What Happens When Nature Is Deemed Essential

October 19, 2020
Joshua Howard, Executive Director
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


What Happens When Nature Is Deemed Essential
Minnewaska Skytop View Panorama. Photo by Steve Aaron.


As we enter our second century of service, we are in many ways entering a new era. This has been a year of unprecedented challenges, but when thinking about our Centennial, I see the strength of this organization. I see hope. I see the remarkable ways we have adapted to provide great trail experiences to the millions of people who live in our region. Above all, I see the resilience of our trail community.  

COVID-19 forced us into our homes, closed our doors, and made us retreat to a state of self-imposed quarantine. As the economy worsened and the forecast looked dismal, the Trail Conference was facing a big financial challenge. 

At the same time, we had no idea how critical a role we would play in the coming weeks. We were not in the healthcare industry; we were not first responders. We weren’t in any profession deemed "essential.” Like so many other organizations, we closed our doors and sent our staff and volunteers home to work remotely, hoping we would find a way to endure. 

To keep our virtual doors open for the next few months, we needed $700,000. The Recovery and Response Fund was created, and our Board of Directors was the first to step up. Their leadership and commitment to the organization raised more than $115,000. 

What happened next is incredible. Trail use skyrocketed in the following weeks and months. We saw an unprecedented demand for information from our website about where to hike and what to bring. The Trail Conference had become an essential service for the public to survive the pandemic. 

Through your support of the Recovery and Response Fund, we launched our digital engagement platform. With more than 5,000 sign-ups for online webinars and lectures ranging from the History of the Morris Canal to Corridor Monitoring, we continued to recruit and train volunteers and provided our community with respite from the crazy world around us. 

In early August, we achieved our goal! Through the generosity of our members, volunteers, and those who turned to nature during these trying times, we were able to continue to care for our trail community. The Trail Conference’s supporters showed their resolve, and through these tough times, made a commitment to keeping trails and the lands they cross safe and healthy for the public to enjoy. 

The resilience of the Trail Conference and its members amazes me daily! The amount of passion that is invested in maintaining the nation’s most utilized network of trails, caring for our ecosystems, and providing outreach and education to the public EVERY DAY is incredible. The Trail Conference once again proved its resourcefulness in empowering people to connect with nature. We have remained steadfast in our mission not only this year but for the last 100 years.  

With gratitude to every member of the trail community that supported the Recovery and Response Fund and helped the Trail Conference weather the storm, we now look to the future with the launch of the Resilience Fund. This annual fund will be the financial engine ensuring continued support for sustainable trails and healthy parks today and for years to come.

The Resilience Fund supports the vigilance required for the protection of nature and safe access to the outdoors, no matter what tomorrow brings. It is a reminder that the Trail Conference exists to provide for the physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing that is found outdoors—but we can only serve this role with the community’s support.

Please consider a gift to the Resilience Fund to mark your commitment to the future of great trail experiences!