Working Together to Protect Breakneck Ridge

November 05, 2018
Hank Osborn
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference

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Working Together to Protect Breakneck Ridge
The partners who manage Breakneck Ridge met on the mountain during Hot Spot Week in October 2018. Photo credit: Amber Ray

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Consistently ranked the most popular day-hike destination in North America, Breakneck Ridge was identified as a 2018 Leave No Trace Hot Spot due to overuse and misuse.

In other words, Breakneck has now been nationally recognized as a place in danger of being "loved to death." In a recent survey on Trails.com, it received more than 10 million votes—more than hikes in any national park. There is no one solution to mitigating the effects of such remarkable popularity. But the Trail Conference and our partners are in a unique position to understand these challenges and alleviate impacts.

Oct. 29 to Nov. 5 was deemed Hot Spot Week at Breakneck Ridge. Hot Spot Week brought together New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Hudson Highlands Land Trust, REI, the Subaru Traveling Trainers from the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, and the Trail Conference for a week of discussion and solution-finding. These partners hosted stewardship events aimed at ensuring that outdoor-lovers do their part to respect and protect the rugged beauty of Breakneck Ridge. 

The week kicked off with a Breakneck site visit and assessment by the the Traveling Trainers and partners reponsible for managing the mountain and its trails, including NYS Parks and the Trail Conference. Partners then took part in Leave No Trace communications training, and the Trail Conference hosted an REI-sponsored Trail Chat with land managers and other partners invested in protecting open space. We worked to identify actions needed to mitigate the effects of the impacts from high-use at Breakneck Ridge, such as the Trail Conference's Steward program. Outcomes of the Trail Chat included solid plans for improving stewardship and the identification of the specific actions needed to protect the natural resources at Breakneck Ridge and similar high-use areas in the region.

Halloween was celebrated with a guest appearance from the Leave No Trace mascot, Big Foot, at Bank Square Coffee House and Mountain Tops Outfitters in Beacon, N.Y.—longtime sponsors of the Breakneck Ridge Trail Steward Program who have donated every steward uniform since the program’s inception six years ago. REI hosted a forum at their SoHo store, which focused on the connection between outdoor photography and the importance of the Leave No Trace ethics when venturing into nature. This sold-out event was followed by a volunteer recognition party where the Trail Conference received an award for our stewardship efforts at Breakneck Ridge. It was an honor to be acknowledged for improving the safety and enjoyment of visitors at Breakneck while working to protect the land itself.

The final days of the Hot Spot Week saw an enhanced Trail Steward presence at Breakneck Ridge on Saturday and Sunday. Eleven Stewards assisted and educated hikers at five key points around Breakneck Ridge. Volunteers participated in litter pick-up, trail maintenance, and habitat restoration efforts, focusing on rehabilitating damaged treadway and clipping overgrown sections of trail. It was a typical beautiful fall day with over 1,500 visitors to Breakneck Ridge.

Over the past five 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 high trail use and environmental degradation. Public engagement, education, and Leave No Trace awareness will be the key to preserving the integrity of Breakneck Ridge and ensuring future generations can explore this cherished mountain.

Get Involved
#OptOutside with us this Black Friday on Breakneck Ridge to get some post-turkey exercise, take in the awesome views, and help keep our trails beautiful. Meet us on the trail on Friday, Nov. 23, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sign up today.

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