Sparking a Lifelong Appreciation for Nature

January 13, 2020
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Sparking a Lifelong Appreciation for Nature
Trail Conference Trail Steward directing hikers with a map at Breakneck Ridge. Photo by Andre Nizzari.


Trail Conference Stewards are ambassadors for safe, enjoyable, and responsible recreation outdoors.

Think back to your first memory on a trail. Think about where you were, who you were with. What do you most strongly recall?

Hopefully it’s a fond memory! Hopefully it helped to spark a lifelong love of connecting with nature and the determination to protect that kind of experience outdoors.

Perhaps you had some sort of “trail ambassador”—a parent or scout leader or friend—who led the way. Your trail ambassador would have had a map and supplies and the know-how to explore safely and mindfully—and hopefully, they passed that knowledge and preparedness along to you.

These days, not everyone is so lucky to have a trail ambassador guiding them through the “hiking 101” lessons you likely gained firsthand from a trusted source. Where you once needed a map and/or guidebook—or a savvy trail ambassador—just to find a hike, the internet now provides endless recommendations at the tap of a button. But that URL doesn’t necessarily give accurate information. And it very likely doesn’t paint the full picture about our responsibility, as people who seek nature, to enjoy the outdoors with “best practices” in mind.

To provide that missing service to the public—a public that is using trails and parks at an unprecedented rate—the Trail Conference has taken a leading role in providing outreach and assistance to visitors through our Trail Steward program. Our Stewards bring face-to-face user education and sustainable, on-the-ground solutions to some of the region’s most popular outdoor destinations. They are key in protecting the ecological integrity of these special places that are threatened by issues such as misuse and high usage. By encouraging public participation, Stewards are a solution multiplier.

In 2019, Stewards serving through the Trail Conference Conservation Corps were stationed at four locations and interacted with more than 89,100 people. In New Jersey, Department of Environmental Protection Stewards trained by the Trail Conference counted over 24,500 people at three sites. And in the Catskills, volunteer Stewards overseen by the Trail Conference helped almost 20,000 visitors to the new Ashokan Rail Trail. That’s more than 133,600 people given the opportunity to ask for a route recommendation and get a map to safely navigate it; to discover there are no trash receptacles along the trail and that they should carry out everything they carry in; and to learn that staying on the trail isn’t just safer for them—it actually helps protect the ecosystem.

In 2020, we plan to play a role in assisting even more visitors to popular trails. We’re in the process of securing the resources and support to field Stewards in additional high-profile locations, such as Minnewaska State Park Preserve and along the Old Croton Aqueduct in Westchester County.

Our Steward program is having a positive impact on the way people experience nature and the way park agencies are managing and protecting their lands. Find recaps of our success in 2019 and our plans for 2020 here.

And if you believe in the power of everyone having a “trail ambassador” to guide them towards a lifetime of safe, enjoyable, responsible recreation outdoors, please consider supporting the Trail Steward program. Your gift will have a direct hand in deepening people’s relationships to the natural world and empowering them—and in turn, all of us—to protect the environment.

Thanks to Our Generous 2019 Steward Program Supporters