The miles of trails that crisscross the Catskill Park would be in rough shape, if not for the volunteers that brave mud, weather, prickers and bugs every year to keep them in good condition.
This month -- just in time for National Trails Day -- those volunteer efforts got a major boost. With funding from the State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) has formed the Catskill Conservation Corps, a volunteer program that will build trails, help with the DEC's scientific research, and generally support outdoor recreation in the Catskill Park.
"DEC is pleased to partner with the Trail Conference to form the Catskills Conservation Corps to protect and improve lands and waters in the Catskills and create additional access for residents and visitors,” DEC Commissioner Joe Martens said in a recent press release. “Working together, we will preserve critical habitats, develop and enhance outdoor recreation opportunities like hiking and fishing, promote tourism in the Catskills and ensure our environment is in good hands.”
As part of a two-year contract, the NYJTC will get $75,000 to put toward regional trail projects and reinforce the ranks of volunteers. Built into that contract is an option to extend the agreement for another three years.
Jeff Senterman, the NYNJTC's Catskills program coordinator, already has a devoted crew of volunteers helping to build and maintain trails in the Catskills. The DEC's investment in the program will help expand that effort, he said.
“We’ve been taking care of the trails in the Catskills since the early 90s. The DEC realized there was a real value to that model and wanted to ramp it up,” Senterman said. “I think it shows a recognition of what a non-profit’s partnerships with government can do, it shows that a public-private partnership really works.”
Senterman said the plans for the money include setting up a social media presence and a new website to create a one-stop “portal” to connect local outdoor volunteers with Catskills-centric projects.
In recent years, budget cuts at the DEC have taken a toll on the agency's forest ranger program. Senterman said the Catskill Conservation Corps will train volunteers to provide public environmental education, an important part of the DEC's forest ranger program.
Senterman said that in 2013, about 100 volunteers put in almost 8,000 hours of work on the trails. He anticipates those numbers to grow with the additional funds.
“Our work to get volunteers out in the Catskills will grow, maybe not exponentially, but significantly,” he said. “If there is a need we can identify, we will mobilize volunteers to tackle that ship. We hope this will be a program that can continue. The Catskill Park needs to have that level of love and work from volunteers.”
For those looking to get involved, there's a volunteer opportunity coming up soon. The NYNJTC will be working on trails in the Frick Pond area, near Livingston Manor, on Saturday, June 21, from 10:30 a.m.- 4 p.m. No experience is needed, and the trail crew will provide tools and training to their volunteers on-site. For directions and more information, see the NYNJTC's website.