The Appalachian Trail: Built by Volunteers, Then and Now

October 01, 2018
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


The Appalachian Trail: Built by Volunteers, Then and Now
Volunteers set steps on the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain. Photo by Heather Darley.


On Oct. 7, 1923, Trail Conference volunteers officially opened the first section of the Appalachian Trail, which they built and blazed through Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks in New York. This fall, the Trail Conference finished construction on the historic Bear Mountain Trails Project—the most ambitious rehabilitation of the A.T. ever conducted—which has been primarily built by volunteers, just as it originally was 95 years ago.

Before the start of the Bear Mountain Trails Project, the Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain was as wide as 40 feet in some places (photo on right). To accommodate the high volume of visitors, the sustainable solution was to build stone steps up the majority of the mountain (photo above).

That’s nearly a century of Trail Conference volunteers selflessly giving their time and energy to ensure that the Appalachian Trail—not just at Bear Mountain, but along its entire route through New Jersey and New York—remains open, safe, and enjoyable for all who travel it. As more people head outdoors, the need to protect trails like the A.T. and the wild places they traverse has become more crucial than ever before.

Over 2 million people visit Bear Mountain each year, making this original section of the A.T. the most heavily used along the entire Trail. When issues of heavy use and degradation came to a head in 2004, a plan was needed to accommodate the high volume of hikers and protect the mountain from being “loved to death.” Over the last 14 years, the Trail Conference has rallied volunteers and supporters to help transform the Appalachian Trail at Bear Mountain from an eroded, 10-foot-wide scar into a safe, sustainable footpath. That’s nearly 3,000 volunteers donating over 85,000 hours to care for and improve 2 miles of the Trail.

Now add in the 172 other miles of the Appalachian Trail spanning N.Y. and N.J. that our volunteers care for. Consider the maintainer who clears the Trail of litter, crew member who repairs boardwalk, surveyor who scouts for invasive species, rare and endangered plant monitor who scouts for native species, corridor monitor who patrols for encroachment on the Trail’s protected lands, sawyer who responds to blowdown after a storm, and Steward who teaches Leave No Trace principles to first-time hikers. It takes an army to maintain and protect the Appalachian Trail.

The Trail Conference has served as regional guardians of the A.T. since its inception, and we will continue to do so. As long as people seek a connection with nature we will continue to promote stewardship, working to inspire a deeper appreciation for the care that the Appalachian Trail—for everything that its iconic white blaze stands for— requires.

A grand opening celebration for the completed Appalachian Trail rehabilitation on Bear Mountain will be held in the spring. Sign up for our digital newsletter and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates.

Gala to Celebrate Trail Conference Achievements on the A.T.

As we prepare to complete the historic Bear Mountain Trails Project this fall, we invite you to celebrate this Appalachian Trail milestone at our Annual Gala. Join us Thursday, Oct. 18, from 7 to 10 p.m. at our headquarters in Mahwah, N.J., for an inspiring evening celebrating the Trail Conference’s rich history and vision, as well as the exceptional work of our most outstanding partners, in creating great trail experiences for all to enjoy. The night will include live entertainment, farm-fresh hors d’oeuvres, local craft beverages, an auction, and more. Find more information and RSVP.