Trail and Summit Steward Program

Trail Conference Stewards Help Make Your Experience on Breakneck Ridge, Catskills, and Bear Mountain Trails Even Better 2016 Catskills Trail and Summit Stewards

As the allure of unplugging from technology and reconnecting with nature draws more people outdoors, the need to protect our natural places has become paramount. Since 2013, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference has been committed to educating and assisting the public in the safe, enjoyable, and responsible use of hiking trails through our Trail and Summit Steward Program. 

Trail and Summit Stewards

Between Memorial Day Weekend and early fall, visitors to Breakneck Ridge, the Catskills, and Bear Mountain State Park on weekends and holidays will encounter Trail Conference Stewards providing helpful outreach and information about park regulations, hiker safety, preparedness, and other best practices. In addition to readying hikers for their journeys, stewards also help discourage and mitigate misuse of trails and the surrounding lands through their education and public relations work. In all locations, Trail Conference Trail and Summit Stewards count visitors to collect much-needed trail usage data to help guide future planning of the trails and resources in the parks. The 2017 Steward Program has been made possible through a generous $30,000 grant from REI. 

Our Stewards are very knowledgeable about all of these trails, and help guide visitors toward under-used sections of each park, including alternative picnic areas and hiking options, to help alleviate crowding in the most congested areas. They also provide recommendations on things to do in the nearby “trail towns,” promoting a deeper sense of community around these incredible parks. Through this program, the Trail Conference hopes to build excitement about being outdoors, and cultivate and recruit volunteers as trail stewards in their own right, serving and protecting our parks, open spaces, and public trails.  

Breakneck RidgeHike up Breakneck Ridge

The Trail Conference Trail Steward program originated on Breakneck Ridge, just north of Cold Spring, N.Y., in 2013. Widely recognized as one of the most popular and difficult public transit-accessible day hikes in the country, Breakneck is a destination that draws, on average, more than 750 daily visitors on weekends between Memorial Day Weekend and Columbus Day. 

Prior to the Trail Conference’s Steward Program, lost hikers on Breakneck were a daily occurrence, with emergency services performing rescues nearly every weekend. Many visitors are unprepared for the trail’s extremely steep terrain; tourists often arrive without proper footwear, maps, or sufficient water, and frequently have no idea where to hike. Trail Conference Stewards guide and often redirect underprepared visitors to safer, more appropriate hiking experiences. In 2015, the Stewards observed a 25 percent increase in trail visitors to Breakneck and virtually eliminated the need for search and rescue operations while on duty. This season, Trail Conference Stewards are on track to see a 50 percent increase in the number of visitors counted on Breakneck last year. 

Additional support for the Steward program on Breakneck has been provided by Mountain Tops, Dutchess County Tourism, Seamus Carroll, and Michelle Smith. 

The CatskillsPanther and Giant Ledge Hike. Photo by Jeff Senterman.

The Catskill Mountains are one of New York’s last wild places. Trail Conference Summit Stewards began patrolling the summit areas of Giant Ledge/Panther Mountain, Slide, Wittenberg, and Cornell mountains in 2015. This season, they'll be stationed on Giant Ledge/Panther Mountain, Slide, Blackhead, and North Point. Working closely with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, our Summit Stewards address the unique concerns of these peaks, including the protection of fragile, higher-altitude ecosystems. Illegal camping, particularly above 3,500 feet and less than 100 feet from trails and water sources, is a serious problem in this region. While the Stewards have no enforcement responsibility, they can be highly effective in reporting illegal use and using education and diplomacy to curtail “stealth” camping.

Additional support for the Steward program in the Catskills has been provided by the Catskill 3500 Club, Catskill Mountain Club, and the Hunter Foundation.  

Bear Mountain State ParkView from Bear Mountain. Photo by Jeremy Apgar.

Bear Mountain State Park, straddling Rockland and Orange counties, receives more than 3 million visitors a year, with an estimated 250,000 park users getting a taste of hiking on the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) from the base of Bear Mountain. Stewards were first stationed at Bear Mountain in August 2016. This season, they will be placed at the historic Spider Hill House adjacent to the Bear Mountain Inn beginning Memorial Day Weekend. This “gateway to the backcountry” is where most visitors begin their hikes, especially the popular yet strenuous, 2-mile climb to Perkins Memorial Tower. Stewards provide map information, info on alternative hiking options, and Ruta Apalacha, a Spanish-language brochure that gives an overview of the A.T. and Bear Mountain, to engage visitors and promote the safe, responsible use of trails.

Additional support for the Steward program in the Catskills has been provided by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.