Sharing Our Skills: Artie Hidalgo and the Trail Builders
In 2015, Artie Hidalgo decided he wasn't busy enough. After retiring from the MTA five years earlier, he began increasing the amount of time he volunteered with local groups near his Poughkeepsie home. As a founding member of the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew (jollyrovers.org), he already dedicated significant time building stone steps in iconic public places around the Hudson Valley - including at Mohonk Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains. While working on a project at Mohonk, Artie met staff at the Preserve and discovered an unmet need: existing trail maintenance volunteers didn't have experience with building trail structures. In 2016, Artie (center, above) began leading Mohonk Volunteers by giving on the job training in drag lines (winches and ropes used to move rocks) and stone work for construction to repair the East Trapps Connector Trail near the Preserve's Visitor Center, coordinating work days once per month with the 'Trail Builders', a volunteer group which is an offshoot of the 'Trail Keepers'.
The crew began to grow in number and in skill, and the following year Artie's role expanded to include working with seventh grade students from San Miguel Academy in Newburgh as part of an experiential education program. As a native Spanish speaker, Artie is able to make trail work more accessible to Latino teenagers in the program. Overall, he feels the kids really begin to relate to the work when he shares his story, and after a few days, "...kids' comfort levels with being outside and handling tools increases, they're really gratified by the physical manifestation of their labors - who benefits more?"
Part of the Jolly Rovers' ethic is giving back to the hiking community at large, beyond just building stone steps - and Artie's work with the Trail Builders is an example of that ethic.
Over the last four years, Artie has witnessed a higher caliber of work and level of productivity among the Trail Builders, as well as a new level of delegation. Projects include the continuation of improvements to the Connector Trail and the installation of timber steps on the Forest Trail near the Visitor Center. In addition to working with volunteers, Artie currently represents the Trail Builders on the Preserve’s volunteer oversight committee. He hopes to cultivate a successor in this role and scale back his involvement, now that the crew is gaining momentum. For Artie, and in the true spirit of the Jolly Rovers, it will soon be time to rove.