It all started over 15 years ago, when the Open Space Institute and the New York - New Jersey Trail Conference acquired a parcel of land off a dead-end road in Kerhonkson known as Shaft 2A from the Napanoch Sand and Gravel Company. Trail Conference members started planning, and trail builders in the region took note; including Eddie Walsh, founder and owner of Tahawus Trails, LLC. Planning to develop trails on this new land began, but didn't get far. Fast-forward eight years, and the Trail Conference had transferred the land over to the Minnewaska State Park Preserve under the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. By this time a new Master Plan to improve public access to the preserves numerous sites had been approved. It would take years for funding to become available to carry out that plan. In 2016, funding was awarded from the NY State Recreational Trails Grant Program to fund part of it and bidding went out to formalize trail access to the increasingly popular southwest flank of the Park: Stony Kill Falls.
As a locally based professional trail building company, Tahawus Trails, LLC was thrilled to be awarded the bid for the project in 2016 and began formulating a plan to involve volunteers to productively contribute to the construction effort. Since 2011, Tahawus Trails already had an ongoing relationship with a unique Hudson Valley based volunteer organization that specialized in stone work: the Jolly Rovers. Together with Parks staff, Walsh reached out to the Rovers' executive director, Chris Ingui, and asked for the Rovers to supplement construction efforts on the ascent up Stony Kill Falls. After a scouting session onsite it was agreed that the Rovers would tackle the initial ascent from the last creek crossing through the lower boulder field to the first viewing area of the falls itself, from there, Tahawus would tackle the remaining ascent up the incredibly steep bedrock ledge to the summit of the Falls providing a view of the valley below. The overall trail plan would involve, as Walsh says, “a little of everything in a short span”, including crushed stone tread, timber bridges, dozens of stone steps of all shapes and sizes, stone paving, retaining walls and even ladder embedded in bedrock to ascend the steepest portion of the climb. In the end, both groups couldn't have been more excited about the work site: a beautiful birch forest grove accented by thick layers of moss and ferns next to an 87-foot waterfall; the abundant source of beautiful stone close to home didn't hurt either.
Work began late last fall and ramp up to full speed this past spring with Tahawus Trails full-time crew of 2-3 trail builders during the week. Supplementing this would be a variety of Jolly Rover crews coming out on 10 different weekends to work on their section. Over the summer, the trail began to take shape. For the Rovers, the project provided a unique opportunity to help sculpt a brand new trail. “I really wanted this site to be a blank canvas for the collective creativity within the Rovers." Ingui said, "Stony Kill Falls had everything we needed to design something different and allow that creativity to flourish providing we were able to take our time.” And time we had: Since the fall of 2016, a total of 25 work days on the site were held, contributing over 2,500 volunteer hours into the construction of 35 steps, 5 stone paved landings and one large 12' x 12' stone viewing platform looking up to the falls.
This new trail will alleviate a management problem that has been brewing for years as users have made their own way to the falls with its increasing popularity. Park Manager Eric Humphrey commented in an April interview with USA Today that the multiple approaches “are causing erosion and fragmentation, so we will formalize one safe, sustainable route.” The new trail route is roughly a half-mile long in total, and will eventually connect to the Smiley Carriage Road via the yet-unbuilt Fire Break trail. The trail in its entirety weaves through mature forest and across the Stony Kill creek to a steady, switchbacked 200-foot ascent up the mossy slope adjacent the falls. Views of the waterfall are revealed as the trail climbs up impressive stone steps hewn from the native conglomerate, culminating in a platform view of the falls and the small canyon beneath from the top. Visitors can expect to enjoy this new trail as early as November of this year – stay tuned for more information about the trail opening this Fall.
About The Writer: A New Hampshire native, Emily Hague first met the Jolly Rovers there in 2013 while working at the Monadnock Conservancy as their Stewardship Director. The Rovers would continue to work with her on numerous other projects in New England until 2016, when her travels would take her to New York and ultimately land her as a Land Project Manager for the Scenic Hudson Land Trust. Now within shooting distance of the greater Jolly Rover population, Emily decided to join the Jolly Rover's as a crew member that same year. Apart from her long standing work in conservation, you may also experience her talents in the fields of music and photography; skills the Rovers have been fortunate enough to benefit from as well. We encourage you to visit emilyhague.com to view some of her other work.