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A Smooth Start for Rough Terrain: RSA Program Continues at Hudson Highlands State Park

This past weekend, the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew assisted the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference by donating a crew of 25 to begin work on the Undercliff Trail at Hudson Highlands State Park.

As a recipient of the Rover Service Award, the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference met a full crew of trained Jolly Rover volunteers in the Breakneck Ridge parking lot. With a forecast of rain looming and a 2-mile hike to the worksite, the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew recognized the difficult task ahead, but you wouldn’t know it if you passed them on the trail.

Boisterous laughter and conversations echoed through the trees as the crew hiked the first portion sans tools (the staff at Hudson Highlands State Park generously provided tool transport until the halfway point). Facts and stories were expressed by Rovers local to the area as they passed the Cornish Estate and trotted the Aqueduct. As group approached the waiting truck filled with gear, a voice from the driver’s seat yelled, “Sorry guys, this is as far as I can go…”

The Jolly Rovers expressed gratitude for the head start and began to unload. The rest of the way was quite steep and required scrambling through boulders with heavy tools. The crew, with heavy breaths, helped each other up the mountain – pulling bodies up tall cliffs and waiting patiently for those struggling behind. The remarkable teamwork of the already exhausted crew was inspiring, but only the beginning.

It was hard to tell where the trail was meant to go. Hikers were trickling down from all angles and it was clear that the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference’s initiative was addressing a large problem on this portion of the park. The plan, in it’s entirety, is to provide major improvements to the most eroded sections of the undercliff trail. The Trail Conference Conservation Corps will be installing close to 100 steps on this portion over the course of the next two years. The Jolly Rovers, proudly hanging their flag, were excited to do their part.

The crew and guests* began digging 80 feet of trail, uncovering boulder after boulder, and ripping the earth apart to make way for a staircase. The terrain was not cooperating – could these stones be any more in the way? As the sun set on the first work day, the Rovers installed 18 square feet of crib wall with a single nudge, and excavated most of the area, but it was clear that there was still much to be done. However, the work would need to wait. After all, being a rover is much more than sweating it out on trail.

They work together. They hike together. They eat together, and camp together. Indeed, the Jolly Rovers are not your ordinary trail crew. After gathering in the parking lot, they dashed to the campsite for a much needed meal. All ingredients were provided and prepared by crew members. Nothing beats a hot meal after a long day, especially when it's cooked by your beloved peers. More laughter, stories, tales and jokes were spread around the campfire as they ate and enjoyed each other’s company.

The next few days were not much different. The large team of 25 broke up into smaller groups and covered the length of the trail. By the end of the final day, the crew managed to install 18 steps, and contributed approximately 600 hours to the project. The job, although not complete, gives the Trail Conference a healthy head start on the overall project vision. Covered in bug bites and poison ivy, the exhausted crew looked back on their work. The sense of teamwork and accomplishment filled them with satisfaction and relief.

Well… That is...

..until they realized they had to carry the gear back off the mountain.

*A very special thank you to Eric Mickelson and Andrew Seirup of the NYNJTC for volunteering alongside the Rovers this weekend, and to Monique Quigley for providing photography for this project.

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