Natural Areas Conservatory announces plan to formalize trails in New York City parks

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Photo courtesy of the Natural Areas Conservancy

With the pandemic winding down, the weather heating up, and New Yorkers flocking to the outdoors, the Natural Areas Conservatory (NAC) has announced a plan to upgrade hiking trails across the City. 

New York City boasts some 20,000 acres of nature – including 10,000 in its parks. Yet, many of these acres lack the kind of infrastructure that would facilitate access to all. Trails, more often not, are improvised, the organic product of years of visitation. As such, they resemble more trampled-dirt tracks than formal trails, and their sprawl can sometimes be harmful to the environment. 

The NAC’s new Strategic Trail Plan would change this, establishing a formal network of trails that would at once protect the City’s nature and ensure access to it, by all. “The plan would increase access to parks and recreation, and give New Yorkers the same quality of hiking and nature walks that many currently seek out in State parks outside of the City,” said Sarah Kaplan. 

Currently, the City’s parks have 43 miles of marked trails – and more than 300 miles of informal trails organically created over decades by hikers. While the Plan would include the closing of these “redundant paths,” it would also mark, upgrade and “reroute trails around ecologically sensitive areas,” ensuring that the City’s vast natural resources can be seen but also protected.

“Our goal is to create the kind of experience most New Yorkers think they need to leave the city to find, right here in the five boroughs,” said Sarah Charlop-Powers, Executive Director and Co-founder of the Natural Areas Conservancy. This means a unified mapping and signage system, the decommission of informal trails, the restoration of natural habitats – and the maintenance of trails through the fall, winter and spring. 

Although the Plan has only just been announced, the work has already begun, with NYC Parks, in partnership with the NAC, formalizing trails across the City. Avid hikers, and all New Yorkers, can soon be expected to see the results.

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