Trail Conference to Serve on Gov. Cuomo’s Catskill Park High-Use Advisory Group

October 23, 2020
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Trail Conference to Serve on Gov. Cuomo’s Catskill Park High-Use Advisory Group
Sunset Rock. Photo by Steve Aaron.


The strategic planning advisory group will develop framework to help balance public use needs in Catskills.  

The Trail Conference is proud to be a part of New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) new strategic planning initiative to promote the sustainable management of public use in the Catskill Park. Our executive director Joshua Howard will be part of a new advisory group that will build on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s commitment to protect high-traffic public lands for future generations.

“Parks and trails are seeing unprecedented visitation, which is incredibly exciting for our organization and our efforts to connect people with nature,” Howard said. “The work of generations of Trail Conference staff and volunteers has quietly provided people with the elixir of sanity, serenity, and exercise we needed to survive these difficult times.

“I hope that this newfound affinity for nature continues,” Howard added. “The Trail Conference has 100 years of experience as caretakers of trails and natural areas; a century of experience in giving trail users the tools and know-how they need to have a safe, enjoyable experience outdoors. I am optimistic for the future. As leaders of responsible recreation in a growing trail community, the Trail Conference can cultivate this new interest in the outdoors into a real passion for the care of nature.”

This invitation is a culmination of the hard work that we have invested in our Trail Steward program over the last several years. Trail Conference 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 in the safeguarding of natural areas, Stewards are a solution multiplier.

The Trail Conference is seen as leaders in:

  • Promoting Leave No Trace principles
  • Protecting fragile ecosystems from damage
  • Restoring and protecting native species
  • Monitoring and minimizing the ecological impacts of recreational use
  • Convening and collaborating with our community of trail users and managers
  • Using science and data to influence policymakers

Similar to the Adirondack High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group launched in 2019, DEC will facilitate the Catskills Strategic Planning Advisory Group (CAG), which is comprised of stakeholders with expertise in local government, recreation, natural resource protection, business, tourism, and other priority areas. DEC and partners continue to fulfill other elements of Gov. Cuomo’s State of the State proposal, including: deploying sustainable trail crews to make trails more durable to increased use; analyzing and developing new visitor flow solutions to better manage traffic and hikers; and initiating education programs to promote stewardship practices that minimize the impact to natural resources and ensure positive recreational experiences for future generations.

New York State identified six goals for managing public use in the Catskill Park Region: ensure public safety in communities, along roadways, at trailheads, and in interior areas; address impacts and public safety in areas experiencing significant and unsustainable public use; protect natural resources and recreation infrastructure; provide a quality recreation experience for visitors and users of all backgrounds; support local economic vitality; and ensure that science/fact-driven decisions are made with the use of best available data.

In 2020, two Trail Conference Conservation Corps Steward crews have been in the field this year since June. They have been providing assistance and education at five locations: the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain State Park, Breakneck Ridge, in the Catskills, at the Croton Gorge Unique Area, and in Minnewaska State Park Preserve. At the end of August, they had already interacted with nearly 58,000 trail users. Additionally, Trail Conference trained Trail Stewards serve on the Ashokan Rail Trail in the Catskills, in Hudson Highlands-Fahnestock State Parks, and in several state parks throughout northern New Jersey.

Our successes have also earned us national attention. In a recent webinar hosted by American Trails, a national nonprofit working on behalf of all trail interests, we hosted a session titled “Managing High-Use Trails: Why Trail Stewards are a Necessity in Creating Safe, Sustainable Trails.” More than 800 individuals from across North America attended to learn about our Trail Steward program, which has been educating people at some of the most popular trailheads in the nation. In fact, more than a dozen trail organization leaders have gotten in touch with us since the presentation for more information on successfully managing a Trail Steward program and being a force in finding positive solutions in high-use areas.

As we look to our second century, we will continue to provide the public and our partners the necessary expertise to defend our trail lands from threats such as the spread of destructive invasive species and ecological degradation due to high usage.