Tag Archives: trails

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

The History of Hiking in New York State

Have you ever gone hiking and wondered where the trail came from, who built it, and when? Many of the oldest trails in New York began as Native American hunting paths, eventually becoming established trade and migratory routes. Until the Industrial Revolution, trails mostly served a functional purpose, but trail building boomed as a new ‘leisure class’ emerged and became interested in outdoor recreation. Today, 16,000 miles of trail run through New York, accommodating hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and more.

In 1891, the New York State Legislature assigned funding to build a trail network across the state, which turned into the greenway system we know today. To promote and advocate for these trails, groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NY-NJTC), and the Adirondack Mountain Club were founded. They provided the volunteers and training necessary to build enough trails to satisfy the demand. Many of these groups exist today and continue to train volunteers in trail construction and maintenance.

The first long distance hiking trail, the Appalachian Trail, was built by The NY-NJTC in Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks in 1923. Conceived in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, the original idea combined recreation, conservation and economic socialism, with wilderness camping. It was seen as an opportunity for people to get away from the city and renew themselves. While MacKaye’s vision of interconnected mountain resorts was never fully realized, the trail was completed in 1937. Today, the Appalachian Trail stretches 2,175 miles from Maine to Georgia.

Promotional poster for the CCC. Source: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wvcccfhr/history/3ccc.htm.
Promotional poster for the CCC. Source: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wvcccfhr/history/3ccc.htm.
Adirondack Mountain Club hikers atop Mt. VanHoevenberg. Source: WikiCommons.
Adirondack Mountain Club hikers atop Mt. VanHoevenberg. Source: WikiCommons.

The Great Depression was a time of enormous parks and trails growth. As part of the New Deal, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt founded the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), based on a similar program he started while serving as governor of New York. This program, in operation between 1933 and 1942, provided unskilled laborers with jobs in the conservation and natural resources fields. During the nine years it ran, three million men participated (220,000 of which were in New York). They planted over three billion trees, and they built more than 800 parks nationwide.

As bicycles increased in popularity, cyclists began advocating for paved surfaces. Paved roads allowed cars to go more places and drive faster than they had been able to previously, thereby making road biking more dangerous for cyclists. In the 1960s, the government began converting unused rail corridors into rail trails to provide a safe space for biking. In the 1970s, rail trails also allowed inline skaters to venture outside of roller rinks and provided ideal corridors for the first recreational snowmobilers.

Following a funding slump in the 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s saw renewed interest in trail building. In 1987, New York City began planning a greenway system; the project was amended in 1993 with a proposal to develop 350 miles of bike and pedestrian trails throughout the city. As of 2010, 140 miles of trail were open to the public.

Black Diamond Trail Volunteer Work Day
Black Diamond Trail volunteer work day. The Black Diamond Trail connects Taughannock State Park, Allan H. Treman Marine Park, Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert Treman State Park. Photo by OPRHP.

These days, most trails are built by volunteers through programs like the NY-NJTC, the Student Conservation Association, Park Friends groups and other organizations. Anyone can get involved to help build or maintain a pathway and contribute to the legacy of trails in New York.

Enjoy this short video about safety and preparedness tips for hiking in New York!

Post by Maddy Gold, SCA Intern.

 

Finding the Footpaths: Creating Trail Maps for New York State Parks

Almost every state park facility in New York has a trail system. As such, it is important that each park have a trail map so visitors can find their way around. Several steps go into creating a trail map including: talking with the park manager, going into the field, and analyzing the data.

The best way to obtain data is by using a Geographic Positioning System (GPS) unit. Parks uses the Trimble GeoXT, which makes a digital map as it collects points, documenting the route travelled as well as any important features. This particular unit comes with a backpack-mounted antenna to increase satellite reception, which is important in heavily wooded areas.

trimbles
Trimble GPS units. The GeoXT, on the right, creates a map in real time. The GPS captures lines and points, takes pictures and is water resistant.

The first step is to talk with the park manager about what he or she wants. It may be that the park has no trail map, only a small portion needs to be updated, or the park is seeking approval on a proposed route. Before heading out, the surveyor uploads reference data to the GPS including park boundary, existing trails and any other useful data. Then, they go the park and start hiking.

maddy 1
Maddy Gold collecting data in Clarence Fahnestock State Park.

In the field, it is important to document every trail, even if it is not an official trail. This is important for rescue teams trying to locate an injured person within the park. Other notable features to collect include: scenic views, picnic areas, restrooms, parking lots, bridges, eroded areas, blaze color, and more.

When the surveyor is confident they have collected all relevant data, they take the data back to the computer and put it into a program called GPS Pathfinder. This program corrects for any inaccuracies in satellite reception by matching the points against current imagery.

mapping 1
GPS Pathfinder Office with data and Differential Correction Wizard. This software corrects for satellite discrepancies and produces the most accurate data possible.

The last step is to put the corrected data into GIS (Geographic Information Systems). This program allows the surveyor to produce a map using the features recorded on the GPS. With all the information about the park in hand, the surveyor sends a draft of the trail map to the park manager. When the park manager is satisfied, the map can be published for use by the public.

mapping 2
ArcGIS window showing the shape file for the state of New York.

Post by Maddy Gold, OPRHP SCA Intern.