This past June the Jolly Rovers began what is without exaggeration our most ambitious and challenging project to date. Originally built in 1858, the Lenape Steps have resulted in a project that combines a variety of challenges into one concentrated epic endeavor. Historic reconstruction, confined space, machine logistics, innovative rigging, tight design specifications, and of course, technical stonework with some of the largest rocks we've ever worked with, all join together to make this the unique project experience we've been yearning for.
Funded in joint partnership with the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission, design and planning for this venture began in 2018. In many ways, the Lenape Steps is the perfect culmination of spirit and skill that the Rovers have been nurturing for the past 9 years, and couldn't be a better capstone for a project that will take us through our 10th anniversary in 2020. Long on our radar since being introduced to the site back in 2016, the time was ripe to make dream into reality.
In an unprecedented 23 straight days of work, it began with a series of tasks we had never
done before. The first... dismantling and sorting of a 160-year old, 100 step stone staircase within the narrow confines of a natural fissure. Built originally for the Sam's Point Mountain House, the staircase was constructed from a variety of native stones to take visitors to the summit of Sam's Point as it wound its way up a narrow 30' deep chasm between the cliffs. It served this purpose for close to a hundred years before falling into total disrepair due to the intense freezing and thawing, which undermined the smaller stones that were used.
Overgrown and off the map since the 1960s, our first task before reconstructing the staircase was to strategically sort through these ruins. This would require the delicate and strategic removal of 50+ slabs of stone from the chasm that were unusable for use in their given location. Utilizing a mixture of ramps, sleds, zip lines and crane lines from above, this extremely delicate process took weeks to safely clear the space for construction, all while protecting the historic cliff faces and stones themselves so no scarring would take place.
Afterwards, since many of the stones removed were unsuitable for reuse due to their thin dimensions, larger and more substantial stones would have to be imported from a variety of approved locations within the park; adding to the list of Rover firsts. To keep with the aesthetic of the space, the hunt for native Shawangunk Conglomerate commenced not only for suitably sized stone that would last the test of time, but naturally weathered as well to best match the color and texture of the ancient cliffs. After many trips of meticulously collecting and staging these stones, the prep work was still not done.
With the chasm clear and stones staged at the top and bottom of the cliff, one more task would have to be accomplished... getting those 600 pound stones safely into a 30 foot deep chasm. Not surprisingly, it would be the fourth time in only a few weeks that the Rovers would do something they had never done before. Patient and persistent planning prevailed as the creation of a 60 foot long, custom built timber ramp was constructed and craned into the chasm. After a few days of troubleshooting, the "rock railroad" was operational, allowing us to slowly descend stones into the cliffs depths via a rail sled and belay line. With the last preparation puzzle solved, the intense prep work marathon would end, and the reconstruction launch would begin.
The Lenape Steps Launch
With anticipation high, on July 20th close to 30 of our volunteer crew members gathered in the parking lot for day 1 of what would be a year-long endeavor. With the various technical and aesthetic challenges unique to each team's site, an orientation was held to acclimate the crew to its new and intense surroundings. Afterwards, 7 coordinated teams descended into the chasm to their respective sites to embark on the creative challenge of a lifetime.
Stones have been moving within the chasm since. With a tremendous emphasis being placed on creating as integrated and natural an experience as possible, every step presents its own set of challenges. For some, they must maneuver stones with only hand tools within tremendously confined space, patiently sculpting the sides of stones so they fit seamlessly into the sides of the cliff's wall and natural pinch points. For others, it's the precision setting of massive 8-10' slabs for the grand entryway leading up to the chasm; while others still are presented with the detail-oriented construction of stone retaining walls that will bridge one cliff summit to another.
Whether limited in space to move, or tasked with moving monolithic stones, in all cases every team of volunteers has to adhere to the tightest of measurements in order for all the projects to join together seamlesslyinto one uniform and beautiful creation. And believe it or not, despite the challenges, we're having a damn good time making it happen.
With the Lenape Steps Project fully underway, the chasm will remain closed to park patrons with an anticipated completion/opening in the fall of 2020. If you visit Sam's Point in the coming months, you may very well see one of our crews working on the weekend as stones are hoisted, flown or lowered into the chasm.
The past couple of months have certainly been exciting and rewarding for us on many levels. It's an incredible honor for us all to have been trusted with this creative endeavor, and we can't wait to continue this journey as we put the Lenape Steps literally, and figuratively, back on the map.
Special thanks to Marlboro Mountain Construction; without their patient, delicate and expert machine operation this project would not be possible. Very special thanks also to the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission and their staff at the Minnewaska State Park Preserve; we simply could not have asked for better partners to make this project a reality. More updates to come as the months move on. Stay tuned!