2021 Corps Trail Steward Blog

Our Stewards have been bringing face-to-face user education and sustainable, on-the-ground solutions to some of the region’s most popular outdoor destinations since 2013. They are key in protecting the ecological integrity of these special places being threatened by issues such as misuse and high usage. By encouraging public participation, Stewards are a solution multiplier.

Learn more about the program.

Table of Contents

Vernal Pool Stewards

April 2021 Vernal Pools Spring to Life in the Hudson Highlands by Rosa Bledsoe

This month we spent Saturdays and Sundays stewarding at the vernal pools on Mt. Taurus in Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve. This allowed us to try out a different style of stewarding, interacting with visitors during their hike about the ecological resources versus helping them before they embark on the trails. It was also a great learning moment for us both, as we were not familiar with vernal pools. We will use our experiences to train volunteer stewards later this season so they can be in place next spring when the Spring Peepers are singing and the eggs are being laid.

We observed the progression of egg masses over 5 stewarding weekends. At the start, we saw many salamander and frog egg masses in the two pools along the Washburn Trail. Egg masses can be hard to spot as they sit under the water's surface and are milky white or semi-transparent. We quickly started seeing more and more tadpoles and salamanders as the season progressed.

The main challenge we encountered was dealing with unleashed dogs. While some dog-owners were aware of the park regulation, many did not grasp the impact an off-leash dog can have on the wildlife in the area, especially at the vernal pool. Not only is it safer for other visitors and other dogs, but they can also accidentally spook the wildlife we may not notice or see right away. The egg masses in the vernal pools are susceptible to disturbances, resulting in hundreds or even thousands of eggs unable to turn into tadpoles and eventually frogs. Over our stewarding days, we encountered 18 off-leash dogs and informed their owners of the regulation and its purpose.

Another challenge we dealt with was how to engage with visitors as the Spring Peepers quieted down. Their mating calls begin in early spring after the ice and snow melts and usually die down after a few weeks once mating is complete. Without the clear chorus of frogs to peak hikers' interest, we had to be more engaging and forward with our knowledge of the pools. Despite this, it was exciting to show interested visitors the tadpoles and talk about this vital resource.

Hudson Valley Trail Stewards

May 2021 by Rosa Bledsoe

Bear Mountain

While Bear Mountain is a destination for hikers, it is also a place where friends and families come to grill, fish, visit the zoo, and generally enjoy a beautiful day outside. Unlike our other Stewarding sites, we interact with many more beginner hikers and people of the general (non-hiking) variety here. During our training, I wanted to emphasize this as it is unique to this site. There are many times when you talk to someone and hiking up Bear Mountain is their first hike EVER! It’s a huge opportunity for Stewards to teach them how to read trail blazes and stay on trail, and talk about Leave No Trace. It really shows the impact we as Stewards have when they finish their hike and tell us they had such a great time. For me personally, it’s a great feeling knowing I helped facilitate a good first hiking experience for someone who may not have felt welcome in this space before.

The first true weekend of Stewarding was rainy and cold so the first busy day we had was Memorial Day. In classic Bear Mountain fashion, the smell of grilled meat wafted over to our tent throughout the day. Because it is a multi-use area, we field all sorts of questions and now that we have very official looking uniforms, we have to be super knowledgeable about all the amenities the park offers. As there are multiple hikes that begin near our Steward Station, I encouraged my team to explore and familiarize themselves with other hikes besides the classic Perkins Memorial Tower loop. Steward Noelle Hedgcock hiked the Doodletown loop, a hike we recommend to people who aren’t up for much elevation gain, and realized we needed to be more precise in our descriptors as there were multiple opportunities to take a wrong turn. What I love most about this job is the collaborative energy within the team. We all respect each other’s experiences and learn from them in order to become better Stewards.

After just having become certified in Wilderness First Aid, I, with the help of my fellow Stewards, assisted a woman with a sprained ankle. She had stepped off a rock wrong, sustained a sprained ankle and the swelling had begun already. Luckily, it had happened after their hike and she was sitting on a rock near our station and her daughter came and asked us for assistance. Stewards Rose Eid and Jen Meikle called for a Park Ranger and helped provide me with the necessary First Aid supplies. I assessed the situation and asked for consent to wrap her ankle which she agreed to. Shortly after, a Park Ranger arrived in a golf cart with an ice pack and drove her and her family back to their cars. It was a great real life test of the skills we had just learned a few days earlier!

“I also took out a plastic grocery bag and started to collect some of the trash that was gathering around the trailhead. It didn't take a lot of effort, but picking up the trash made me think about how we can quickly affect the “first impression” hikers get when they come to a trail. From a friendly face to a (hopefully) litter-free environment in the immediate area we are working in, it’s important to help hikers start off on the right foot and to feel good as they approach the trail and get started!” - Noelle Hedgcock

Breakneck Ridge

With our first official Stewarding weekend landing on a rainy and cold Memorial Day weekend, the crew managed to make the best out of a less than ideal situation. On Saturday, the Stewards made use of the lack of hikers to pick up trash near the trailhead. A good reminder of the need to communicate Leave No Trace Principles to visitors, they picked up over 6lbs of trash.

The rain finally broke on May 31 and proved to be a popular hiking day with around 750 visitors throughout the day. The Stewards took turns hiking on the Short Loop, engaging with hikers along the trail which is much different than seeing people before their hike begins. Often our interactions on-trail take the form of pep talks, helping redirect people away from potentially dangerous alternate social trails, giving advice on other great hiking spots nearby, and reassuring them that “yes, you’re almost to the top!”

 Trail Steward Stephen Schuler reflected on what he observed and learned over the rainy weekend:

“Unsurprisingly, we only saw about 20 hikers that day and even that number was shocking.  What I realized by spending the past two days at the trailhead  during a rainstorm was that people are going to hike no matter what. For some people, this is the only time they have off to do this hike and they are ready for the additional challenges they will face. For others, this is their local trail that they do regardless of the weather conditions.“

Trail Steward Lily Gelfars was reminded that the outdoor experience is for everyone; it just might look a little different from your own!

“Most people will not show up to the trailhead in full Patagonia and it is not our job to shame them into conforming; it is also not our job to decide what they can or cannot accomplish based on our limited views of what a recreationist looks like. The outdoors and iced coffee are not mutually exclusive. One can crush miles in makeup. There is no right way to nature.”

Croton Gorge Unique Area

Memorial Day Weekend was both the first weekend of stewarding but also the first weekend the Croton Gorge Unique Area became open to visitors. After being closed due to COVID and habitat restoration for the past year, it is an exciting opportunity to try to help keep the area pristine and impress upon people the beauty of the area.

Learning from last year, and knowing we would no longer have to turn visitors away, we were able to tailor our training to accommodate for an open Unique Area and for interactions with hikers along the Old Croton Aqueduct (OCA). We focused on how to educate visitors on Leave No Trace and how to delicately handle violations of the Area’s regulations.

Because our Steward Station is alongside the OCA, we are able to talk to more than just visitors to the Unique Area and about more than just the Unique Area. In a few weeks, the Stewards will have a second training specifically about the history of the area including the Croton Dam, the OCA, and the industry that took place where the Unique Area is now. On the first day of Stewarding, we were able to talk to a hiker who, despite the weather forecast, had planned to hike the entire OCA trail that weekend. We answered his questions about the trail further South and about who we were and why we were there. His energy was infectious and lifted our spirits, reminding us how rewarding stewarding can be!

After two rainy days, May 31 saw 18 people visiting the riverside in the Unique Area for a short time as well as bikers, hikers, and dogs along the OCA trail. It will be interesting to see how fast the word spreads about it being reopened. Utilizing the good weather, the Stewards worked with Diane Alden to remove invasive Garlic Mustard along the OCA trail near our Steward Station. In total, they were able to pull 75 lbs. “Lots of people on the trail asked us what we were doing, so this was a great opportunity for us to explain about invasive plants. People were very receptive!” said Steward Marionela Gavriliuc. While our main job is not pulling invasives (we leave that to the Invasives Strike Force!), it is an option for the Stewards at the Croton Gorge Unique Area when the site is not busy. Importantly, it is a great way to feel connected to and responsible for the area where we work!

June 2021 by Rosa Bledsoe

Teamwork Makes the Dream Work (or at least more enjoyable!)

Each Steward has now rotated through each site, noticing the differences and similarities in each location and tailoring their approach to the various groups of visitors seen. A key component of this program is working as a team: learning from each other, supporting and encouraging each other, and keeping each other entertained in the lulls between groups. It is clear that the team has learned that there isn’t one singular, perfect way to communicate the information. There are as many different ways as there are members of the crew.

“Each weekend, I feel like I pick up a new strategy to give directions, or to talk about the Trail Conference, or to talk about what we do as trail stewards. Watching others adapt the information so that it is the most impactful for each group of hikers is insightful and interesting, and also reminds me how important it is to be adaptable (with communication, expectations, etc) in this position.“ wrote Steward Noelle Hedgcock.

As a team of 11, we are lucky to have enough people to be able to get on the trails and engage hikers along their hike. In the case of Breakneck Ridge, it is exciting to talk to groups at the trailhead and then see them halfway through their hike and check in with them since it’s such an intense hike. Usually, these interactions come with a surprise “How did you hike up here that fast?!” which is always a nice confidence booster! These interactions generally are longer than those at the trailhead, with hikers eager to be on their merry way. Here we can talk more specifically about the area or about our role with Americorps and the work of the Trail Conference or Leave No Trace.

We are looking forward to the rest of the season and seeing how the numbers compare with last year. The new Nimham Trail at Breakneck Ridge will be open in July which will give us another talking point to share. We will station one Steward at the intersection to promote it and record usage. Now that schools are out for summer, we expect to see an uptick in visitation and we are ready for it!

July 2021 by Rosa Bledsoe

At Breakneck Ridge, the new Nimham Trail opened at the beginning of July which has provided us another route to suggest to less experienced hikers or those who have done Breakneck many times and want to try something new! It Is named after Daniel Nimham who was a sachem of the Wappinger Indians whose ancestral lands include the Hudson Highlands. Surprisingly, none of the brand new signage mentions this! It is a beautiful and user-friendly .7 mile connection from the Breakneck scramble to the Wilkinson trail. The number of users is increasing as we are able to spread the word every day. Over the course of the month, we counted 410 hikers using the new trail!

At Bear Mountain, we hit a record number of visitors on July 4th with a total of 1,713 visitors counted. With ample parking and attractions for the whole family it is now consistently our busiest site. Steward Noelle Hedgcock reflects on the differences between Breakneck and Bear Mountain:

“Though we do undoubtedly get first-time hikers at Breakneck, I’d like to say that most of the time people at least know they are going on “a hike.” Bear is different in that it seems like a lot of families come to the area to enjoy the park, sit in the grass, grill some food, etc., and hiking is sort of an afterthought once they are there. It just becomes “something else” they can do in the park, like going to the zoo or renting one of the pedal boats. For this reason, we get a ton of people who want to see “THE view” but also want “the easiest and shortest” way to the top. Though we warn that there is no “easy” way, just one that is stairs versus a more traditional trail and rock scramble, tons of people try to hike to the top of Bear Mountain.”

At the Croton Gorge Unique Area, we have seen the number of visitors growing each weekend as word spreads. We have begun to hand out trash bags to each group, encouraging them to pack out their trash. The majority of visitors have been very receptive and understand the importance of keeping the area clean for all to enjoy. We also began piloting a survey for visitors to get a better sense of why people are drawn to the area and where they are traveling from. We get a range of visitors coming from Ossining, Yorktown, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Hoboken to picnic, swim, fish, and enjoy nature. We are also trying to spend more time by the riverside to be a positive presence for visitors, dispelling the assumption that we are law enforcement instead of our true purpose of being educators.

The Stewards have also been exploring more areas in each park in order to better answer questions and recommend hikes to visitors. A few have been able to check out Doodletown, Fort Montgomery, and even Anthony’s Nose near Bear Mountain. A few have hiked longer loops at Breakneck after fielding many questions about hikes with more mileage than the 4 recommended routes. It’s beneficial to the whole team as we are a very chatty group and are eager to share our findings!

August 2021 by Rosa Bledsoe

August was the month of changes! With 2 solid months of Stewarding under our belts, we adapted to the different demands of our sites. One major shift was having to step in to help with the reroute of the Appalachian Trail near the Arden Valley Road bridge which suffered damage and was closed to cars and pedestrians for two weeks. We stewarded 5 days there, adjusting to replace our normal Bear Mountain site with this one. I was proud of my team for their willingness to make such a quick change to fill the need.

At the Croton Gorge Unique Area, we decided to test out a new Stewarding approach. Previously, we would set up our station alongside the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail near the entrance to the path down to the Unique Area. While we would make multiple trips to the riverside, I felt we were not spending enough time there to effectively connect with the visitors beyond what could be perceived as “patrolling.” Now, three Stewards sit near the riverside making it easier to talk with all visitors, including the kayakers and swimmers who we would normally not see at the trailside. Beginning the week of August 18, we also added an additional day of stewarding at the site on Fridays. There has been an uptick in complaints about late-night activity and we hope to intercept some visitors to remind them that the Area closes at dusk and to be respectful of the neighbors. Over the month, we handed out 41 garbage bags to visitors and easily removed 300lbs or more of garbage.

The trash problem is not limited to just the Croton Gorge Unique Area, unfortunately. Steward Stephen Shuler reflects on his experience at Breakneck Ridge,

“Two of the first few hikers we saw were carrying a full trash bag. They said they come here all the time and do clean-ups regularly. They walked from the Wilkinson trailhead to the Breakneck trailhead and filled one bag before the start of their hike. The amount of trash that liters 9D is insane; it is a never-ending battle to control the garbage. People will often see them collecting trash and thank them for cleaning up the mountain instead of helping themselves. All of this has gotten me thinking about how strange Breakneck Ridge is. While it is outdoors and considered a hike, it is more of an experience than a time outside. As a result, we interact with people who expect that someone will clean up after them. It does not help when they see people in uniforms, trash cans, and portapotties before beginning their hike. Fortunately, some people are willing to volunteer their time to help protect the mountain.”

September 2021 by Rosa Bledsoe

With schools back in session and chilly mornings, September marked a clear shift into Fall. Bear Mountain continued to hold the torch for the busiest site, with Labor Day weekend numbers totaling over 3,500. After a slight dip, the final week of September indicated the start of Leaf Peeping season. We welcomed Joe from the Terrestrial Invasives Strike Crew for a crew swap. This gave two Stewards a chance to explain what we do and the challenges we face, reminding them of the impact we have each day.  While we aren’t quite to peak leaf just yet, October is sure to be a busy month as Bear Mountain provides amazing views of the changing foliage.

With the cooler weather, the Croton Gorge Unique Area was very quiet. With fewer visitors overall, there has been less trash for the Stewards to clean up. The visitors that we did interact with were in agreement about leaving no trace and encouraging their fellow visitors to clean up after themselves. After the Hurricane at the beginning of the month, the Croton River was very high and we were instructed to heavily discourage swimming until the water receded. The Stewards were able to deter some visitors from swimming and educate others who were persistent, encouraging them to stay close to shore.

My team had to rely on their Wilderness First Aid training at Breakneck Ridge this month. Two crew members, Rose Eid and Jen Meikle came across a fallen hiker just at the base of the scramble. Alongside Steward Noelle Hedgcock, they provided great care to the patient, who had hit their head but remained conscious, while they waited for EMS to arrive and take over. Despite the following protocol and contacting all necessary entities, it took over an hour for the EMS to arrive and reach the trailhead where Steward Marionela Gavriliuc was waiting for them. The patient was placed on a stretcher and evacuated off the trail and to a hospital. This was a great example of the importance of having Stewards on the trails, ready to assist with emergencies large and small. I am very proud of how my team conducted themselves in such a high-stress, serious situation.

October 2021 by Rosa Bledsoe

Fall is in full swing in the Hudson Valley—prime time for leaf peeping and hiking! As Rosa Bledsoe predicted in her September report, “October is sure to be a busy month as Bear Mountain provides amazing views of the changing foliage.” She was exactly right, as the Trail Stewards at both Bear Mountain and Breakneck Ridge experienced their busiest days of the season on October 17, 2021. At Bear Mountain, Stewards Lani Chevat and Marionela Gavriliuc counted 1,765 visitors. Many of these were large groups looking to hike to Perkins Memorial Tower, so the stewards had to find ways to effectively communicate with large groups and/or condense information enough so that a group leader could communicate the information to an entire group. At Breakneck Ridge, Stewards Conor Dobson, Melanie Schuck, and I counted 1,033 visitors. The trailhead was consistently busy every hour, so the stewards on duty had to handle multiple group sizes and levels of hikers in order to speak to as many people as possible.

Thankfully, there were no reported injuries or lost hikers at either location on our busiest day. However, earlier in the month, Stewards Stephen Shuler, Alex Benedetto, and Rosa Bledsoe assisted a lost hiker at Breakneck Ridge. On the afternoon of October 9, a hiker approached the steward tent asking if the team had seen her boyfriend. The couple had separated at some point before the Flag Pole, and after waiting an hour for her boyfriend, the hiker decided to finish the hike and ask for help. After listening to the boyfriend’s description, the stewards said they did not recall seeing that person pass the trailhead recently. Alex had recently departed to do some stewarding on the trail, so Stephen and Rosa alerted him about the missing hiker and asked him to keep an eye out. Eventually, the girlfriend was able to reach her boyfriend by phone. The lost hiker had no idea where he was and was not even sure when he had last seen a trail blaze. Stephen spoke with the lost hiker on the phone and was able to determine the hiker had gotten lost while following a social trail at some point before the Flag Pole. The hiker was unable to share a location using his phone but was able to send a photo of the area he was in. Stephen determined the hiker had made it to the Wilkinson Trail and gave him directions to head downhill and listen for the road. After a little while, the lost hiker had still not returned, so Rosa went to look for him as it was getting late in the day. After another hour, the stewards decided to call Evan Thompson as there was still no sign of the lost hiker. Evan continued to guide the lost hiker through the trails again via phone, and the hiker was eventually able to find his way back to the road. The stewards did a great job handling this situation, interacting with the lost hiker as best they could for many hours, and then finally alerting park management when they felt they needed help as it got later in the day. Rather than giving directions and hoping the hiker would “figure it out” they made sure he received all the help they could provide to ensure he finished his hike safely.

The final weekend stewards were on duty at the Croton Gorge Unique Area was October 9 and 10. Because of the cool fall weather, the number of people visiting the Unique Area continued to dwindle. During the five stewarding days in October, the stewards on duty counted a total of 11 people descending into the Croton Gorge Unique Area specifically. In general, visitation to the Unique Area seemed to drop off considerably after Labor Day Weekend. Thankfully, the amount of trash present in the Unique Area also lessened as the summer waned into fall.

Catskill Trail Stewards

May 2021 by Myra Romano

A cold, rainy, and icy introduction into stewarding in the Catskills

The Catskill Stewards have had an exciting first couple of weeks of the season. We started with training at each specific location, which required some pretty intense day hikes and an overnight backpacking trip on the Burrough's Range. During these excursions, we learned about the challenges of each location – focusing on activities like removing fire rings, covering social trails, and educating visitors on Leave No Trace principles. These skills will be beneficial in areas like Giant Ledge, where camping is very popular, and Minnewaska State Park, where the sensitive vegetation is suffering trail widening due to trampling. We also completed a 3-day intensive training on Wilderness First Aid / CPR / AED, giving us the confidence and skills to assist any injured hikers who may need our assistance.

The first weekend of stewarding was quite challenging since Memorial Day weekend saw unseasonably cold weather mixed with rain, sleet, and even ice at the higher elevations. Despite this challenge, we counted a total of 1,182 hikers over three days at the six locations and were able to educate 473 of those hikers. We also counted 8 lost hikers who we were able to help and assisted 2 people with injuries.

This year's seven Catskill Stewards will cover six different locations, an increase from last year where we only had four stewards covering four locations. This is also the first year the Trail Conference has secured housing for four of the Catskill Stewards in nearby Hunter, N.Y.

You can find us on Saturdays and Sundays on the Burrough's Range (Slide, Cornell, and Wittenberg), Giant Ledge, North Point, and the Blackhead Range in the Catskills, and two locations in Minnewaska, Gertrude's Nose and the Verkeerderkill Falls Trailhead at Sam's Point.

June 2021 by Myra Romano

Summertime Stewarding in the Catskills and Minnewaska

The days are long, summer vacation is in full swing, and more people are coming out to explore the beautiful views and serene wilderness that the Catskill Mountains and Minnewaska State Park Preserve provide. While we've seen far fewer daily visitors in most of our locations than last year, we still face many challenges that inspire us to think swiftly and creatively. Except for our trail maintenance days during the week, every Catskill Trail Steward works alone for the duration of their day. While this is a good thing for many of us, it can be lonely, especially on a slow day.

During long stretches of downtime, we can take extra special care of the trails. We focus on brushing over social paths, removing fire rings, capturing photos and GPS coordinates of any issues to share with DEC and parks staff, and exploring further to become experts on the trails in the area. These activities help us feel a strong connection with the areas we steward in and provide us with a wealth of information and advice to share with any hikers who stop to talk with us.

Because most of our interactions with park visitors are on the trail or summit, we have an excellent opportunity for more extended conversations. Many people see us in our uniforms and get excited to come up and talk to us, especially larger groups of hikers and families with children. We have been using these moments to educate about Leave No Trace principles and the importance of being prepared for a hike.

Heat-related illnesses are some of the most common injuries we see during this time of year. One sweltering day at Gertrude's Nose in Minnewaska posed a challenging situation: "After lunch, a man came up to me worried about his friend who was suffering from heat exhaustion and low blood pressure farther along the trail. I met up with the injured hiker, who was being assisted by the rest of his hiking group. The doctor in their group led the charge, and we helped guide the man into the shade. After slight improvement, I contacted the rangers and updated them on the man's condition. When Ranger Steve got there we were able to hike out the injured hiker and his party back to the carriage road where a truck was waiting to take them back. Luckily, no one was seriously injured, and everyone seemed to be in good spirits once we got back to the visitor center," writes Trail Steward Rachael.

While we can't always prevent situations like this from happening, we always hope that our presence and expertise can help hikers become safer, more responsible, and more respectful of the areas they're coming out to enjoy. As Trail Steward Iona reflected after a day at the Verkeerderkill Falls Trailhead in Sam’s Point, "I had great convos with patrons, and I love when they leave happy after I've answered a question they had. It's the best feeling."

July 2021 by Myra Romano

July was another busy month, filled with more training and special events on days when we weren't out stewarding or performing maintenance on the trails. At the beginning of July, all six stewards became certified Leave No Trace Trainers. In mid-July, we participated in a special Leave No Trace Hot Spot event at Minnewaska State Park Preserve. This was exciting as it allowed us to meet with park staff, land managers, and other stakeholders who have a hand in improving the conditions of this park. Social trails, trampling of sensitive vegetation, and improper disposal of waste are common problems at Minnewaska – especially on the trail going out to Gertrude's Nose. We collaborated on the most effective ways to tackle these challenges, and it was reassuring to see the research from the Leave No Trace team that showed how effective on-the-ground stewardship is.

The Catskill Steward team has decreased from 7 stewards to 6, but with the help of Hudson Valley Stewards subbing in on weekends at Minnewaska and Sam's Point, we can continue providing the same coverage at all our locations. Trail Steward Rachael reflects on some of the lessons she's learned so far, now that we're halfway through the season:

As a Trail Steward in the Catskills, I have to be prepared for anything. This past month's adventures included mountaintop lightning storms, freezing mornings with boiling afternoons, and days with humidity so high that my uniform was drenched even before I started. More often than not, preparing for the day meant that my rain gear was always within arm's reach. Every morning the checklist included a raincoat, hat, rain pants, gaiters, change of clothes, and warm layers. A good pair of sturdy hiking shoes can make a world of difference! And although it might seem like a bummer to be stuck on top of a mountain in the rain, it can often lead to the most rewarding and exciting experiences. I tend to have my best visitor interactions on rainy days – the hiker and I both in disbelief that someone would willingly be out in the cold and dreary weather.

Rainy days also mean that I get to introduce visitors to the aspects of hiking that don't necessarily mean peak bagging or finding that perfect view. My new catchphrase has been, "Sure there's no view, but you are literally in a cloud! How often do you get to say that?" For many visitors, it can be disappointing to have driven 2 hours (or more!) for a hike, only to get to the summit and see an endless expanse of white as a reward. But, as the ever-positive trail steward, I like to remind hikers that while views are fantastic, a little bit of rain can lead to quieter trails, more wildlife interactions, and a greater appreciation for those rare and lovely sunny days.

Since we’ve seen rain on 50% of the days we’ve been out there, it’s important for us to find the silver lining in more challenging weather, not just for ourselves but for our interactions with other visitors. We look forward to the rest of the season and all the excitement and challenges it will bring!

August 2021 by Myra Romano

August was a little slower than the previous two months but still presented its challenges due to various unpredictable late summer weather patterns. We had to steward on oppressively hot days, dry and dusty days, humid days, and eerily quiet weekends due to impending hurricanes and storms. More than halfway through the season now, the entire crew is well-versed with how to steward effectively at each site. From my experience as a Trail Steward last year, I know that it does take time to familiarize yourself with the local history, the network of trails in the area, and the common questions or problems that arise at the different locations. I thoroughly enjoy hearing my crews' stories each time we all get together on our trail maintenance days!

Reflecting on a weekend at Sam's Point, Trail Steward Iona writes, "This weekend I stewarded at Sam's Point Area of Minnewaska at the Verkeerderkill Falls trailhead. Sunday started as a cool day, but the sun came out in decent force in the afternoon, and it started to get warmer. Many people went to see the ice caves, which is a great choice on a warmer day. Many wanted to see the waterfall but were unaware of the strenuous nature of the hike, as there is no shade on the trail, so lots of water is required. Additionally, we hadn't had much rain in the past few weeks, so the falls had slowed to a trickle and eventually stopped running altogether. I let people know about the conditions of the trail and directed them to other attractions in the park if they were unprepared for the waterfall hike. Many people were very thankful for the information as they would have been very hot and dehydrated otherwise. It was a great day, and I got to help lots of people find the right hike for them!"

During a weekend stewarding at the Burrough's Range, Trail Steward Justin writes, "Fabulous weather day on Slide & Cornell! My first order of business was to check on the lower Slide Mtn campsites, including a new campsite access trail - planned & cut by myself and Andrew! To my delight, it appeared as though some campers had used our new "trail" recently to access the small campsite. It was cool to know that our work had been put to use and enjoyed by some visitors! I checked on the other campsites on the Slide ascent and made my way up the mountain, chatting with a few hikers along the way, but generally not seeing very many people in the morning. I spent the middle of the day on Slide's summit and brushing the many social trails that people keep using around the summit area. In the afternoon I made the traverse to Cornell and began to see more hikers, specifically backpackers. A friendly group of guys asked my opinion on other backpacking destinations in the Catskills. I was happy to inform them of my favorites: the Devil's Path, the Escarpment Trail, and the Blackhead Range. I also met a young man on his first-ever solo overnight and enjoyed talking with him about gear and techniques, as well as helping him pick a campsite for the evening. I saw more people on my return trip from Cornell and my descent of Slide than I had seen all the rest of the day! Excellent views from the spring below Slide, which was just barely trickling."

Being aware of the current trail conditions has proven to be one of our most influential and essential areas of expertise. We pride ourselves on knowing when to tell a hiker to turn back, how and when to prepare for a dried-up water source, or which campsites are available to backpackers who are hauling a heavy load of gear up a steep mountainside. In return, they are always very appreciative of the knowledge we share with them. These conversations are rewarding in multiple ways. Not only do we enjoy helping people out, we feel confident knowing that we are sending them out into the wilderness with information that will keep them safe and comfortable.

September 2021 by Myra Romano

September was our busiest month yet in the Catskills, and a consistently busy month in Minnewaska State Park and Sam's Point. Starting the month off with another 3-day holiday weekend with less than desirable weather, Trail Steward Justin got a taste of excitement while assisting on an overnight rescue at Minnewaska State Park:

"After stewarding at Gertrude's Nose until 6:30p (I stayed late because it was busy & the weather was so good!), I went to grab a bite before setting up camp at Sam's Point for the evening. At 9 p.m., I called Park Ranger Zack to let him know I was on my way to Sam's Point. He informed me that they could use some help with a rescue at Minnewaska on Millbrook Mountain Footpath. When I arrived at the Minnewaska Visitor's Center, a rescue team had begun to assemble, and EMTs were standing by with an ambulance. We were quickly briefed on the plan: we would get our hiker onto a litter that would then be attached to a large wheel and slowly rolled up the steep, rocky trail to a point where we could transfer him to a UTV that would bring him to the ambulance. Our hiker was a young man suffering from dehydration and leg cramps. This rescue was very difficult for a few reasons - the trail is very rugged and has a cliff-exposed section, the trail was very wet (we had been diverting hikers from the trail all day because of the wet conditions), and our hiker was a very big guy - weighing over 270 lbs. The trail conditions made for very slow going. However, with teamwork, coordination, and a great deal of sweat, we were able to slowly get our guy off the trail and into the hands of medical professionals. I am glad I got to be a part of the rescue and put to use my Wilderness First Aid certification. It was quite an experience!" – Justin McCarthy

That same weekend, Trail Steward Iona was able to provide lots of valuable information to hikers, at both the summit and trailhead of Wittenberg:

"There's a saying that in the Catskills there are two rocks for every speck of dirt. That saying is certainly true for Wittenberg where I was stationed for Labor Day weekend! Saturday and Monday were beautiful hiking days that sandwiched a very cold and wet Sunday in between them. Sunday I set up at the register for Wittenberg at Woodland Valley campground and talked with hikers on their way up the mountain. I informed them of the trail conditions and what they should expect from the hike. In the afternoon I helped a group of hikers and their dog with campsite locations and alternatives in case they didn't make as good of time as they hoped. They were very thankful for the information and I was happier to help them make their hike as enjoyable as possible. A great weekend at a great location!" – Iona Hennessy

Even though the weather is getting cooler, dehydration and hiker unpreparedness continue to be the primary intent of education while stewarding at Sam's Point. On September 12, Trail Steward Dani had a stressful experience while trying to convince a hiker that they may not be prepared for the long hike out to Verkeerder Kill Falls:

"Today was a bit more stressful considering the uptick in people compared to Saturday. One, in particular, was a solo hiker on a waterfall kick. He was already drenched in sweat by the time I saw him at the trailhead for Verkeerderkill Falls and was determined to continue. I advised him that it takes more time than he would think, between 2.5-3.5 hours to complete. He wasn't aware and became pretty annoyed at that fact… he decided to go anyways. Hours went by and eventually, a couple told me that he wanted them to tell me that he wasn't breathing properly. I called the rangers and they came shortly after. Eventually, the man came stumbling down to the trailhead again and he said he was tired, but alright." – Dani White

Later in the month, on September 26, Trail Steward Rachael assisted an injured hiker with a walk-out from Slide Mountain, and was able to help them get back to their car at Woodland Valley:

"On Sunday morning, just before I had reached the summit of Slide I ran into 2 hikers who immediately stopped me and asked for assistance. One of them, Isaac, had injured his knee and wanted to know if there was a faster way to get back to Woodland Valley rather than taking the whole loop, which was their original plan. They both seemed pretty upset, and Isaac was on the verge of tears. I felt really bad for them so I shot a quick text to [Assistant Forest Ranger] Yazmina and told her that I was heading down with an injured hiker and would give them a ride to their car in Woodland Valley. I wrapped up Isaac's knee with a bandage and carried his backpack for him once we got to the rocky section of the trail. We made it down in relatively good spirits and then we all (Yazmina, Sam, Isaac, and I) hopped in my car for a fun drive back around the mountain to Woodland Valley. I had given Isaac an ice pack once we had stopped moving ad he seemed to be in a much better mood. I hope they are both feeling better today." – Rachael Freundlich

My entire team of Trail Stewards continues impressing me with their dedication to educating and assisting hikers in need! It's evident that we all genuinely enjoy the work we are doing while out on the trails, and it makes me bittersweet that the season is quickly approaching its end.

October 2021 by Myra Romano

And Just Like That...The Season Is Over :( 

With only three weekends of stewarding in the month of October, it was a nice way for the Catskill crew to wind down the end of their season. The weather became cooler and more unpredictable, and days were shorter, which meant visitor count decreased at most locations, with the exception of Giant Ledge – a very popular spot to visit in the fall. We even saw snow at some higher elevation locations (Slide Mountain) the very last weekend we were out in the field!

Trail Steward Justin recounts his 3-day weekend on the Blackhead Range, one of his favorite weekends of the year:

“A busy Columbus Day Weekend in the Blackhead Range! On Saturday we got some really great weather, and I saw loads of folks on Blackhead! It never felt overcrowded, but it the parking lot was overflowing and I could tell that the leaf peeping crowd was out in full force. The foliage was stunning! Red, yellow, orange - the hills were ablaze with color. I decided to go up to Lockwood Gap and summit Black Dome first, and checked on the campsites along the way - everything was in order. I was struck by the brilliant yellow leaves of the maple trees at the middle elevations - stunning! After Black Dome I traversed to Blackhead, running into a group of hikers led by a guide I had met on Wittenberg earlier in the season. They were picnicking on the western ledge of Blackhead, and we chatted about the foliage, trail conditions, and how the season had been to that point. They had come up from NYC and were loving the Catskills experience! I completed my loop that afternoon by descending Blackhead on the Escarpment Trail before turning off at Batavia Kill, where I checked on the lean-to and campsites - all of which were In great shape. I had a nice stop-and-chat with a father and his two young daughters, helping them pick a campsite near the lean-to for the night. On Sunday, I parked at the Barnum road parking lot and traversed Caudal, Camel’s Hump, Thomas Cole, Black Dome, and Blackhead - and then back again! I did not see as many hikers as I had on Saturday, as the weather was not ideal - there were intermittent showers, and clouds obscured nearly all the views that day. Regardless, the hikers that I did encounter were a hardy bunch, and in good spirits. It was another low-key Sunday. Monday, however, was an absolute GEM of a day - one of the great weather days of the year, with sunny views of the incredible foliage nearly all day! The trails were not crowded at all, and I ended up spending over an hour on the western ledge of Blackhead talking with Peter Bonsteel, who had a plethora of stories about the Catskills of the past & present. I also met and hiked with a very interesting psychologist from Hudson, NY - he specializes in the Jungian analysis of consciousness and dreams. Needless to say, we had quite a conversation. I was able to show him the views of the Hudson Valley from the Escarpment just south of the Blackhead summit before we descended Blackhead together back to the Big Hollow car parking lot - we had so much fun that it was dark by the time we got to our cars! What an awesome weekend on quite possibly my favorite place to steward.”

Trail Steward Rachael compares her first and last weekends of stewarding at Giant Ledge:

“Last weekend at the ledge! It was a very cold way to end the season, but sort of became a full-circle moment. I started my first weekend way back in May with the cold and rainy weekend on Giant Ledge, and I've ended it the same way. 

I saw over 600 people this weekend, many of who were unprepared for the (forecasted!!) storm on Saturday and rain on Sunday. I removed a fire ring and packed out an entire garbage bag full of trash. Had a serious case of misanthropy for a little bit I won't lie. However, I also met many wonderful people who were prepared for the weather (yay!) and asked me lots of fun questions.”

Trail Steward Stephen explains some of the challenges we’ve been battling all year at Gertrude’s Nose:

“Today was my final day stewarding, and it was gorgeous. The leaves were beautiful! Yesterday was nice too, but there was a difference. On my final day, I decided to hike up the Millbrook Mountain Trail and approach Gertrude's Nose from that direction.  A lot of hikers are doing this loop, and I wanted to experience it for myself. It was an interesting experience. It appears that someone on Alltrails posted this loop, and it is becoming the more popular option. While it may be more popular, it needs some work. The blazes were hard to find, and there were times I had to guess and check where the trail went. The trail became a river after yesterday's rainfall, and waterproof footwear is a must. Eventually, the red trail marker disappears with no warning and becomes blue? After following the blue trail, you need to spot a few hidden red blazes to begin the Gertrude's Nose trail.  Along the way and at the nose, I did not see too many people. I waited for a while at the nose, and then it happened. Swarms of hikers started approaching. In total, I saw nearly 600 hikers today. Most were surprised to learn that this was the actual nose and not the area before. I split my time between her nose and the fake nose. There were dozens of people crossing over the crack, not realizing what had happened recently. It was exhausting to tell people not to jump over the crack. Most people would acknowledge what I was saying but did it anyway because they want to take a photo. Eventually, I started telling people if they wanted to take a picture, at least go the safer option. There are no signs or any warning that say do not cross here or habit restoration. Without that, people are going to keep going there. The park may be frustrated by this, but if I was a visitor, I would have never thought I did anything wrong myself.”

I’m incredibly proud of all the work my crew did this year and feel so grateful to have witnessed first-hand how passionate and dedicated they were about making a difference with each conversation. Spending multiple days repeatedly from May until October at these locations have helped us all become experts on the trails, the surrounding area, the local history, and wildlife. It’s sad that the season is over but we all have these wonderful memories to take with us on our next journeys.