Although focused on only 2½ miles of the AppalachianTrail (A.T.), the Bear Mountain Trails Project has been for the last decadeinarguably the most intense and most comprehensive footpath rehabilitation project in A.T. history — and is now within a year of completion. Fewer than 1,000 feet of new trail remains to be constructed, along with stone steps and retaining walls.
The original 20-mile section of tread way blazed and cut specifically for the A.T. in 1922-23 was located in Bear Mountain State Park, NY just down the Hudson River from West Point. By this century, use at the rate of at least 100,000 hikers a year and decades of erosion on the steep mountainsides left it unsustainable — “as deep as it was wide,” in the words of an official of the local maintaining organization, the New York–New Jersey Trail Conference, a parent and now affiliate of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (formed in 1925). What remained of the section (part was obliterated by construction of the Palisades Interstate Parkway in the 1950s) has already been moved and replaced as part of this project, which began withstudies by 29 Rutgers University landscape-architecture students. Since work began in 2006, thousands of volunteers have been drawn to this “Trail University” to craft more than 1,000 hand-hewn steps from native granite. They also have constructed more than a mile of treadway on the A.T. and Bear Mountain’s connecting network of side trails, including handicap-accessible and novice-friendly loops. Others planted 1,320 trees and plants or built and populated interpretive exhibits for this hyper-popular park 40 miles upriver from Manhattan, which draws by trails and vehicles about 500,000 visitors to the summit annually. Previous funding and other support for the NY-NJTC-managed project has come from the ATC, the conference itself, the National Park Service, New York State, REI, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and many individuals.