Protecting North America's Most Popular Hiking Destination

April 12, 2018
Hank Osborn
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

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Protecting North America's Most Popular Hiking Destination
Hikers at the Flagpole on Breakneck Ridge. Phoot by Richard Zayas.

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Breakneck Ridge Trails will remain open through 2018, and the Trail Conference, our volunteers, and partners are working hard to protect this popular hiking destination.

Breakneck Ridge in Putnam and Dutchess counties’ Hudson Highlands State Park has once again been named the most popular hiking destination in North America. In a recent survey on Trails.com, it received more than 10 million votes—more than hikes in any national park. As a consequence of its popularity, however, rugged and beautiful Breakneck Ridge is at risk of being damaged beyond repair.

Over the past 5 years, the number of visitors at Breakneck Ridge has increased at an alarming rate—we estimate that more than 100,000 people climb this mountain each year. Factors including social media, word of mouth, easy public transit access, and population density in the greater New York metropolitan region have created a perfect storm for trail overuse and environmental degradation.

There is no one solution to mitigating the effects of such remarkable popularity. But the Trail Conference is in a unique position to understand these challenges and provide assistance. Since 1920, we have been committed to educating and assisting the public in the safe, enjoyable, and responsible use of trails.

In spring 2013, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation asked the Trail Conference for help. Our response was a one-month pilot called the Breakneck Ridge Trail Stewards Program. It was so successful that the Trail Conference has continued the program weekends and holidays from Memorial Day through Thanksgiving every year since. Trail Stewards deliver much-needed services that would not otherwise be available to these visitors. The 2017 stewards counted 50,288 visitors at Breakneck Ridge on weekends and holidays from Memorial Day Weekend through November. Stewards shared information about park regulations, hiker safety, preparedness, and other best practices.

The Trail Conference is also a member of the alliance spearheading the creation of the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail, which includes the Breakneck Connector—a project that will improve visitor safety while accessing Breakneck Ridge from Metro-North and NYS Route 9D. It is the first major undertaking by the coalition that has been working for years to plan how best to manage concerns along Route 9D between Cold Spring and Beacon. Construction is expected to begin in 2019. 

The Trail Conference and our partners behind the Breakneck Connector project can confirm that Breakneck Ridge is open and will remain open through the 2018 hiking season. When the project is set to begin, we will provide ample notice regarding any closures or changes to the trails. Project improvements include the creation of a shared-use path connecting the Breakneck train stop and parking area to the Breakneck Ridge trailhead. It will also add new train platforms, pave the parking area, and add a new welcome center. Follow us @nynjtc on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates.

The Trail Conference also anticipates playing an integral role in assisting the public when the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics spends Oct. 29-Nov. 5 at Breakneck Ridge, which has been identified as a 2018 Hot Spot. A Hot Spot is a “natural area that is being negatively impacted by recreational use” and is “facing the threat of irreversible environmental damage.”

How can you help?

The first step is to understand that everyone is responsible for protecting the environment. The Trail Conference is a great resource for learning how our use of trails and parks impacts these ecosystems—and how to give back to ensure our favorite outdoor destinations remain open, safe, and healthy for years to come. Spring is the perfect time to take a workshop and get out on the trails with us to learn more about how you can help protect the land you love

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