Jack Driller and Mark Liss

Date published on web: 
Date of Trail Walker publication if applicable: 
July/August 2010
Story by: 
Lenny Bussanich


Chain-sawing Duo Buzzes through the Tenafly Nature Center

Jack Driller (left) and Mark Liss. Photo by Pete Tilgner.Like the cavalry, New Jersey residents Jack Driller of Ridgewood and Mark Liss of Fairlawn came to the rescue at the Tenafly Nature Center/Lost Brook Preserve (TNC), where trail maintainers faced 6 miles of devastated trails after a hurricane-like windstorm ripped through the area in early March. Jack and Mark came armed with their chain saws (and chain saw certification) and put their skills to work helping maintainers Pete Tilgner, Suzan Gordon, and Janet Albrecht clear 133 blow-downs at the Bergen County preserve.

The two men describe the landscape they encountered as eerily battered, with trees upended and blow-downs everywhere. "Some trails were gone," Jack says in amazement, it was such "a small area hit so heavily." Mark agrees, bluntly noting that the trails were "slammed" and "totally impassable."

The extensive destruction at the preserve resulted from the storm unleashing inordinate amounts of rain, leaving the grounds saturated and the woodlands susceptible once the wind barreled in. Despite the enormous and daunting task confronting them, Mark and Jack, along with regular trail maintainer at the TNC, Pete Tilgner, tackled it undeterred. Mark proudly asserts that in their first four days of working, he and Jack "cleared about 98 trees." It was, he says unsurprisingly, "exhausting work." But their extraordinary effort fits in neatly with their objective of helping and supporting the mission of the Trail Conference to maintain a viable network of hiking trails throughout the region.

Jack and Mark are very active members of the Trail Conference on and off trail, Jack since the mid-1970s and Mark since 1998. Both have held or currently hold prominent positions with the organization. Jack served as the Trail Conference's first vice president in 1980 and 1981 and has long represented the Appalachian Mountain Club's New York-North Jersey chapter as a delegate. Mark has served as a delegate at large since 2004. Each also maintains his own section of trail in Harriman State Park, with Mark monitoring the Hillburn-Tourne-Sebago corridor and Jack overseeing the Seven Hills Trail.

Their paths first crossed in 2001 when Mark, several years retired as president of a local teamsters union, became interested in volunteer work as a trail maintainer. Jack was trail supervisor for the southern Harriman area (1998-2009) when Mark began maintaining there.
While their professional backgrounds are different-Mark the blue-collar labor official, Jack the white-collar engineer and inventor-they share an affinity for the outdoors and have hiked for most of their lives. Asked why they volunteer, their answers are nearly identical: Jack, because "it is a worthwhile endeavor"; Mark, because it's "a way to do something constructive."

As they worked together maintaining trails, they also became friends. So when Jack, already an experienced chain-sawyer, suggested that Mark become certified in that skill, the latter signed up for a two-day course offered by the Trail Conference. Mark admits that initially he was timid about chain sawing since he was, rightly, concerned with the inherent dangers of handling a chain-saw, especially since he never had used one. He stuck with it, however, and Jack boasts that the two have "cleared over 1800 trees since 2003."

The team finished their work at the Tenafly Nature Center in late May. Pete Tilgner would mark each blow-down targeted for removal, then Jack and Mark would locate it and cut the tree to pieces, a process Jack terms as "bucking." Once cut, Mark and Jack rolled the pieces to the side to clear the trail. They find their work to be very rewarding and gratifying as they see impassable trails reemerge. Trail users, such as those who enjoy the Tenafly Nature Center, must feel very gratified too, and grateful for the efforts and labors of these dedicated trail volunteers.

Lenny Bussanich volunteers with the Trail Conference as a writer.

The Trail Conference has 40 certified chain sawyers who regularly assist maintainers and park managers clear trails of blow-downs too big for a hand saw. Certification is required for chain saw use on Trail Conference maintained trails.