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Founding Crew Members Speak

A dozen of our crew members have been with us from the start, and they have many a tale to tell about how we've grown. In 2010, the concept of the 'Jolly Rovers Trail Crew' was nascent, stemming from work being done on the highly technical Bear Mountain Trails Project in New York. Managed by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, this massive relocation of the Appalachian Trail focused on stonework and invited volunteers to learn and work alongside professional trail builders, an incredibly unique opportunity at the time.

Travis' first trip

Towards the end of one fall day, then Volunteer Coordinator for the project, Chris Ingui, approached two of the project's dedicated volunteers Artie Hidalgo and Bob Brunner with an idea for what would become the "Jolly Rovers" to preserve the spirit and skills being developed at Bear Mountain by taking them "on the road." A discussion was had and shortly thereafter he approached nine other dedicated volunteers from the project to found a highly trained volunteer crew focused on stonework on public trails throughout the Northeast, roving as needed. Energy amongst these 12 continued to build and that following spring of 2011, they showed up to their first trip in Norvin Green State Forest, NJ for a variety of reasons; amongst them may have been the skills they would learn, the places they would see, or the legacy they would leave behind for future generations - but at the core of it all was the spirit of the people that had come together, no matter how tough the obstacles.

As founding member Travis Schnell recalls of that first trip, “the conditions were terrible, nothing but cold rain with mud and water pouring over your boots. Even under these conditions the group stuck around for an evening of stone soup as the flood waters slowly encircled the camp creating an island under a leaky tarp. Why not? Whatever the reason, people kept coming back." For founding member David Chase, "It was the desire to learn the skills and do the work that brought me here, but like the steps we build, it's the foundation that keeps me here... it comes in the form of just plain simple fun we share and a tribal connectedness I haven't found anyplace else in my life."

This tribal connection is certainly unique; in the words of founding member Willy Diaz, “You have to be a little different than your average person to want to spend some of your spring/summer/fall weekends getting dirty and sweaty, pushing around heavy stones, digging messy holes and cussing at inert stone because it won't do what you want it to do.” Founding member Karen Nelson agrees, happy to have found a group of people that are “crazy like me”. Sometimes that craziness meant sleeping in a cold quarry in the rain, only to get up and wrestle with rocks all day, fueled by a pot of stone soup (made with one ingredient each brought by crew members). Sometimes that craziness meant being rewarded for a job well done by a custom order of pizzas cooked on portable ovens in the middle of a forest clearing. Sometimes, that craziness meant driving across several states to teach the craft of stone work to other crews, leaving behind the very spark that brought these folks together in the first place.

Over the next ten years, these twelve individuals would see the tribe grow while continuing to build skills, staircases and friendships in equal measure. These crew members are proud of the work they’ve left behind for people to enjoy, and the bonds they’ve built among members of what has become a very diverse and dedicated crew. Many expressed pride and astonishment the caliber of work the crew has grown to deliver, and the national recognition they’ve received. “The crew shows that people can achieve things they didn’t think they’d ever be able to achieve – things people are interested in but didn’t know how to do” says founding member Brian Beckenbaugh. These accomplishments were beyond the realm of possibility for many at the time. "The physically demanding, technical aspects of the work we do and the amount of time commitment we require were thought to be insurmountable obstacles by others” recalls founding member Bob Brunner. This satisfaction of completed projects and new friendships forged helps fuel the crew to keep coming back.

What’s next, in the coming decade? That first crew of 12 has now grown to 40, who all want to keep the Rovers going, engaging new communities, making new memories. Many hope for iconic projects that will continue to build a legacy for future generations to enjoy. Founding member Jesse Spiro says about the crew “I hope that it holds together and evolves into something I continue to want to be a part of; and I want to help make it last.” For Jesse, doing stonework entails building something for his son and future generations to enjoy – “while other things I do are ephemeral." For founding member Artie Hidalgo, continuing to build community is also a priority: “Our work enhances the accessibility people have to the out-of-doors. We give to the community just as much as they give to us.” In the words of founding member Chris Ingui, “At the heart of this was the desire to create something larger than any individual, to create true community; the stonework brought all of us here initially, but it was that spirit of community that kept us coming back. The spirit was the foundation, and it's a spirit that every crew member since has added to.”

Looking back at the beginning we would like to thank and acknowledge those 12 founding crew members for providing and nurturing that spirit which ultimately started what we have today one decade later:

Allen Jaeger, Artie Hidalgo, Bob Brunner, Brian Beckenbaugh, Chris Ingui, David Chase, Jesse Spiro, Karen Nelson, Robin French, Roch Boucher, Travis Schnell (pictured up top), and Willy Diaz.

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