From the Executive Director: Great Partnerships Lead to Great Trail Experiences
If a time machine could take us back to the early years of the Trail Conference, what would we change? Hindsight is 20/20, of course, and organizations, like people, learn and grow from the past. But has the heart of the Trail Conference mission changed? Our organization has remained a constant presence over the last century, providing the public access to some of the most amazing natural areas outside of any major city. We still accomplish our mission the same way we started: by engaging the support of enthusiastic and dedicated people who share a similar desire to enjoy nature.
The Trail Conference was founded as a conference of like-minded organizations— the convener of those who were willing and able to do the work needed to empower individuals to protect the land we all love. That spirit continues to drive our work today. In fact, without the goodwill of our land manager partners, whose agreements invite us to do things like build and maintain trails and remove invasive species, the Trail Conference would not exist. With more and more people looking to connect with nature, the need for new partnerships—the need for better collaboration—is greater than ever.
Our latest opportunity to play a key role in a major, multi-partner initiative has come in New Jersey, where the Lake Hopatcong Regional Trails Plan will connect communities to businesses and nature via trails. In the Spring 2021 issue of Trail Walker, our work with the Open Space Institute and Orange County Land Trust on the Highlands West Connectivity Plan, which envisions a vital green corridor conserving open space and providing accessible recreation through Orange County, N.Y., was featured. And, of course, there are the incredible coordination efforts that make our long-distance trails possible.
Everybody knows about the Appalachian Trail—the 174 miles of A.T. maintained by the Trail Conference in New Jersey and New York are well-hiked. As we prepare to celebrate the A.T.’s centennial, we celebrate our legacy as the organization whose volunteers built its first section, through Harriman-Bear Mountain state parks, in 1923.
The Highlands Trail, in comparison, is something of a secret. Another long-distance trail cared for by the Trail Conference, extends 180 miles from the Delaware River at the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border to the Hudson River in New York. Plans are underway to fully extend the Highlands Trail east to the Connecticut border.
And then there’s the Long Path. Since 1960, the Trail Conference has spearheaded the effort to maintain, protect, and complete this trail, dubbed New York’s Greatest Trail. The aqua-blazed Long Path extends 358 miles from 175th Street Subway Station in Manhattan to John Boyd Thacher State Park near Albany, connecting the most cosmopolitan area in the country with the region’s most wild places. The goal is to extend the trail across the Mohawk River and Saratoga County to link with the Adirondack Forest Preserve trail system.
As we enter our second century, we are working hard to ensure that, on our 200th birthday, a time machine is not needed to address opportunities that might have been missed. We will continue to work with our partners, both public and private, to create a better experience outdoors. As our organization evolves, we are improving the impact that we have by not just focusing on the physical trail, but on the total trail experience. Whether in 2021 or 2121, whenever somebody needs the solace of the wilderness or the respite of a trail, it will be there for them, thanks to the efforts of those united by the Trail Conference.