The Jolly Rovers returned to the Appalachian Trail for a fourth time at Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park for the final trip of the 2016 season, refining a steep section of trail on the rocky highlands east of the Hudson River.
The Rover’s collaboration with the Ralph’s Peak Hikers Cabin Volunteer Club, has gone back to 2012. The humble ascent just off the Cold Spring Turnpike in Hopewell, NY serves as an interesting slideshow of the Rovers’ progress in the last 5 years. The original span of steps was installed in 2012, functional and utilitarian, the steps have carried countless hikers in their journey through New York. Three years later, the Rovers returned for a full crew trip to Fahnestock state park, installing a flowing set of steps that serve as an attractive gateway towards Canopus Lake.
The differences are subtle nuances of craftsmanship, reflecting the increase in person power, skill and technique that the Rovers were able to nurture since those earlier years. Sizable gargoyles flank the steps on either side, locking the stones in place with the hillside, creating a pathway equipped to survive the notorious northeastern weather for decades to come.
Trail work, like many other things in life, can often be held at the mercy of Mother Nature and the final Rover trip of 2016 was no exception. The first two days of the splinter trip were borderline picturesque, sunny skies, cool breezes, and unseasonably comfortable November weather. Whatever enjoyment we took from the mild conditions was paid back tenfold on the final day.
A storm blew in overnight and dumped nearly four inches on the worksite and
surrounding roads. While the blanket of snow encased the forest in a hint of holiday spirit and elegantly bowed the trees, the worksite was churned into a wintery mud pit in short order. Temperatures floating just above freezing ensured a steady supply of snowmelt to soak our gloves but the work must go on. With any new stone buried and hidden, finding additional steps proved difficult, and work was focused on fortifying the existing stairs and sliding the sizable stone paver into place. Whether it was the hypothermia creeping in or the invigoration of the final trip of the year, the Rovers were able to install 10 new steps and countless gargoyles to open the route once again.
By the early afternoon work had completed, and in the typical Rovers fashion the site turned from haphazard work-in-progress to a refined staircase with surprising speed. There’s a few stones that need tweaking but just as with the painter or sculptor there’s always room for improvement. The final step in any Rovers expedition is the naturalization, in stark contrast to our usual work we delicately replace vegetation and ground cover around the worksite. Filling in the voids left by the removal of boulders and returning the forest to a condition as close as possible to what we found on the hike in is our goal, with the addition of the new set of steps, of course. Mineral soils and organic duff cover the beds of crushed stone serving as our foundations and leaves are dashed across the soil. Day hikers returning in the evening often find a set of stairs where once there was only a scramble.
Completion of the project isn’t the end of the day for the Rovers, what goes in, must come out, and heavy stonework requires heavy tools. Despite the herculean effort it requires to haul the generators, drills, and rock bars, the pack out is a therapeutic time. Dusk begins to settle on the forest and what was once a cacophony of cracking stone and singing steel dies down to the shuffling of packs and sighs of accomplishment.
Merriment and celebration often follows a trip, and merriment and celebration were what was required to shake the chill of the November slush. The crew headed down to Whistling Willies American Grill in Cold Springs for a burger, a brew, and a toast to a monumental year in Jolly Rovers history.
The writer, Tom Ludorf has been an active Jolly Rover volunteer with his wife Emily since the Spring of 2015. He works as a professional Emergency Medial Technician (EMT) at various construction sites throughout New Jersey and lends this skill over to the crew as one of our field medics. In addition to this, Tom is the official Jolly Rover blacksmith, repairing and modifying tools as needed in his backyard forge.