Volunteer John Blenninger
A milestone was reached on May 1, 2011, when John Blenninger announced he was stepping down as Trails Supervisor of Black Rock Forest (BRF), a position he has filled for 35 years. “Driving distance, advancing age and the tiresome (but necessary) paperwork are catching up with me,” he explained in a letter, adding that he plans to continue to maintain three trails at BRF.
John is a legend among experienced Trail Conference volunteers. He has recruited and trained countless maintainers, overseen significant expansion of trail responsibilities at BRF and adjacent Storm King State Park, has been a frequent instructor of Trail Maintenance 101 workshops, and enjoys a reputation as “the Rembrandt” of trail blazing.
He shakes his head at the mention of this last. “No,” he says in his quiet, deliberate voice, “not Rembrandt--Michelangelo, because he not only painted but was also a sculptor.” John’s eyes twinkle in a straight face as he stakes this claim to blazing greatness. But a glance around the compact rustic lair that is his living room reveals it as a hybrid of an artist’s studio and collector’s gallery. Trail tools—countless loppers, hand pruners, scrapers (his sculpting tools), bow saws, buckets in various sizes, paint brushes, flick sticks--and 40 souvenir paint blazes harvested from fallen trees or bark, testify to his abiding interest in what has been a nearly life-long avocation: Creating the answer “Yes” to the question, “Is your trail a joy to follow?” It’s a question he puts to every trail maintainer.
John’s introduction to trail maintenance came in 1971 when he joined a work trip on the White Bar Trail in Harriman State Park sponsored by his hiking club—New York City Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club. He joined the Trail Conference that same year. In 1993, the Trail Conference honored his contributions with the Hoeferlin Award, given to volunteers who have demonstrated exemplary service to trail maintenance, management, and/or trail land protection.
Forty years later, John may be giving up the paperwork that goes with being Trails Supervisor, but not the opportunity to practice his trail artistry. Hikers will continue to find him and his handiwork on the Split Rock Trail, what he calls the “Serenity Section” of the Stillman Trail (landlocked, western terminus), and the Hill of Pines Trail at his beloved Black Rock Forest.