Trail Steward Overview and Responsibilities

Overview

The PRLC’s Trail Steward Program is intended to provide local residents with an opportunity to productively engage with the trails they routinely hike on while helping the PRLC to provide a public service. To keep over a dozen miles of beautiful trails safely open to the public, the PRLC relies on dedicated volunteers to supplement our staff’s capacity to continually steward our trails’ health. By walking their assigned trail on a continued basis (usually once or twice a week), Trail Stewards become intimate with its every turn, rock wall and tree. Trail Stewards quickly identify and clear obstacles (i.e., downed limbs, brush, etc.) and notify PRLC staff of larger issues (i.e., large fallen trees, vandalism, etc). After an initial orientation and training walk of the assigned trail, Trail Stewards work independently.

The role of the PRLC Trail Steward
Trail Stewards are assigned one or two trails, for which they are responsible. The PRLC thinks of their Trail Stewards as the ongoing eyes and ears of its preserves and expects them to handle small physical tasks to keep the trails looking sharp. The PRLC does not expect its Trail Stewards to perform large physical feats, place themselves in danger to work on a trail or tackle large building projects without oversight from our staff Land Steward.

Common Trail Steward tasks include:
• Clearing branches and small trees that fall over the trail
• Lightly pruning branches that cover trail markers
• Moving problem rocks to the side of the trail (if they are reasonably sized)
• Restacking rocks that fell from a rock wall adjacent to your trail
• Mitigating the creation of mud pits by placing branches in small depressions
• Removing litter
• In the case of an unintended trail modification (i.e., a mud pit or fallen tree) the Trail Steward should use available resources (i.e., sticks, branches) to reroute the trail and preserve an appropriate flow of foot traffic
• Removing encroaching invasive plant species

In addition to these small physical tasks, the PRLC’s Trail Steward should identify and notify the PRLC’s Land Steward about the following:
• Illegal activity
• A major trail obstacle (i.e., fallen trail, pooled water)
• Areas of soil erosion
• Poaching or other abuse to the preserve’s natural resources
• Any unsafe trail conditions
• Confusing or problematic trail markers
• Any noteworthy biological phenomena (i.e., bobcat, bear, fire, etc.)

Notes about specific trail maintenance issues:

There are many reasons why a hiker may deviate from a trail they are hiking on. As a general rule, walkers and hikers will follow a path of least resistance on the trails. With this in mind, it is the task of a Trail Steward to also keep foot traffic in the appropriate place by managing the path of least resistance by 1) eliminating obstacles on the trail and 2) producing obstacles off the trail. The following are three common examples of how hikers find themselves off trail and simple ways that Trail Stewards can manipulate the trail and/or surrounding land to keep them hiking on trail.

1. A confusing curve in the trail: As trails turn and wind about, they sometimes become hard to follow. Unknowingly, trail visitors may deviate from a trail, find themselves off the trail and then need to backtrack (see figure below). If this happens repeatedly, short spur paths are created. With a little experience, these short spur paths can be identified and dealt with. When found, the Trail Steward should modify the pre-existing trail to make it easier for future visitors to follow. Modifications may include cutting overhanging branches, adding/moving trail markers, moving/removing trail obstacles or ‘closing’ an undesirable path. Paths and trails can be closed by physically moving brush and debris to a place where it impedes foot traffic.

Trail Steward Program

An undesirable path resulting from a confusing curve in the trail.  Once identified, the area around the turn can be modified to make it less confusing.

2. An obstacle on the trail. Overhead branches, fallen limbs, muddy spots, etc. will force visitors off the trail for a few feet, creating little spur paths. These small paths are undesirable and the trail steward should remove the trail’s obstacle to preserve the appropriate flow and location of traffic.

Trail Steward Program

An undesirable path resulting from a trail obstruction.

 

3. An attractive short cut between two preexisting trails.

An undesirable path resulting from an attractive short cut between two trails.

 

4. Shortcuts may develop where two trails intersect. Sometimes, these shortcuts are relatively small and harmless, but in other cases they can be quite large and problematic. Short cut paths should be identified quickly and closed immediately. Better yet, where a short cut path is likely to develop, preventative measures should be taken to ensure they do not. Standard ‘closure’ measure (dressing an area with woody debris) will work to prevent people from taking the short cut.

Tools of the Trail Steward

The Trail Steward’s work is comprised of small physical tasks on the trail. To successfully fulfill these tasks small tools such as pruning shears, loppers, bow saw, and work gloves will be needed. It is expected that the Trail Steward supply there own tools as the PRLC does not make these tools available.

General information:

The PRLC’s Land Steward will coordinate large cleanup and building projects at the preserves and, if applicable, will collaborate with the preserve’s local Trail Steward. The Trail Steward Program is intended to be flexible and can be modified to meet individual’s hiking schedules.

Please feel free to contact the Pound Ridge Land Conservancy with any questions about the Trail Steward Program or issues that arise with your assigned trail. Contact information: landsteward.educator@prlc.net or call the Armstrong Education Center at (914) 205-3533.