From the Executive Director: Calling All Trail Angels!
Everyone has a chance to be a trail angel through their passion for trails and support of Trail Conference volunteers.
People who magically provide long-distance hikers with water, shelter, and food are known as “trail angels.” The volunteers who build and maintain the trails should be celebrated as trail angels, too. In fact, everyone has a chance to be a trail angel through their support of Trail Conference volunteers.
Volunteers are not free, in the sense that they need administrative support, education, equipment, and recognition. About one-third of the Trail Conference’s income is used for volunteer engagement, but every year is a fundraising struggle to meet our budget.
To help us meet those needs, I propose that we celebrate our upcoming centennial with an endowment campaign. An endowment of $10 to $20 million will provide a permanent source of income that will help us ensure that trails and natural areas in this region are sustainable and accessible for all to enjoy for generations to come.
Public parks are an oasis for nature-starved urban populations, but park operating funds have been declining while park acreage continues to climb. As a result, the backlog of deferred maintenance in state parks in New Jersey amounts to $400 million and more than double that in New York.
At the same time, the combination of increasing numbers of trail users and the harsh weather of climate change is threatening the sustainability of popular trails and parklands. Where will the resources come from to preserve and secure access to nature, and how can the Trail Conference help?
Expanding and strengthening the role of volunteers is an overlooked but important part of the answer to caring for our public lands. The Trail Conference has proven that people’s love of nature, expressed in their volunteering, is a powerful and renewable resource. For decades Trail Conference volunteers have reliably built, maintained, and protected nearly 2,200 miles of trails. Currently, about 2,000 volunteers are contributing 100,000 hours of donated time annually. This is a 300 percent increase since 2000—but more is needed, and an endowment can help.
The purpose of an endowment is to provide a reliable income over a long term, which makes it ideal to be funded by planned gifts, such as a bequest in one’s will. To fund the endowment, we would launch a legacy society open to anyone that makes a gift to the endowment or confirms a bequest in their will or other planned gift. Perhaps we should call it the “Trail Angels Society.”
Over the last 100 years, the Trail Conference has been a source of innovation and resilience for the park and trail systems of New York and New Jersey. Engaged volunteers have been the engines of that innovation and resilience. A “Trail Angel” fund could ensure that skilled volunteers will be plentiful enough to protect our public lands and trails for our next 100 years.