Students Help Conserve State Parks

New Jersey Herald
Wednesday, July 16, 2014

For the past few weeks, 10 high school students from throughout the country have been enjoying the natural beauty of Sussex County — and the students, in turn, have reciprocated the hospitality by volunteering their time in a variety of efforts aimed at enhancing the enjoyment afforded to local residents by their state parks.

Through the sponsorship of the Student Conservation Association, the participants — who range in age from 15 to 17 and hail from Alexandria, Va; Atlanta; Boston; Hayward, Calif.; Manchester, N.H.; Philadelphia; Seattle; and Washington, D.C. — have been helping to restore sections of the Paulinskill Valley Trail in Kittatinny Valley State Park that were washed out two years ago by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

The students and their two crew leaders — Sean Wilkinson, 27, of West Palm Beach., Fla.; and Claire Kennedy, 23, of Waunakee, Wisc. — also have been repainting bridges along the trail, removing overgrown vegetation, and installing informational kiosks in sections of the park.

The efforts were made possible by a $24,000 grant from the National Recreation Trails program secured through the office state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin. The grant has helped pay for the students’ transportation to New Jersey along with board, lodging, insurance, and the necessary tools and materials.

Steve Ellis, acting regional superintendent for the State Park Service, said Sunday that the students’ efforts will go a long way toward ensuring that the Paulinskill Valley Trail — which was the brainchild of Newton resident Len Frank more than 20 years ago — remains a natural asset for years to come.

“It’s exciting to see a second generation involved in preserving the trail that was Len’s idea,” said Ellis.

The student volunteers have also installed a new access point to the Great Valley Trail as part of a cooperative endeavor between the N.J State Park Service, Sussex County Trail Committee, and Sussex County Chamber of Commerce.

On Tuesday, they spent the day at Long Pond Ironworks State Park closing an unauthorized entry point near an abandoned mine site and rock ledge that divers had been using as a jumping-off point to the Wanaque River, potentially putting the swimmers at great risk.

On Wednesday, the volunteers spent their final work day at High Point State Park closing an unauthorized mountain bike trail that, in addition to raising safety concerns, had been allowing invasive species to make their way into the park.

The volunteers will spend the next three days relaxing and enjoying horseback riding, hiking, and a day trip to New York City before heading home this weekend.