We Stand Up for Trails

March 28, 2017
Amber Ray
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


We Stand Up for Trails
Looking out over Harriman-Bear Mountain state parks. Photo by Dan Balogh.


No matter what side of the political spectrum you’re on, one thing we all value has come up for debate in the national conversation: the protection of public open space and our continued access to it.

When conservation and stewardship are viewed as minor affairs by federal policymakers, the effect trickles down to the work of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Several looming issues may significantly impact local parks and trails in the near future.

While it’s not likely a marquee park such as Yosemite or the Grand Canyon will be turned over for commercial endeavors, the federal government’s role in owning and safeguarding public land is a question that will not be resolved quickly or quietly. The Trail Conference maintains trails in three areas managed by the National Park Service—the Appalachian Trail, Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, and Morristown National Historical Park. We also support trail building and maintenance efforts in New Jersey’s Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge and Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge, both managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (Additional federal lands are overseen by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service.) The Trail Conference proudly supports these vital arms of the government as our partners.

This conversation, in turn, intensifies the issue on a state level. In the greater metropolitan New York area, the Trail Conference has been involved in open space protection since the 1930s. We have played an important role in the preservation of Storm King Mountain, the creation of Sterling Forest State Park, and the formation of several state forests along the Long Path. Our advocacy work and role in purchasing key parcels of land for transfer to state ownership continues to aid in the creation and expansion of public parks. It allows us to improve access to the outdoors through the building of a better trail experience. 

As the significance of open space is debated, funding for the agencies that manage public lands—on both the federal and state level—will be scrutinized even further. Without proper operating budgets, the possibility that these parks will be forced into piecemeal closures is very real. That’s why Trail Conference representatives travel to Albany, Trenton, and Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials and speak about the importance of access to nature for all. We raise awareness about our work building, maintaining, and protecting trails, and the health and economic benefits associated with experiencing the outdoors.

Though the federal government’s role in the protection of public lands is in question, one thing is certain: The people of the Trail Conference—members, donors, volunteers, and staff—will always take a stand for responsible access to public open space. Through a commitment to making a difference on trail lands in our region, we can all secure the value in our trails, our parks, and our connection with nature.

Help Save AmeriCorps, Help Improve Trail Lands

At the time this issue of Trail Walker goes to print, there is another threat to the work of the Trail Conference: the potential elimination of AmeriCorps from the federal budget. This program provides the structure of the Trail Conference Conservation Corps and the funding to provide AmeriCorps Education Awards to our Corps members. The Trail Conference Conservation Corps leveraged 602 community volunteers in over 5,132 hours of service last season. Together, our Corps members and volunteers inventoried and maintained more than 124 miles of trail, improved/built over 4 miles of trail, and improved over 70 acres of our public lands. AmeriCorps is one of the many ways that the Trail Conference is able to engage our community in service, and we encourage everyone to spread the word that this program deserves funding. AmeriCorps not only works to improve parks, it’s training the next generation of conservation leaders. Learn how you can help save AmeriCorps.

Recreation as Activism

Making a difference starts in our own communities. The Trail Conference works to improve the trail experience in a relatively small but incredibly diverse region: from NYC to the Catskills, the Water Gap to Breakneck Ridge—all the places that make this area so incredible to explore. Through our partnerships with land managers, these trail lands are protected and cared for by our members, donors, volunteers, and staff—outdoor-loving people just like you. YOU can make a difference to ensure our parks and trails remain open and safe for all to enjoy. Please consider making a gift to the Trail Conference. Your support has never been more important.