhibit, the first known interactive, on-trail exhibit in the United States dedicated to the art and science of trail building. The opening of the Trails for People exhibit was celebrated earlier this year, on Earth Day.
The pilot Trail Steward season at Bear Mountain, set to launch in August 2016, will target day-use visitors and novice hikers. Trail Conference Stewards will be stationed at the historic Spider Hill House adjacent to the Bear Mountain Inn. This “gateway to the backcountry” is where most visitors begin their hikes, especially the popular yet strenuous 4-mile ascent to Perkins Memorial Tower. Bilingual stewards will hand out maps, information on alternative hiking options, and Ruta Apalacha, a Spanish-language brochure that gives an overview of the A.T. and Bear Mountain, to engage visitors and promote the safe, responsible use of trails.
“The Palisades Interstate Park Commission is thrilled to expand our long partnership with the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, and to have the support of REI for this Trail Stewards pilot program at Bear Mountain, a location that sees so many inexperienced hikers,” said PIPC Executive Director Jim Hall.
In all locations, Trail Conference Trail and Summit Stewards will count visitors to collect much-needed trail usage data. Stewards will promote recreational opportunities in under-used sections of each park, including alternative picnic areas and trails, to help alleviate crowding in the most congested areas. Visitors will be steered to surrounding towns, enhancing the economic benefits for businesses along the trail corridors. The Trail Conference hopes to build interest in the organization and cultivate and recruit volunteers as trail stewards in their own right, serving and protecting our parks, open spaces, and public trails.
About the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference
Since 1920, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has partnered with parks to create, protect, and promote a network of over 2,150 miles of public trails in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan region. The Trail Conference organizes volunteer service projects and publishes maps and books that guide public use of these trails. The nonprofit organization is supported by over 10,000 members and 1,700 volunteers who annually donate more than 93,000 hours of time to keep trails open, safe, and enjoyable for the public.
REI is a specialty outdoor retailer, headquartered near Seattle. The nation’s largest consumer co-op, REI is a growing community of more than 6 million active members who expect and love the best quality gear, inspiring expert classes and trips, and outstanding customer service. REI has 145 stores in 35 states. REI isn’t just about gear. You can take the trip of a lifetime with REI Adventures, a global leader in active adventure travel that runs 150 custom-designed itineraries on every continent. REI’s Outdoor School is run by professionally-trained, expert-instructors who teach beginner- to advanced-level courses about a wide range of activities. To build on the infrastructure that makes life outside possible, REI invests millions annually in hundreds of local and national nonprofits that create access to–and steward–the outdoor places that inspire us.