Behind the Book

Realizing that there was no one book which contained information about where to hike in Westchester County, Jane and Walt Daniels decided to write one. In late 2001, based on information from not-for-profits, the County parks department, newspaper articles, and the Internet, they estimated that there were about 70-80 parks, preserves, and sanctuaries with about 200-250 miles of trails. After their proposal was accepted, they soon realized that their original estimate was wrong. By 2005, they knew of 150 places and by 2008, the list of parks had grown to over 180 parks including 22 parks that did not exist when the project started.

Because there is a disproportion of preserved open space north of I-287 and no clear cut boundaries. It was necessary to figure out a way to group the parks.  Jane and Walt decided to group parks by size into sections, a quick way of telling people how many miles of trails were in a park. Initally every park was to have its own chapter. But with a constraint on the number of pages, was decided to mention these "shirt-tail parks in a short write up at the end of a larger park. This way these parks were recognized as part of the recreational landscape.

For the first editon, a visit to a park meant measuring trails with a measuring wheel, GPSing where the trails were, and noting interesting features.This way a park could be ruled out if it were too small, not maintained, or just unsuitable for walking. They visited 230 parks and selected 186 to be included. On average Jane and Walt hiked a mile an hour when collecting data, going a bit faster if they did not have to retrace their steps very often. Back home, it took twice the field time to produce a first draft of text. Cleaning up the GPS track to be useful for making a sketch map required the same amount of field time.

To verify information, volunteer(s) visted every park. This second visit meant information was verified and notes could be made if anything was wrong or had been left out. If necessary, Jane and Walt made a third or even fourth visit to GPS the route again, or take photographs. Fortunately not all parks needed a third visit, but there were some which required a fourth, fifth, or even a sixth visit.

Walkable Westchester was a success and four year later, it was time to do a second edition. Volunteer field checkers fanned out across the county noting what had changed in their assigned park. Walt and Jane visited 26 additional parks, some of which were new and others were unknown or lacked parking. They also hiked the 42 miles of new trails in existing parks. 

To make room for the 26 additional parks and keep the book the same size, concessions had to be made. Trails under 0.3 miles were mentioned in the front matter or in the text. The many small parks along the River or Sound were mentioned in the front matter of Along the River and Along the Sound, respectively. Likewise for the North Salem Open Land Foundation's tiny preseves.  Four parks were dropped because of poor conditions and two preserves were cut because of access problems. Editing of text to be more concise reduced pages. Side bars add to a hiking book's value and most chapters had one filled with history, local lore, science or nature. More photos are in the second edition because Jane had taken many to use in presentations.

The hours spent bringing both books to publication are enormous and it takes a team to produce a book. For over a year, Jane and the editor, Jim Simpson meet almost weekly at the Ossining Public Library. Aside from the cartographer, Allison Werberg and book designer/layout artist, Nora Porter, all others involved in the project are volunteers.

Any profits from the sale of Walkable Westchester are a gift from Jane and Walt to the Trail Conference.