The Power of Passion for Trails

June 26, 2017
Josh Howard
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


The Power of Passion for Trails
The Taconic Trail Crew hikes the Wilkinson Trail at Breakneck Ridge to get to their work site. Photo by Erik Mickelson


In 2016, the Trail Conference put over 152,000 hours of service into building, maintaining, and protecting trails - a new record.

In the nonprofit world, validation comes in many forms. Some organizations seek the affirmation of their good deeds from donors and the public through complicated financial ranking systems. Others are satisfied by surviving the ebb and flow of organizational life cycles and keeping their doors open for one more day.

For the Trail Conference, building its reputation over the course of a century and serving as the go-to source for a great trail experience in the New York metropolitan region is not how I validate the effectiveness and impact of our organization. From my perspective, validation comes from within.

People’s willingness to give their time and energy to an organization is a far more powerful measurement of its worthiness. In 2016, validation for the Trail Conference came from more than 2,400 volunteers who helped connect people with nature. These volunteers worked indoors and outside. Some got dirty, while others never needed a boot brush. Many were new and most were familiar faces. Altogether, our volunteers reported 104,000 hours of service. Including unreported hours, their donation of time is even larger.

But that is not the whole story. In addition to the energies of our volunteers, Trail Conference staff advanced the organization by contributing more than 48,000 hours of effort supporting volunteers, working with land managers, and helping the public access more than 2,100 miles of trails.

That’s 152,000 hours building, maintaining, and protecting trails and the lands they pass through. Another way to summarize this Herculean effort is that in 2016, the Trail Conference had the equivalent of 73 full-time employees fulfilling its mission. Our staff and volunteers worked the same number of hours as an individual can expect to work in 1.5 lifetimes. Or, more appropriately, the time it would take to hike the entire Appalachian Trail 35 times.

The Trail Conference is defined and validated by the people who dedicate their time to it. Whether they are paid or unpaid, the Trail Conference is recognized by the devotion and passion of the individuals who year after year selflessly provide the public with access to nature through a network of trails.

Share Your Love of Trails

For the past 15 years (that’s 31,200 hours of employment at the Trail Conference), my efforts have been validated by the smiles from a family on a trail we maintain or the pride exuded from our trail crews when they describe a work trip they just completed. We’d love to share your reasons for volunteering. Email your story to [email protected].
This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 edition of Trail Walker. Read the full issue online.