Volunteer Voice

Volunteer Voice is a series of short stories about our volunteers. Immerse yourself in one of their stories to get a sense of what volunteering is like at the Preserve!

Issue # 4 - Summer 2021
Issue # 3 - Winter 2021
Issue # 2 - Autumn 2020
Volunteer Voice Issue # 4 • Summer 2021

Editor: Margi Conklin
Assistant Editor: Jill Feldman

A vista featuring the top of Bonticou Crag with the Catskill mountains in the background. A hiker sits on top of the crag.
Bonticou Crag by Maryalice Citera

Into The Woods

Pete Boyle comes for the solitude of Backcountry Patrol, but stays for the companionship


Pete Boyle is the Backcountry Patrol Volunteer Coordinator for Mohonk Preserve, monitoring offtrail sites as well as popular routes, such as Bonticou Crag (above).

By Christopher J. Yates
Photos by Christopher J. Yates

Up above me, pausing on a pebbled rock slab, stands Pete Boyle, the Backcountry Patrol Volunteer Coordinator for Mohonk Preserve. Pete will have to wait patiently a while longer. I am heaving my way vertically toward Bonticou Crag, both of us headed up there the hard way, via the rock scramble.

Pete, taking in the view, looks perfectly poised. He is perhaps two decades my senior — and I am rudely out of breath.

If you’re not familiar with Bonticou Crag rock scramble, picture a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, a vast patchwork of rocky slabs and boulders that steeple skyward. To “solve” the puzzle you have to make your way to the top of the crag. And while red blazes have been painted on the rocks to helpfully suggest the easiest way to achieve this, there remains another difficult challenge, namely how to get one’s limbs successfully from rock to rock. It is hard and often inelegant work.

Soon after I catch up, Pete takes off again, opting not to follow the red painted blazes, preferring to find his own more interesting (i.e., harder) route. I look to him for clues as to how to improve my rock scrambling, his hands seldom touching the rocks, Pete preferring to use his long legs and an unerring sense of balance. But I can learn nothing from his impressive technique, as my desperate mitts hug, clench or claw at a nearby rock.

While Pete and his volunteers cover many Backcountry routes, bushwacking off trail to monitor remote areas of the Preserve, they also incorporate popular destinations into their patrols. Bonticou Crag is one of the main beats Pete likes to pound, offering help to nervous scramblers or pointing them toward the easier path to the rocky peak. Sometimes his job can get a tad hairier, like when a hiker violates Preserve rules by hauling in beer bottles, getting drunk and then refusing to clear up the mess. When that happened a few years ago the man in question started to advance, but his friends intervened and Pete cleared away the glass himself. Just as he clears away plastic bags and bottles — and, more recently, discarded masks, the garbage piling higher with the rush of pandemic visitors to the Preserve.

While this might sound like a thankless task, his volunteer work is not without reward. “I’ve been to the Grand Canyon,” Pete told me, “and it’s lovely country of course, but to me this is one of the most beautiful places on earth.”

Writer Christopher Yates (left) joined Pete Boyle and his daughter Jaime for a day out in Mohonk Preserve.

Up ahead of me, Pete has now conquered the crag, finally bouncing up a particularly difficult cluster of fang-like rocks. Fortunately, to spare my blushes, I am not the only person left trailing in Pete’s wake. We are also in the company of his daughter, Jaime, who frequently joins Pete on his backcountry patrols. Jaime lives in Port Ewen while Pete’s home is over in Dutchess County, so the Preserve just happens to be the perfect halfway meeting spot. And Jaime, a nurse who works long nights, enjoys the soothing, medicinal qualities of a peaceful hike, as well as getting to hang out with her exuberant father. (The exercise and mountain air also help Jaime to nap soundly before another long nightshift.)

At the top of the crag, realizing that I have been considerably out-scrambled by Pete (incidentally, I consider myself an advanced hiker), it occurs to me that it might be my journalistic duty to report Pete’s age, but I pose the question sheepishly, for fear of offending.

Pete simply shrugs at my question.

“I don’t mind telling you my age,” he replies. “I’m proud of it. 66 years old.”

Ah, so Pete is just 17 years my senior. My ego is assuaged.

We met an hour earlier at Mohonk Preserve’s Spring Farm trailhead. It is one of those shape-shifting spring days that might see several outfit changes — scarf then shorts then sweater, all in the space of ten hours. We pause to take photos at the place near the parking lot known as Million Dollar View — but on a day like today that seems like a serious undervaluation. The light is like the pale blue glass of antique bottles, the Catskills huddling for warmth on the horizon, while button mushroom clouds lean into their slow ramble across the sky.

As we start to hike, Pete tells me about his 44 years working for ConEd, filling every spot from lineman to office manager. Like his daughter now, there were times when Pete worked tough shifts and needed something to relieve the boredom of time off during the week. “Then I found this place and I never looked back.”

Now Pete Boyle has been volunteering for fifteen years. Or is it thirteen? He can’t quite remember. And I completely understand his inability to put a date on finding “this place.” I have the exact same experience, knowing only that there was an era that should be known as “Before Shawangunks” (or B.S.) and that ever since discovering our beautiful mountain ridge both my spare time and mental health have been immeasurably improved.

When Pete started volunteering, he worked both bike and backcountry patrols, but quickly realized there was no shortage of volunteer cyclists to cover the bike routes, while the backcountry was wildly underpopulated. (Today, however, Pete counts 61 names to the Backcountry Patrol Group.)

Sometimes he takes out groups of six or seven new volunteers to show them the ropes. Pete also patrols solo much of the time, and as he told me, “A day of solitude in nature has very positive healing powers.”

In his volunteer role, Pete often witnesses the secret lives of animals, like this black rat snake basking on a tree branch.

We hike down from Bonticou Crag and take the Northeast Trail. Pete offers some newcomers a few hiking hot-spot tips. We spy a black rat snake basking lavishly on the humped branch of a fallen tree. A porcupine shivers its way through the undergrowth twenty feet away.

Pete shows me a secret spot concealed by arching rocks where he likes to hang out alone. To get there we have to boulder-hop, and again Pete leaves me lagging cautiously behind. Once more I admire his balance as he bounces from rock to rock despite a drop that feels dizzying. And then something clicks. Pete used to fix electrical wires in his job at ConEd, a high-wire act, of sorts. He must be supremely comfortable with heights. “Yep,” he tells me, “I did that stuff for 20 years. Went up in cherry pickers or climbed the poles in gaffs [climbing spikes]. Some guys got scared but I told them, just concentrate on the job!”

And isn’t that, after all, one of the beautiful aspects of rock scrambling? You simply concentrate on the job and all the mental strains of the non-lithic world melt away.

Later, Pete shows me a social trail that fellow volunteers have covered up. (Social trails or “herd paths,” often started by animals and widened by misled humans, are unauthorized sidetracks patrolled by Backcountry volunteers and Preserve staff.) Also while out on patrol, Pete will reorient lost hikers, remove fire rings (which aren’t allowed on Preserve lands), explain to dog owners that a porcupine quill can prove harmful to their unleashed pet, discourage photographers from getting too close to a baby bear, and generally act as an extra pair of eyes and ears for the Preserve’s rangers.

Turning back toward the trailhead, Pete chooses the snakier Table Rocks Path rather than the meadow-winding Farm Road. He prefers thinner, woodsier trails to open ground and carriage roads, a natural backcountry patroller, perhaps. But then Pete turns to me and says: “You know, when I was offered the [volunteer coordinator] job I second guessed whether I really wanted to do it. But you know what? It was worth it for the people alone. And that’s why I think I’ll keep on doing it till I drop. Because of all the great people I’ve met.”

Ah, I quickly realize, I was missing half the point. Pete’s volunteering is not only about the solitude. One of the keys to a happy life, or so it seems to me, is to find the right balance of opposing forces.

And then a thought occurs to me. Perhaps it could make a great motto for Pete’s branch of voluntary work: Backcountry Patrol, Come for the solitude, stay for the companionship.

Pete and Jaime enjoy the view at the top of the crag.

Christopher J. Yates is an avid hiker and the author of two novels, “Black Chalk” and “Grist Mill Road,” which is set in the Gunks. Special thanks to Yassy Okamoto for her reporting for this piece.

If you are interested in volunteering with Backcountry Patrol, please contact Andy Reynolds, Mohonk Preserve Volunteer Programs Manager, at volunteers@mohonkpreserve.org or 845-255-0919, ext. 1269.

Duck Pond in Autumn, Sky Top and cliffs in the background
Duck Pond by Susan Lehrer

Shooting for the Sky

Susan Lehrer’s work as a volunteer photographer for the Preserve reveals its most precious moments.

By Larry Feldman

Susan Lehrer by Samuel “Si” Briseno

Though she grew up in the concrete jungle of Manhattan, Susan Lehrer later moved to a 150-year-old farmhouse in New Paltz, where she is happy to wander through nature and photograph it, in all sorts of weather, all year long. In the early 2000s, when Susan saw the Mohonk Preserve was looking for volunteers to join a photography group, she jumped at the chance. At the time, she was a professor at SUNY New Paltz in Sociology and Women’s Studies, and she had just upgraded to an early digital SLR camera — a Canon Sure Shot — and wanted to broaden her passion.

“I’ve always loved photography, capturing a particular time and place, making time stand still,” she said.

At one early auction for the Preserve, she worked as an assistant to veteran Mohonk Preserve Volunteer Photographer John Hayes and learned a lot watching him set up the shots of guests, who for $20 each could be captured holding a falcon on their gloved hand. Susan then brought the images to MPVP and former Preserve Board Member Greg Switlik, who printed the images on-site. Soon after, the Preserve invited her to take more photos, which have since been used in promotional materials like posters and invitations, and can also be seen adorning the conference room at the Visitor’s Center.

“Doing photography for Mohonk Preserve has made me look closely at things I might not have noticed,” Susan said. “I’ve been in on special events, camera in hand. I hope that, through photography, I’ve contributed to the awareness of the beauty and heritage of the Shawangunk Ridge and the Preserve lands.”

In fall of 2006 at Duck Pond, she took her first promotional photo, which was later included in the book, “Watchable Wildlife New York,” published by New York State’s Department of Environmental Conservation. It was the first time she used a digital camera, which she prefers over film. Today, she uses a Canon EOS 70D, though she says, “the best camera is the one you have with you.” She also likes to use zoom and telephoto lenses, to bring things in closer, and even dares to take to the skies in an Ultralight plane to get the bigger picture.

“I had to overcome some trepidation to go up in an experimental light plane,” she admitted. “The camera gave me motivation and distracted me from my fear. The takeoff, that rush of acceleration, to look down on the treetops is exciting, and the excitement overcame the anxiety.”

But Susan’s favorite way to catch a precious moment in the Preserve is usually in a quiet place, alone, when she is least likely to disturb or frighten an animal subject.

Even so, a few moments have escaped her camera’s eye, like the time an adult bear happened to be walking across the Millbrook Carriage Road near the Trapps Bridge, 40 to 50 feet away from her. Before she could grab a shot, the bear ran off.  “He was really booking it,” she noted.  Another time two bear cubs quickly scampered up a tree before she could react.

And finally, she shared “one winter, some years back, I was going to Duck Pond. It was snowy and amid the snow there were bright orange fungi going up a dead tree trunk.  It was beautiful. I didn’t have a camera with me and when I went back with one there was no sign of it. I still look for where it might have been.”

Here, she reveals her four favorite photos from over the years, which “remind me of where I’ve been, who with, and what’s lost also.”

Mountain Rest Road Bridge, 8-10-2011: “I was lucky to have been able to document this amazing project for the Preserve, replacing Cedar Drive bridge over Mountain Rest Road. The main road was closed both ways for these two sections of the new bridge to be hoisted up and lowered into place.”

Cedar Drive Bridge being lowered into place

Aerial view of valley, Ridge, with Catskills visible, 8-7-2015: “It was taken from an Ultralight plane, before drones, with a friend who’d fly low enough for me to shoot many aerial images of this area I know well from the ground.”

Aerial view looking at the foothills valley toward ridge

Dragonfly near Duck Pond, 7-5-2015: “Taking these quiet shots for the Preserve makes me look more closely at things around me that I could have missed.”

A dragonfly perches on top of a branch, wings spread wide

Lady’s Slipper on Bonticou Crag trail, 5-17-2017: “I took this photo out with the Preserve’s Wednesday hikers. Our hike leader, June Finer, timed that hike for these amazing flowers to be in bloom on the back side of the Crag. Spring — the signs of spring, the ice melting, the delicate green colors — it’s what I love about the Northeast.”

Pink Lady's Slipper flower

If you are interested in volunteering with Mohonk Preserve’s Volunteer Photographers, please contact Andy Reynolds, Volunteer Programs Manager, at volunteers@mohonkpreserve.org or 845-255-0919, ext. 1269.

Carol Rietsma at a phenology orientation looking at a branch with a staff member and citizen scientist
Carol Rietsma at a phenology orientation. Photo by Susan Lehrer

Small Wonders

Studying nature’s tiniest details allows Preserve volunteers to truly appreciate the Great Outdoors

By Michael Cohen

Photos by Carol Rietsma

There are no shortages of iconic wonders at Mohonk Preserve. Visitors come to gaze upon Skytop Tower, to pass through the Testimonial Gateway and stroll the Pin Oak Allee or to hike to Duck Pond. But there are also many small wonders at the Preserve. Phenology — the observation and recording of natural events, such as the flowering of a dogwood tree or the croaking of a bullfrog — teaches volunteers like me to understand their beauty.

“I think many people take nature for granted,” said Carol Rietsma, a retired associate professor of biology at SUNY New Paltz, who is now the Volunteer Phenology Coordinator at the Preserve. “I don’t think they know the stages that a plant, or even a Monarch butterfly, passes through. That’s the beauty of it for me, seeing all the details. The more you look, the more you see.”

Happily, many of the small wonders of phenology are obvious. The Preserve’s group of 20 phenology volunteers — including me — conducts field sessions either on our own or in a group led by Rietsma or Natalie Feldsine, the Preserve’s Research Collection and Citizen Science Coordinator. On a recent field session, we compared two similarly sized Red Maples near each other and marveled at the differences between them. One was bare, the other was covered with pastel-colored blooms. The male tends to flower and produce its fruit earlier than the female and thereby provides an easy way to distinguish between the sexes of the trees. But Red Maples’ distinctions can also be caused by their relative exposures to the sun or any other number of factors, such as the depth of their roots or the presence of fungi or insect infestation. Rietsma uses the phrase “pulse of nature” to refer to how flora respond to their particular environments. Ralph Durham, a longtime phenology volunteer, told me he tracks Red Maples as a natural gauge of when spring arrives, monitoring their breaking leaf buds and then seeing “everything explode” after the first few really warm days as the beautiful red colors tell him the season has truly come.

Female (left) and male (right) Red Maple flowers.

Over the course of a year, the Preserve’s phenology volunteers carefully note the lifecycle changes of ten specific plants and trees: New England Aster, Eastern Red Cedar, Highbush Blueberry, Common Winterberry, Red Maple, Common Milkweed, Flowering Dogwood, Sugar Maple, Jack-In-The-Pulpit and Trout Lily. These floras are identified with tags and grow along a phenology trail located alongside the Pin Oak Allee, mostly near the Testimonial Gateway. We make observations once or twice a month and then use an app called Nature’s Notebook to upload our data into the National Phenological Network, where scientists can track climate change all over the country.

It’s critical that phenology volunteers across the US are specific and detailed with our data, and not just because we’re helping scientists with their research. Our information can also help farmers make decisions on which varieties of crops to plant, based on anticipated temperature changes or future availability of water supplies. And we can also help track the rise or fall of a species.

Monarch butterfly

Right now, the Monarch butterfly is under threat, which is why the Common Milkweed is so important to observe. While this plant is toxic to most insects, the Monarch has found a way to feed on it, and the poisons make this butterfly distasteful to predators, too. The Monarch’s orange and black colors serve as a warning to others: “Eat me at your own risk.”

Although its name suggests that it may not be particularly interesting, the Common Milkweed is beautiful to observe, especially for how it seems to act in concert with the New England Aster. As the milkweed is winding down its lifecycle, the aster is in full swing and the Monarchs move from one plant to the other to maintain a constant source of nutrition before they leave for their annual migration.


One of the more exotic sounding flowers we follow is the Jack-In-The-Pulpit, an herbaceous perennial with one or two large glossy leaves and tiny flowers embedded in a fleshy column, called the Jack. As the plant grows, flowers emerge that initially only produce pollen, but then larger flowers bloom, revealing several smallish red colored berries.

We also observe the Trout Lily, a small early spring wildflower that grows on the ground and delights with its spotted lance-shaped leaves containing infinite subtle shades of green (It gets its name because the shading of its leaves resembles the coloring of a brook trout.) The Trout Lily blooms in the spring before the trees around it develop their leaves and block out the light. Its nodding yellow flowers close at night and open during the day as the temperatures rise.

Trout Lily

One unintended benefit of serving as phenology volunteers is that we can apply our training to the animal populations found in Mohonk. With very few exceptions, each time we go to the Preserve to note the flora, we also notice what is happening with birds, frogs or turtles. On a recent field session, we paused to listen for the croaking of the frogs to determine whether or not they had yet appeared.

Not that hearing them is absolute proof of their existence. Spring peepers, a tiny frog about an inch in diameter and an inch long, are particularly shy. “They have a high-pitched beep. They are a harbinger of spring — it’s like seeing a Red Maple flower,” Rietsma said. “But as soon as they perceive you in the vicinity, they go quiet.”

As always, patience is required in phenology. It’s a skill you learn as a volunteer, and it yields wonderful benefits. In fact, studying the flora on the phenology trail has made me more aware of the plants, trees and shrubs in my own yard. Even though I don’t know all the species that grow on my property or their various lifecycle phases, I have become trained to observe and appreciate the changes as they appear. It serves as a reminder that the small wonders of nature can be seen almost everywhere.

If you are interested in volunteering with the Phenology Project, please contact Andy Reynolds, Mohonk Preserve Volunteer Programs Manager, at volunteers@mohonkpreserve.org or 845-255-0919, ext. 1269.

View of the Shawangunk Cliffs showing the ridge top from the Trapps through Millbrook Mountain

My Favorite View: Seclusion Amidst the Trapps

By Laura Miller

Mohonk Preserve trail keeper Mike Siudy (above) reveals his favorite view (top). Photos courtesy of Mike Siudy.

Mohonk Preserve trail keeper Mike Siudy captured this vista in the fall of 2019, from a secret little spot he discovered off the Humpty Dumpty Path. The view sits just above Giants Workshop looking back at the Trapps. “It is quiet, even on the busiest days,” Mike said. “I feel like I’m in the middle of nowhere, even though I’m only 200 feet from a carriage road.”

A New Paltz resident, Mike first came to the area for college. He holds a BS in Geology and a Masters of Arts in Teaching, both from SUNY New Paltz, and works as an earth science teacher at Poughkeepsie High School. Given this background, it’s not surprising Mike also appreciates the geological aspect of his favorite view.

“The Trapps are just spread out in front of you. It’s a unique perspective, providing a longitudinal view. You see the face of the cliff on one side and how it slopes back on the other side. I see the dipping back of the rocks and I visualize how all the pieces fit together up there.”

Mike’s tenure as a trail keeper began before he even knew such a role existed. He’s a competitive trail runner with the fastest known times for different routes in the Catskills, including summiting all 35 high peaks over 3,500 feet. Often, Mike found himself training on Mohonk Preserve trails and would naturally pay close attention to trail grooming, pitching in as needed. In 2017, a ranger suggested he could perform this role as a Preserve volunteer.

Mike started as the trail keeper for the Rock Rift Trail, a somewhat less-traveled route sitting just below Mohonk Mountain House land. Last summer, he switched to the Bonticou Crag Loop. He carries various tools, including a folding saw, when he goes out in this capacity — about 2-3 times a year. Winter months, especially, bring down a lot of branches. If Mike sees an area in need of significant intervention, he is able to enter photos and an exact location into a trail assessment system called Survey123. It generates a report for the rangers, who can then tackle larger maintenance issues.

When Mike spends time in this spot, he feels an extreme sense of solitude. While he is letting us all in on his secret, you may need to ask him nicely for exact directions.

Volunteer Voice Issue # 3 • Winter 2021

Editor: Margi Conklin
Assistant Editor: Jill Feldman

(L-R) Darren Goldstein as Simon Shenk and David Costabile as Mike "Wags" Wagner in BILLIONS "The Chris Rock Test". Photo Credit: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME

Hollywood Near the Hudson

How I got a taste of fame volunteering for Mohonk Preserve

A man in a bright yellow viser jacket is in an outdoor setting holding up a worm
Larry Feldman Volunteer

By Larry Feldman

During my work as a Climate Tracker, I usually encounter a critter or two, and I have met up with black rat snakes, porcupines, fisher cats and deer. But one afternoon in December 2019, as I headed toward Lake Mohonk, I came across a rarer species still: Hollywood stars.

Spread across the grand porch of the Mohonk Mountain House were dozens of film crew and truckloads of equipment. Trucks and trailers filled the parking lot. Big black cases everywhere bore the name “Billions” stenciled on the sides.

I realized they were filming an episode of the Showtime series “Billions.” With the sun setting on this winter afternoon, the serious faces of the crew told me they were in a hurry to finish up.

A busy-looking woman in her late 20s, hair tied back, casually dressed, holding a clipboard and wearing a headset, saw me standing there — bundled up, my equipment case in hand. She walked over and asked me who I was.

I told her I have been a Climate Tracker for five years on the beautiful grounds of the Mohonk Mountain House, where I do my lake fieldwork. The

Daniel Smiley Research Center is the only part of Mohonk Preserve not located on Preserve land. It is on the grounds of the historic Mohonk Mountain House and the DSRC is the former home of third generation Smiley family member Daniel Smiley, a renowned naturalist who created a large collection of records and observations over his lifetime on the mountain.

“You will have to wait another 30 or 40 minutes before I can let you go there,” she told me.

I nodded okay. Besides, I was busy looking for ginger-haired Damian Lewis, the star of the series. I had to settle for David Costabile, who plays “Wags” on the show.

“Quiet on the set. And…action!”

I hung out with two sound technicians who were monitoring equipment and standing by. Costabile and another actor were doing a scene at the far end of the grand porch, about sixty feet away from where we were standing. I could hear the dialogue during the three or four takes before the director finally yelled “Cut!”

Once the scene was finished, I was allowed to get my work done.

I measure and record air and water temperatures on site at Lake Mohonk, and then bring water samples back to the DSRC where pH gets entered and compared to historical records dating back to 1896. (That’s 125 years of data at one of the oldest stations still reporting to the National

Weather Service.) When it is really cold out and the lake is frozen over I have to use an axe to break through the ice in order to lower my sampling device. (By the time I finish, my fingers and toes are numb.) And the dock can get quite slippery when it’s icy out.

Normally it is rather serene and quiet on the boat dock, but Mohonk Preserve’s Associate Director of Visitor Services Jon Ross told me it’s not uncommon to come across movie and television production companies filming on the grounds of Mohonk Preserve.

In spring 2011, Jake DeVito (son of actor Danny DeVito), who has roots in New York, wanted to produce a film about the early days of Abraham Lincoln. Terrence Malick co-produced the film. Ross drove DeVito and Malick around different Preserve locations until they found the spot they thought looked most like Kentucky and Indiana where young Lincoln grew up. They found the location near Spring Farm. In mid 2012, they received the go-ahead and a log cabin replica was built that summer. Filming continued through the fall and the historical drama “Better Angels” debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2014.

During my work as a Climate Tracker, I usually encounter a critter or two, and I have met up with black rat snakes, porcupines, fisher cats and deer. But one afternoon in December 2019, as I headed toward Lake Mohonk, I came across a rarer species still: Hollywood stars.

Spread across the grand porch of the Mohonk Mountain House were dozens of film crew and truckloads of equipment. Trucks and trailers filled the parking lot. Big black cases everywhere bore the name “Billions” stenciled on the sides.

The Lincoln log cabin set “looked so realistic, but it was all veneer,” Ross told me.

Commercials for companies as varied as Pfizer, Ford, Canon and Mountain Dew have also been shot at the Preserve. One of the “I Love NY” commercials was filmed here, as was a North Face ad which used an SUV — painted taxicab yellow — with a kayak on top and bicycle rack behind. Subaru filmed a commercial on the grounds at Coxing Falls.

Ross, who is the Preserve’s main contact for film crews, grew up with parents in show business. His father, David Ross, was a radio personality and his mother, Beatrice Pons, a character actress for stage, radio, TV and film. Beatrice regularly appeared on the TV sitcoms “The Phil Silvers Show” and “Car 54, Where Are You;” she played Yente in “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway, and was the first to voice the character of Olive Oyl on the radio, Ross said.

And yet, “both my folks were unimpressed with celebrity,” he added. “So we lived a very normal middle-class lifestyle.” That could be why Ross is so comfortable working with members of the film industry at the Preserve.

I asked him, why do filmmakers love the Preserve’s grounds so much?

“We have an extraordinary variety of terrain: meadows, a small waterfall, dense forests, carriage roads and cliffs. You can get all different types of landscapes. You could be almost anywhere,” he said. “For rock climbing, we are it on the East Coast. It’s an international destination. If you’re going to do anything climbing related in the area, you’re going to come to Mohonk Preserve.”

Jimmy Shooting at Sunrise in Mohonk Preserve by Mikey Schaefer

Jimmy Chin, a world-renowned climber who won a 2019 Academy Award for the documentary “Free Solo,” has shot more than one Canon camera commercial along the Preserve’s ridge. And the NBC drama “Blindspot” filmed a climbing sequence at Mohonk Preserve. (Any filming that takes place at Mohonk Mountain House is organized by the hotel, rather than Ross.)

Early in the pandemic last year, “Billions” aired its new season and it was fun watching the particular episode I saw being filmed at Mohonk Mountain House (Season 5, Episode 2, in case you’re interested). This time, I saw Damian Lewis at the Mountain House, playing billionaire hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod on a corporate retreat with his team. On TV, it all looks so seamless and polished but during that production it was anything but.

You never know what’s going to happen when you volunteer for the Preserve. Some days you get spotted salamanders or owls. And other days you get Hollywood-near-the-Hudson. Just another magical day at Mohonk.

You never know what’s going to happen when you volunteer for the Preserve. Some days you get spotted salamanders or owls. And other days you get Hollywood-near-the-Hudson. Just another magical day at Mohonk.

(L-R) Damian Lewis as Bobby "Axe" Axelrod and Corey Stoll as Michael Prince in BILLIONS "The Chris Rock Test". Photo Credit: Jeff Neumann/SHOWTIME

My Favorite View: Majestic Morning Near Spring Farm

by Laura Miller

A woman hikes with a walking stick in a wintery landscape with two other hikers in the background.
June Finer Volunteer

On a January morning in 2017, June Finer snapped this photo near the Spring Farm trailhead.

The day was “cold, crisp, clear and silent, except for an occasional twitter in the trees,” remembers June, a retired physician and longtime hike leader for Mohonk Preserve.

On that morning, June was waiting to meet a dozen others for a Mohonk Preserve-sponsored “Wednesday Walk” to Bonticou Crag. The Preserve’s Wednesday Walks were started in the mid-1990s by the late Bob Babb, a retired “IBM-er” and volunteer, who wanted to offer an alternative to the Preserve’s more rigorous weekend hikes.

The half-day walks mostly attracted retirees, many of whom formed long-term friendships. Almost all the participants were Preserve members or soon became members, and many went on to volunteer.

“We are all here because we love being here,” says June, 85 who lives at the local retirement community Woodland Pond. “Almost everyone I know who lives locally really appreciates the environment, and spends time working hard to preserve it.”

June began volunteering for the Preserve in the mid-1990s, first helping with the formation of the weekend hiking groups, then at the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center front desk. She took over guiding the Wednesday Walks when Bob became too ill to lead them himself.

Right now, the Wednesday Walks have been paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. June misses leading her hikes, and hopes they will be resumed soon. Of this photo, she concludes, “It was so beautiful, and the nice thing is that we shared this moment together as a group of friends.”

Four trail builders wearing hard hats while posing for a photo over a trail building project.
Some of the 2020 Trail Builders (Linda Shekita, Artie Hidalgo, Justin Key and Jeff Huth) enjoy a quick, well-deserved break from their hard work!

Happy Trails

Improving a path on Mohonk Preserve satisfies body and soul

Topo map of Mohonk Preserve detailing trails near the East Trapps Trailhead.
Detail of trail stretching between the Visitor Center and the entrance hut right before The Stairmaster

Story by Jeff Huth
Photos by Patty Yorks,
Volunteer Trail Builders

For three years, a small group of volunteers has been working to rebuild the lower section of the East Trapps Connector Trail. This wooded path had eroded under heavy foot traffic and needed to be made more robust and user friendly.

Trail building is hard work but it’s also a lot of fun, especially under the guidance of Justin Key, the Preserve’s Associate Director of Facilities and Grounds, and Artie Hidalgo and Linda Shekita from the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, a local volunteer group that specializes in stonework.

For the East Trapps project, the Trail Builders were tasked with replacing some eroded components and improving the layout, number and placement of steps. Working over five Saturdays in the fall of 2020, we found and placed about 50 stones — some as heavy as 200 pounds — and completed a section up to 300 feet long.

With the COVID-19 pandemic inspiring more people to venture outdoors, the Preserve saw an increase in both membership and visitation last year. As a result, we frequently stopped to let hikers pass as we worked, and we also got to chatting with them (while wearing PPE, of course). Because visitors expressed almost universal gratitude for our team’s hard work, the experience was especially rewarding.

Here’s a quick look at what we did:

Large stone with inserted wedges preparing to be broken down.Selecting and shaping stones into steps is the most difficult part of the job. Very occasionally the team was lucky enough to find exactly the right stone lying in the woods next to the trail. But more often, the perfect stone was about 100 yards away. Usually it was a huge piece

of Shawangunk conglomerate that needed to be broken down to one-tenth its size. To do that, we drilled holes in the stone using an electric hammer drill, inserted wedges into each hole (nestled in between metal “feathers” or supports), and then hammered at the wedges until cracks emerged. The crew enjoyed mixing modern technology with more primitive wedges and rock hammers, which aren’t unlike quarrying tools that have been used for thousands of years.

Before we could lay down any stepping stone, we had to create a solid, level resting place for it first. This process is called “excavating” — and we dug each spot by hand, making sure every stone would sit at a comfortable step height for hikers.

Trailbuilder working outside in a forest environment

If we were lucky, we could harness the force of gravity and safely lower stones into position using slings and belaying techniques familiar to rock climbers. But more often, the stones needed to be moved uphill. Sometimes that required a dolly or maybe even a winch and cables — and always a heck of a lot of effort.

Next, we slotted the stones into place using two main tools: A rock bar (a long steel bar with a flat edge), and a pick mattock (a long pickaxe with a head that’s sharp on one end, flat on the other).

To keep the trail’s foundation stable, we fitted big “gargoyle” stones along its bottom edges. (Just like on Gothic cathedrals, gargoyle stones may not be pretty to look at, but they serve a useful purpose!)

We bulletproofed the trail by adding another row of stones — or “armoring” along its top edge. Finally, to keep the entire trail level and attractive, we covered the surface with a material called “crush” — tiny shards of shale found on certain slopes in the Gunks. Here you can see a finished portion of the trail with armoring above it and gargoyles supporting it from below.

I joined the Trail Builders to support the Preserve, which I have enjoyed in one form or another most of my adult life. I enjoy being outdoors and being physically active, but working on the trail also made me feel satisfied that I could help create something that will last for years and many people can enjoy.


If you want to support Mohonk Preserve (and find an alternative to the gym), the Trail Builders might be right for you. For more information, contact Andy Reynolds, Volunteer Programs Manager, at areynolds@mohonkpreserve.org.

Several of the most active volunteer Trail Builders are also members of the Jolly Rovers, which has built hiking trails up and down the East Coast, including sections of the Appalachian Trail and popular trails in the White Mountains. Learn more at www.jollyrovers.org.

Lost City by Karen Maloy Brady

LOST CITY: How Did It Get Its Name?

The first in a series, exploring the Preserve’s most interesting features

By Michael Cohen

Some people believe that the most interesting hiking areas, in addition to offering natural beauty and views, should contain an element of adventure, offer a reasonable challenge and be located in out-of-the-way places. Lost City does all three.

Take the Coxing Trailhead to this magical cliff surrounded by massive boulders and monoliths, all nestled together in Mohonk Preserve. You can loop around the feature on the Lost City Escarpment Trail, which connects the lower part of High Peterskill Trail with the Kings Lane Trail.

For anyone who has hiked the area, it’s easy to see how Lost City got its intriguing name. Climbers first called it that because the 80-foot-tall stone blocks standing close to the cliff “create a feeling similar to being in a city surrounded by skyscrapers,” according to the 1992 Mohonk Preserve Natural History Landmark Descriptions Report.

The “lost” aspects of Lost City do not end with its rock formations. The area is among the lesser used within Mohonk Preserve, a study by the research staff found. That’s probably not surprising, given that it’s obscured by trees and sits at the top of a steep hill.

The area is also “lost” in that it contains remnants of a bygone era. According to Director of Research Emeritus Paul Huth, evidence of the local charcoal burning industry from the late 19th and early 20th centuries can be seen in Lost City. In some of the more level areas, circular charcoal pit bases and iron barrel bands are scattered across the ground. Charcoal was likely transported from the site via Kings Lane, which was then a public road and is now a hiking trail in the Preserve.

Huth said nests of hermit thrush appear in Lost City during the spring breeding season. Turkey vultures and ravens also live in its cliffs, where blueberries and wildflowers flourish. Standing on the upper portions of Lost City, hikers can feel like they’ve conquered a new land, surrounded by excellent views, including Skytop Tower.

While Lost City is aptly named, if you manage to reach it, there is much to be found.

Mark Ruoff Skiing


Members of Mohonk Preserve’s Ski Patrol put winter visitors on the right track

By Liz Hoskinson

What is possibly more heavenly than a day out on Mohonk Preserve in the green of summer?

Answer: A day out on the Preserve in the white of winter. Winter snowfall re-shapes the Preserve into a strange and unknown terrain, and lovers of this enigmatic territory don skis, hiking boots and snowshoes to experience a wholly different display of Shawangunk beauty.

Snowshoers and hikers have an abundance of trails to explore in the Preserve in any snow condition, and these are often best enjoyed in their raw, untrammeled form. But for cross-country skiers, a well-groomed trail is a necessity. With each snowfall, the Preserve and Mohonk Mountain House groom the handful of trails that have proven to be excellent cross-country tracks, such as Overcliff and Laurel Ledge Carriage Roads from West Trapps and Spring Farm Road and Cedar Drive from Spring Farm.

The hitch? Should any hiker or walker tread over them, these groomed tracks are rendered impassable for skiing. Footprints make for divots, and any deep marks accelerate the snow melt. Within hours, a perfect track becomes unusable, and the skier often has to pack up and head home, deprived of a day in the Preserve.

Since 2016, a group of skiers have stepped forward to guide the many wintertime trail users and to help keep the paths pristine. Husband and wife Brad Anesi and Julia Vogelsang, both former computer engineers, are two such Ski Patrol volunteers, and they spend hours each snow season keeping an eye on these valued groomed trails.


Julia Vogelsang skiing


“Guiding lost hikers back ‘to being found’ happens quite a bit,” said Brad. “I’ve come upon some hikers and snowshoers who have been so turned around on the trails that I really wondered what they would have done if I or another ski patroller hadn’t come along.”

Julia said she regularly helps skiers figure out how to move forward. “I often come upon skiers, especially around the Mountain House, who

are struggling to handle their equipment, or they’ve fallen, and they don’t even know how to get back up on their skis,” she said.

“I can show them how to do that and how to ski a bit. I can help them past their frustration. I can help them learn some skills and make the skiing more enjoyable.

“I used to be a math teacher, so maybe it’s that desire to pass on something I like so much,” she added.

Few ski patrols include Olympic-level skiers, but member Mark Ruoff trained for and participated in two Olympic selection biathlon trials before returning to the New Paltz area and joining the family-owned Mountain Brauhaus restaurant business in Gardiner.

He, too, spends what time he can out on ski patrol — any hours that might be left over from his restaurant commitments, serving as coach of the New Paltz Cross-Country Ski team, and his involvement with the Shawangunk Nordic Ski Association. Mark considers his Olympic training years as among “my favorite and most formative times in my life and it had a big influence on my appreciation of the natural environment.”

But, when out on the Preserve, he often finds it’s not about skiing, but diplomacy. “People will say, ‘We’ve paid. We have a right to be here.’ But just explaining the reasons behind the restrictions, and with time and patience, hikers will be open to trying a different trail and be willing to leave the groomed trails unmarred.”

While some conflict can be expected, being a Ski Patrol volunteer is mostly a serene experience. For Julia, it’s been “beauty first, the [ski] conditions next. I’m a painter as well, so it’s really amazing visually.”

Brad added, “It’s a magical experience, especially after a fresh snow. It’s calming. We often find ourselves skiing all day when we come out on patrol.”

Although from different backgrounds, the immersion in nature and the willingness to help others enjoy cross-country skiing unites the members of Ski Patrol. If you are interested in participating, please contact Andy Reynolds, Mohonk Preserve Volunteer Programs Manager, at volunteers@mohonkpreserve.org or 845-255-0919, ext. 1269.

Volunteer Voice Issue # 2 • Autumn 2020

Editor: Jill Feldman

Trailhead Ambassadors Angelina and Ron giving directions by Andy Reynolds

A Day in the Life of a Trailhead Ambassador

By Larry Hoskinson

During these challenging times, Mohonk Preserve has experienced a significant increase in the number of visitors hoping to enjoy the beauty and respite of our trails. Shortly after the Preserve re-opened in early June, volunteer Trailhead Ambassadors have been there to welcome and orient these new visitors. Angelina Branche, who started serving in this post since the position was created in 2018, volunteered again this summer at the Visitor Center Information Tent and, since then, has welcomed hundreds of new walkers and hikers.

Angelina is enthusiastic about her ability to assist the hundreds of new visitors she greets and then guides to the most suitable Preserve trails. “They are just so excited to be [at the Preserve] and so excited to explore it,” Branche said. Along with partner Ron Seeley, Branche takes up her post at the Preserve’s Visitor Center on Rte. 44/55 on many Saturday mornings where she welcomes the vast number of enthusiastic walkers and hikers who enter the “VC” every weekend. She plays a key role in savvily guiding (and often redirecting) the newbies, who come armed with Instagram photos of the places they want to see, such as

      • Awosting Falls…”Maybe we should look at Coxing Trail instead given that it’s 1:30pm already?”
      • Lemon Squeeze … “Not on the Preserve, and are you prepared to scramble?”
      • Sam’s Point… “That’s a good 20 miles away — a full day of hiking. Your kids might find it to be too much. How about Overcliff and Undercliff instead, especially if you would like some views and maybe a chance to see the climbers at work?”
Angelina and Ron by Andy Reynolds

There are also the high numbers of visitors who inquire, charmingly, about which trails have the restaurants and the gift shops along them. Branche is skilled in explaining that experiencing the essential nature of the trails and their surroundings is a main purpose of the Preserve. Within minutes, she has them off on a trail that will make for wondrous memories and, yes, have them excited to return and hike other routes.  For Branche, this is all in a morning’s work for her. As she says, “This is an easy job.  All I do is share my love of the Preserve.”

If, like Angelina, you want to share your love of the Preserve, its trails and its wonders, please sign up to volunteer as a Trailhead Ambassador. Training will be provided at the beginning of your shift and you’ll be matched with an experienced volunteer. Preserve staff provide support, as well as snacks and beverages. Shifts are Saturdays and Sundays through the end of October. For more information, contact Andy Reynolds, Volunteer Programs Manager, at areynolds@mohonkpreserve.org or 845-255-0919, ext. 1269.

Interpretive Guide Lindsay Morgan by Andy Reynolds

Interpretive Guides Deliver Insight and Context to New Visitors

by Laura Miller

Anyone who lives locally or frequents Mohonk Preserve has been sure to notice the huge influx of visitors since the Preserve reopened on May 20. People looking to escape the confines of their homes after months in isolation sought outdoor recreation in record numbers during the spring and summer months. Many visitors are from in and around New York City — and many of them are first time visitors to Mohonk Preserve.

Those fortunate enough to stop in to the Mohonk Preserve Visitors Center are greeted by a friendly team of Interpretative Guides, led by Volunteer Coordinator Kenneth Pawson, in his second year in this role. There is some overlap in the responsibilities of Trailhead Ambassadors and Interpretive Guides; however, Ambassadors are out at the trailheads, whereas Interpretive Guides are stationed solely within the Visitor Center. The Trailhead Ambassadors take on more directional roles, while the Interpretive Guides aim to give visitors a sense of context to their surroundings by providing detailed information on specific hikes and what one might encounter in the way of geography, plant life and wildlife.

Interpretive Guide Ken Pawson by Laura Miller

The number one question Guides get asked is about the probability of meeting up with a bear. This question may be fueled by the taxidermy bear cub on display in the Visitors Center, amidst the topographical maps and exhibits on local flora and fauna. It’s a great teaching moment to explain the importance of not feeding the local wildlife, and visitors are ultimately relieved to hear that encountering a bear is extremely unlikely.

The Interpretive Guide group officially started at the Visitor Center in 2003. Mohonk Preserve currently has 17 Interpretive Guides and is always looking for more volunteers, especially with the recent increase in visitation. Pawson hopes to train the Preserve’s next group of Guides in Spring 2021. Training is typically 3-4 hours — then the new guides “shadow” a more experienced guide, to get a better sense of the role and responsibilities. Volunteers are asked to commit to one four-hour shift a month.

While the Interpretive Guides all have various personal and professional backgrounds, they all have one thing in common – a passion for hiking at Mohonk Preserve and a personal knowledge of the trail system. “It’s one thing to hand someone a map,” says Pawson, “but it’s another thing to have personal knowledge of the trails and to be able to let visitors know what they can expect to see.” It’s also helpful for Interpretive Guides to have knowledge of the Mohonk Mountain House and Minnewaska State Park Preserve lands, as the trails and carriage roads are all interconnected.

Another important quality for an Interpretive Guide is the ability to relate to people and communicate courteously, clearly and efficiently. Second-year Interpretive Guide Lindsay Morgan enjoys the challenge of matching visitors with the appropriate hike for their experience and skill level. “People often overestimate their skills,” says Morgan. They might show up late in the day or bring along a young child and hope to take on a particularly long or challenging trail. She also reminds visitors about the importance of adequate hydration. “All I can do is try to guide them and hope they make the right choice,” she says. Morgan and her husband spent many years hiking the trail system before becoming volunteers. They also volunteer for the Hudson Valley Rail Trail Association.

Says Pawson, “I’ve done a lot of volunteer activities here at Mohonk Preserve, but being an Interpretive Guide is probably the most fun and enjoyable assignment I’ve done here. I fell in love with it.” Think you would make a great Interpretive Guide? Click here to learn more about the role or contact Andy Reynolds, Volunteer Programs Manager, at areynolds@mohonkpreserve.org or 845-255-0919, ext. 1269 for more information.

Larry Feldman

Continuing a Scientific Tradition

by Larry Feldman

I have always enjoyed nature and the outdoors. Even as a young boy I found pleasure in exploring nature, turning over rocks in streams, observing my surroundings. So following my retirement I chose to volunteer at the Mohonk Preserve, mostly in Conservation Science. Climate Tracking and StreamWatch are my primary assignments.

I began to follow in the footsteps of the late Daniel Smiley, who for most of the 20th century carefully observed, measured, and recorded data about the pristine land, the glacial lakes and the Shawangunk Ridge upon which the Mohonk Mountain House resides. Smiley reported on sky and lake conditions as well as phenology and animal behavior.

When I became a Climate Tracker in 2015 my supervisor, Christy Belardo, introduced me to Paul Huth, Director of Research Emeritus/Associate Curator at the Mohonk Preserve, and the successor to Daniel’s work. Paul learned that I graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree from Union College in Schenectady, New York and he told me that he knew Professor Carl George, a Nature Conservancy colleague and friend of Daniel Smiley for many years. I recalled that Professor George, a biologist (and early ecologist), had organized Union student field trips to Mohonk in the early 1970s to collect lake specimens for laboratory study.

Paul and Carl were mutual friends of Daniel but had not seen each other in many years, so I arranged a lunch date at Union College for the three of us in October 2017. How interesting it was to listen in on these two naturalists recalling old times with Daniel Smiley! I realized the significance of their early work in the environmental movement and how critical that it be carried forward in the era of climate change.

After lunch Carl gave us a tour of the home he had built in the 1970s – a geodesic dome of the type made famous by Buckminster Fuller. We also took a short field trip to nearby Scotia on the Mohawk River to observe local flora and fauna. Now in his nineties, Carl did the driving!

It became clear to me that these two men viewed the natural world around them with the same boyish wonder that I always have. To be observant and curious is a lifelong journey and a way for me to connect the dots and circle back to the time in my life when I was considering a career in the sciences. Now, volunteering at the Mohonk Preserve allows me to once more follow that forgotten green path.

Post card from the Daniel Smiley Research Center reads: Chipmunk 5-28-31. Found a young chipmunk near north porch steps. He was about two thirds grown with a head that was proportionally large for his body. He could travel fairly well but could not quite jump the 6 inch step riser.
Daniel Smiley Research Center Index Card from 1931

A Century of Natural History Observations

By Jill Feldman

We all know the Mohonk Preserve is a treasure of natural wonders. But did you know that much of it has been chronicled and collected by scientists and lay observers, and is kept under lock and key in the Daniel Smiley Research Center’s library? Besides having an extensive set of native plant and animal specimens, the DSRC houses a card catalog of observations dating prior to the 20th century. The most notable observers were Daniel Smiley and Paul Huth, former protégé of Daniel’s and director emeritus of research at the Preserve.

Prior to COVID-19 a small group of Preserve volunteers, under the direction of Natalie Feldsine, Research Collection and Citizen Science Coordinator, and Jordan Williams, Digitization Technician, took turns with the task of scanning each card in the catalog. (So far they have scanned 9,000 of the 14,000 cards. This process will continue once it is safe to do so.)

In the meantime, the next step in the process has begun. It is not enough to simply scan the cards; the mostly hand-written data must be transposed into a database that can be easily used by researchers worldwide. The Preserve has enlisted the help of The Zooniverse in tackling this otherwise daunting task. The Zooniverse is the world’s largest research platform, using over a million volunteers to participate in various projects. It is run by the Citizen Science Alliance, a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators. At the heart of the CSA are nine institutions including Johns Hopkins University, University of Oxford, Adler Planetarium, and ASIAA in Taiwan.

After initial testing by Natalie late last year, Jordan continued with the project in January. Since being officially launched to the public on The Zooniverse on July 21st, one half of the 9,000 scanned cards have already been processed by more than 1,200 volunteers from all over the world! Although we currently don’t know who exactly these folks are, Jordan and Natalie have interacted with some of the volunteers on the site’s talk boards. In Jordan’s words, “Most people found our project directly through the Zooniverse website and have been learning about Mohonk for the first time as they read through the cards. In fact, some of our most active volunteers live in the UK! I have really enjoyed getting to chat with them and see their excitement as they learn about a whole new range of flora and fauna that you don’t find across the sea.”

Anyone with a love of science, a knack for detail or simply a desire to help can do so. The Zooniverse site is easy to use. Go to:  https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/mohonkpreservedsrc/a-century-of-natural-history-observations. Click on “get started” and your first index card will pop up on the screen. Follow the prompts and type in the information. You can enter as few or as many cards in a session as you wish. Log in for as little as 15 minutes or even for an hour or two. There is no need to worry about making an error; each card is transcribed by 4 different volunteers. Any discrepancies are flagged by Zooniverse.

In Natalie’s words, “With the impacts of COVID-19, having a remote project such as this has allowed us to continue outreach and engagement even when people can’t visit us in person.” So, if you think you might be interested, log on to Zooniverse and give it a try. Besides, what other volunteer duties can you do in your PJs? And make sure to record your Mohonk volunteer hours. Help us bring Mohonk Preserve to the world!

Volunteer Voice Issue # 1 • Winter 2020

Editor: Jill Feldman

Three individuals discuss future leaders award in the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center
Kennedy and Amelia of the Future Leaders at Mohonk Preserve by Bonnie Hirschhorn

Future Leaders at Mohonk Preserve

By Jaden Thomas-Markarian

High school seniors Amelia St. John and Kennedy Christiana received the Future Leader Award for their significant contributions to the Youth Nature Ambassadors (YNA) program. The award was presented at Mohonk Preserve’s annual Volunteer Recognition Event on November 2 by Kazu Shimada, a YNA graduate and the 2018 Future Leader Award recipient. Amelia and Kennedy were recognized for their dedicated leadership in the program and their outstanding service over the past three years with the Mohonk Preserve.

Educator teaching a group of small children about wild turkeys with a stuffed turkey outside the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center
Photo from the Mohonk Preserve archives

The YNA program, available to teens, ages 13 and up, is a volunteer service-learning program at Mohonk Preserve. Using tools such as interpretive kits and hands on activities, YNAs utilize environmental science materials to educate the public. Each volunteer in the program is required to volunteer a significant number of hours. During weekends and school breaks, YNA’s facilitate educational presentations for visiting families in the exhibit halls. During the summer these volunteers assist with outdoor camps.

Kennedy started the program toward the end of her freshman year at High Tech High School in Hudson County, New Jersey. “I just really like interacting with the kids,” Kennedy explained. “It also helped me build a lot of confidence interacting with strangers. Of course, you’ll never see half the visitors again, but you’ve never seen them before so it kind of bridged that awkward social barrier for me.”

Kennedy estimates she’s been coming up to the Preserve since 2012. “I enjoy it every time I volunteer here. It’s nice to get to talk to the other volunteers and learn about their lives,” she said. During her free time, Kennedy enjoys drawing, hiking, and the outdoors. “I’m a very outdoorsy person. If I get the chance, then I’m outside,” Kennedy explained.

Three individuals gather at the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center
Photo by Karen Maloy Brady

Amelia, a New Paltz High School senior, became a YNA in 8th grade. “I wanted to volunteer over the summer, and this was a great way to do that,” she said. Amelia has very much enjoyed the volunteer work she’s done at the Preserve. “It’s something I enjoy doing and it’s a good thing to do,” she explained. Amelia also likes to run, ski, and hike whenever she gets a chance.

Both Amelia and Kennedy understand how their work plays a crucial part in educating the public about environmental issues. “A lot of the kids come from the city so just connecting with the environment inspires them to be more educated and gets them thinking about what’s actually going on,” Amelia said.

“We talk to the kids a lot. They just ask questions about the environment and we answer them. So, in a way, we are teaching them. But it’s something they’ll remember because the cool mentor who’s only a few years older than them told them,” Kennedy explained.

Amelia and Kennedy both intend to keep coming to the Preserve even though they have graduated from the program. Amelia plans to volunteer at camps next summer and is thinking of joining the ski patrol. Kennedy wants to become involved with the volunteer Hike Leaders and Climate Trackers.

Volunteer manager Andy Reynolds poses with three other individuals with a framed photo of Skytop Tower in the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center
Photo by Bonnie HIrschhorn

Jill and Larry Feldman Receive the 2019 Gregory Switlik, Sr. Volunteer Achievement Award

by Andrew Reynolds and Natalie Feldsine

Each year, a committee of Mohonk Preserve volunteers, staff, and a member of the Switlik family meet to select a recipient of the Gregory Switlik, Sr. Volunteer Achievement Award. The award is to be given to a volunteer, who, like the late Greg Switlik, has done outstanding work over a period of time with the Preserve, either in one activity or many.

Greg shared years of knowledge, time and efforts with the Preserve in a variety of volunteer activities: Visitor Reception, Trailkeeper, Photographer, and Special Events Support, as well as serving on the Land Stewardship and Volunteer Committees, and as a Board Member. Together with his wife, Penny, Greg touched thousands of lives through his volunteer activities.

Like Greg, our 2019 Gregory Switlik, Sr. Volunteer Achievement Award recipients, Jill and Larry Feldman, have shared years of knowledge, time and effort with the Preserve in a variety of volunteer activities and have made significant and invaluable contributions to this great place we all love.

Jill and Larry began volunteering at the Preserve in November 2015. Since then, they have become mainstays, volunteering on a weekly basis and serving in important leadership roles. Additionally, they joined our Preserver Membership Program, which is our highest level of membership and provides critical operating funds. Jill and Larry also regularly attend our fundraising events, like our Annual Benefit Auction and NYC Benefit.

Larry immediately joined our Climate Trackers group, where he diligently volunteers every Tuesday to track weather data for our Conservation Science Department. He often picks up several extra shifts each month when we need someone to fill an open spot.

Jill started by helping in an administrative capacity, steadfastly volunteering each Wednesday, tackling important clerical duties in support of our volunteer programs, special events, and membership and fundraising activities. When we need volunteers to help prep for a special event or a mailing to our supporters, Jill will come in an extra day that week to organize the project and do the work. She has also been instrumental in streamlining and organizing the barcoding process for our Conservation Science Department’s Herbarium Project, which is an essential yet time consuming component of our efforts to digitize our legacy scientific records.

In addition to these volunteer activities, Larry and Jill have also accepted important leadership responsibilities. Larry joined our Development Committee in 2016 and Jill became the Volunteer Committee Chair in 2018.

Larry and Jill also volunteer together. When we started our StreamWatch program, they were among the first volunteers to sign up. Since 2017, they have been collecting data on a weekly basis at the Humpo Kill in the Humpo Marsh, which is a priority site for our Conservation Science team. Additionally, they have volunteered at our special events and represented the Preserve during community outreach activities.

Not only are Larry and Jill outstanding volunteers, but they also have a soft spot for animals. They adopted two kittens from Natalie Feldsine, our Research Collection and Citizen Science Coordinator, last year when she was unexpectedly tasked with taking care of a family member’s cat and her new litter of kittens.

For these reasons and many others, we were honored to give Jill and Larry the 2019 Gregory Switlik Sr. Volunteer Achievement Award, which MJ Martin, our Vice President and Chief Development Officer, presented to them at the Volunteer Recognition Event on November 2.

Two men pose with a framed photo of the Shawangunk Mountains in the Mohonk Preserve Visitor Center
Photo by Bonnie Hirschhorn

John Connolly’s Volunteer Legacy

by Andrew Reynolds and June Finer

Mohonk Preserve honors volunteers who have made outstanding and significant contributions to the Preserve over many years with our Volunteer Legacy Award. This year, we were honored to give this award to a volunteer who provided an unparalleled legacy of hiking, leadership, mentorship, and so much more at the Preserve. Our 2019 Volunteer Legacy Award recipient is John Connolly. David Toman, our Vice President and Chief Financial Officer, presented John presented the award at the Volunteer Recognition Event on November 2.

John has been with our Weekend Hike Leader program since the beginning. Little did he know when he joined the second ever Mohonk Preserve Singles Hike for a walk in the woods in 1995 that he would be leading hikes with us for the next 20 years.

It all started with that hike. John would be a regular participant in the weekly hikes until he began leading his own hikes a year later. This was back when the Preserve’s Visitor Center was located on Mountain Rest Road. After this building opened, John was among the first volunteers to serve at the front desk assisting the visiting public by answering their questions, suggesting hikes, and selling day passes.
In addition to hiking the trails, John also helped maintain them, volunteering with Ed Reppart, the Coordinator of the Volunteer Trailkeepers, while also assisting longtime Trailkeeper, Tom Wilson, with the Rock Rift Trail.

John became the Weekend Hike Leader Volunteer Coordinator in the year 2000 and served in this leadership capacity for the next 15 years. During this time, he continued to lead hikes, coordinated the Hike Leader schedule, trained and mentored countless volunteers looking to lead their own hikes, and served on the Volunteer Committee.

We thank John for his legacy of service and leadership at Mohonk Preserve and are honored to present him with the 2019 Volunteer Legacy Award.

Photo by Karen Maloy Brady

Introducing the Volunteer Scribes

By Jaden Thomas-Markarian

If you are looking for a way to stay informed about all things volunteers at the Mohonk Preserve, then look no further. The Volunteer Scribes are here!

Volunteer Scribes is a new volunteer group devoted to creating articles for a quarterly newsletter, The Volunteer Voice, which will be all about volunteers and the activities they participate in at Mohonk Preserve. Volunteer Scribes create timely, engaging content aimed at informing readers of the volunteer opportunities and experiences available at the Preserve. You’ll learn about the people, groups, places, events, and everything else that goes into making the Preserve such an amazing place to volunteer.

Editors, Assistant Editors, and Writers are needed. Writing, interviewing, and editing skills are helpful prerequisites, but training is provided. To join, contact Andrew Reynolds, Volunteer Programs Manager, at areynolds@mohonkpreserve.org.

Banner photo by Glenn Koehler