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Thinking Big, Building Big

How often in our lives do we get to think big? As in, really big – no holds barred?

This fall, the Rovers got to inaugurate the construction of an ambitious trail project that quickly developed into the manipulation of stones of record-breaking size. The project, spearheaded by Tahawus Trails, LLC for the Palisades Parks Conservancy, has brought the Jolly Rovers in to tackle several dramatic sections of the trail. The ultimate goal is to create a half-mile, 200 foot climb from Shaft 2A Road around the southern flank of Stony Kill Falls. The end result would not only bring hikers to stunning views above the falls but

also connect them to the parks greater carriage road system.

Over two weekends, the Jolly Rovers began crafting the first section of the winding

staircase that would connect to the first view of the falls. As with many projects, rocks had to be moved before work could begin, and rigging needed to be set up to fetch appropriately sized geologic specimens. During the first day, it became apparent that some of the rocks just weren't going to be removed as they were. As a result project teams started thinking big. Rather than reduce the size of the massive rocks already there, it was decided to showcase them by reorienting them with minimal (if any) shaping; creating a staircase of gigantic proportions.

One huge slab of greywacke (a funky geologic term for dark, coarse-grained sandstone) was split in half horizontally using simple hand wedges and scissored apart to fashion broad, angular steps (see picture at top). How big, you might ask? Estimating that the rocks thickness was roughly 16 inches (to split into two 8” steps), roughly 2 feet deep, and roughly 8 feet wide, the weight of each step was in the neighborhood of 1,200 pounds. For reference, most step stones average 500-600 pounds. Rovers held their breath as one team slowly forced the fracture open and pried the top and bottom portions of the slab apart, inch by inch. After a few tense moments, the slab settled into place. Steps leading up to and beyond these slabs would be graduated in shape to create a leaf-like taper. The only challenge was, if the slabs shattered in place and couldn't be used, they would be very, very difficult to remove – and even harder to replace. After much head-scratching, rigging, grunting, drilling, prying, and praying, the biggest slab was ready to be split. Next, two teams pried the adjacent slabs, which were nearly as big, into contact to create a series of giant steps (cue John Coltrane). It's possible that a few whoops and hollers could have been heard if you had been standing atop the falls at that moment.

Meanwhile, up the boulder field, other teams were tackling other large endeavors. Immediately above the scissored steps, another crew was using a series of jacks to raise and level off a 10 foot long monolithic weighing roughly 2,500 pounds. Above them a landing was beginning to take place in the elbow of a switchback, lending a keyhole view of the falls, with impressive 5 foot long slabs of stone tiled together underfoot like puzzle pieces. Above them still, enormous chunks of Shawangunk conglomerate were being split to create steps above the switchback; occasional crashes being heard between calls to grip hoist operators.

At the end of the first weekend, many stones had been moved and worked over, but the staircase still had some holes in it. Rovers parted ways and returned the following month to give it hell. Despite chilling weather, which forced some Rovers to enjoy the nightly propane “campfire” fully encased in their sleeping bags, a lot of progress was made. More importantly, the Rovers got to get really creative and innovative, and leave behind a charismatic and dramatic section of trail for hikers to enjoy for centuries. The work however is far from done, and the Rovers are looking forward to joining forces with Tahawus Trails, LLC again in 2017 to finish the steps to the summit of the falls.

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 as the Stewardship Director of the Mohonk Preserve. Suddenly within shooting distance of the greater Jolly Rover population, Emily decided to join the Rover family 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 to view some of her other work.

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