Summer Stewards of Hudson Highlands

Welcome to the Hudson Highlands, New York City’s backyard!  Just a short train ride or a car ride from NYC, people can regain their sense of summer freedom in the network of trails throughout the Eastern Hudson Highlands.  Patrons come from all over – day-trippers from neighboring states, as well as international hikers staying in NYC – to enjoy a pleasant hike.  The trails are as diverse as the people who visit, and there is a trail for every type of hiking goal.

breakneck-photo-by-penelope-guccione
Breakneck, photo by Penelope Guccione

Breakneck Ridge and the Washburn/Cornish Trailhead are two of the most popular trailheads, which are places where trails begin.  These trailheads are where you are likely to bump into a summer trail steward.  New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) staff is stationed at Breakneck while State Parks stewards are posted at Washburn on weekends and either location during the weekdays.  Say hello to the trail stewards at either spot; they can help suggest the best route options and point out unique features that can be found along your desired hike.  Trail stewards from State Parks are based out of the Taconic Outdoor Education Center (TOEC): Outdoor Educators, Student Conservation Association (SCA) members, and seasonal staff who all teach about the natural world.  Stewards are happy to answer questions about any animals you have seen or plants you have discovered.  You can even chat to get some information about local history and places to go post-hike.

Trail stewards are here to empower people with information about safety and about protecting the fragile natural area of the state park.  Working as a part if visitor services, trail stewards help hikers make more informed, positive decisions.  Did you know that trail blazes or trail markers indicate which way the trail winds through the forest?  Trail stewards are there to help brief people on how to read the blazes so that hikers stay on the trail.  Wandering off trail has a devastating impact on the mountains’ natural resources, which supports rare species and sensitive natural communities.  Some hikers purposefully stray from the path, thereby creating false or social trails that can easily mislead novice hikers and escalate erosion, a major issue in the state park.  The rocky summit communities along the ridgeline can be destroyed by visitors trampling the low lying vegetation.  So tread lightly and stick to the designated trails and viewpoints marked on the trail maps.  The goal is to allow people to utilize the mountains as a recreational resource without harming or putting too much stress on the ecosystem.  When hikers make informed decisions, the state park stays in better condition for current and future generations.

Breakneck and Washburn trailheads are the last outposts before you begin your journey to the ridgetops and woods, so make sure to prepare ahead of time.  There are many trails that intersect and overlap.  Grab a free detailed, colored map of the Eastern Hudson Highlands as well as valuable advice from the stewards.  Make sure to bring plenty of water: at least one to two liters during the hot, humid summer months.  Water needs vary based on climate, exertion, and individual needs.  Just remember that there are no water fountains or pumps along the trails.  Washburn has complimentary water most weekends in the summer to help unprepared hikers avoid dehydration.  Snacks may also be useful, providing fuel for long and strenuous hikes.  Other helpful items may include sunscreen, sturdy hiking shoes, and bug spray.  Trail stewards will remind you to “Leave No Trace” (LNT).  LNT is a set of seven principles that provide an outline for outdoor ethics, such as, “Plan and Prepare,” “Carry Out Items that you Carry In,” “Leave what you Find,” “Respect Wildlife,” and “Be Considerate of Other Visitors.”  Essentially, you want to leave no trace of your visit so that the mountains look the same as before entering the state park.  The LNT outdoor ethics are critical for patrons to observe in order to preserve the natural splendor of the Hudson Highlands.

hudson-highlands-photo-by-penelope-guccione
Hudson Highlands, photo by Penelope Guccione

State Parks is also planning for improved management of the park by collecting and analyzing data.  Trail stewards keep track of the number of hikers who start their hikes from these trailheads and conduct surveys to get vital feedback from patrons.  Hikers can help influence future planning in the region by taking a moment to complete a brief survey.  You can take the survey by speaking with a summer trail steward or answering the questions online.  You can help by taking surveys for other trails by clicking on “Survey” under “Quick Links” at the bottom of the State Parks’ website.

As the summertime comes to a close, the trail stewards move from their summer post to other duties until the next summer season.  While the trail stewards may be gone, the trails are still eager to be traveled.  Soon there will be a crisp nip in the air signaling the beginning of autumn.  Will you be there when the forest erupts in a sea of rich, fall colors?  Will you help uphold the outdoor ethics to safeguard the natural resources of the Hudson Highlands?

Learn more about the forest and summits on these trails:

Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath Rocky Summit

Chestnut Oak Forest

Appalachian Oak-Hickory Forest

Post by Catherine Francolini, State Parks

breakneck-sunset-photo-by-karoline-nowillo
Breakneck Sunset, photo by Karoline Nowillo

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