Peak Season: Trail Maintenance in 2020

Peak Season: Trail Maintenance in 2020

The outdoors have been a popular escape for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. The desire to travel, get some sun, and enjoy a semblance of normal life has generated peak interest in outdoor activity. This activity takes its toll, however, and many managed areas have stewardship crews and/or volunteers who work to maintain these beautiful locations.

Teatown is no different, and you will often see our Stewardship team working hard to keep the trails sustainable and safe for our visitors. We recently spoke with our friends at ADK (Adirondack Mountain Club), all the way up in Lake Placid, New York, about this very issue and how they have taken on the challenge themselves.

“Parking management is one of the biggest issues,” said Ben Brosseau, Director of Communications at ADK. “With the busiest trailheads in New York in our region, and maybe the entire Northeast, we’ve had to deal with serious overflow problems. Sometimes, parking can go on for miles, and it’s not uncommon to find hikers travelling an additional 5 miles roundtrip on foot just to get to the trailhead.”

Summit Steward in the Adirondacks.

Stewardship Department hard at work at Teatown.

Much like the Adirondacks, Teatown has had its fair share of parking challenges. During the beginning of the pandemic, we went to the towns of Cortlandt and Yorktown in Westchester County to get temporary ordinances passed to address cars parking alongside our roadways, but it still took four to six weeks to settle out. This can lead to dangerous situations for visitors and emergency personnel. Access and safety, however, are not the only issues.

“Erosion is also a big problem,” said Brosseau. “The combination of legacy trails, heavy use, and storm water takes a toll. We encourage people to stay in the middle of the trail, but not everyone is comfortable hiking through mud and water, which pushes them to go off trail.”

Teatown faces this very same issue, as visitors straying off the main path will cause widening of trails and the high number of travelers means more damage to surrounding vegetation, which in turn can increase ecosystem instability. However, for both organizations, the strategy has had to change over time.

Director of Science and Stewardship at Teatown, Dr. Danielle Begley-Miller.

“Twenty years ago, the infrastructure in the region could handle the use. But what worked then doesn’t necessarily translate to now. And even back then there were major issues: the backpacking boom of the 1980s damaged a lot of the alpine vegetation here, and it took a multi-organizational effort over many years to address this through the establishment of the Summit Stewardship Program,” Brosseau said.

Dr. Danielle Begley-Miller, Teatown’s Director of Science and Stewardship, said that the Stewardship team had never seen the influx in visitation quite like they have during the pandemic, and they had to learn on the fly with such high demand. But she credits her team with creativity, and they’re always thinking of outside-the-box ideas to help aid in trail maintenance.

Cascade Mountain in the Adirondacks.

One of our lovely trails here at Teatown.

Another issue has been dealing with invasive species, which can be a nuisance.

“Visitors need to bring locally sourced wood from a 50-mile radius when they’re camping here in the Adirondacks because of the Emerald Ash Borer Beetle,” Brosseau said. These beetles, originally from Asia, came to the US in the early 2000s and, as their name dictates, they destroy Ash trees by burrowing into them and consuming them. Teatown has had to deal with similar problems.

“Our parking lots are big drop-off spots. We found a Yellow Archangel (Lamium galeobdolon) plant this year, which had never been seen before at Teatown,” Begley-Miller said. These plants are considered invasive due to their lack of animal or disease threats, and their uncanny ability to spread through an interconnected running root system. This root network means they can stick around without early detection and proper removal.

Both organizations are working diligently to keep our popular outdoor destinations safe and pristine for all visitors. Please do your part. Stick to maintained trails and avoid crowded trailheads whenever possible. With your help, we can make these beautiful places even better!

About the Author

Shane Frasier, Marketing & Communications Coordinator

Shane started working at Teatown in November of 2020, and hails from Saratoga Springs, NY. As an avid hiker, he has scaled many of the high peaks in the Adirondacks, and loves the outdoors.