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Welcome to Trail Blazers—a new blog series highlighting our incredible Super Steward Trail Maintainers! Super Stewards are advanced, independent volunteers who receive the training, tools, and resources they need to protect and care for their adopted trail in the parks system. We couldn’t properly manage and steward the 300 miles of nature trails in NYC without these dedicated and passionate volunteers!

On National Trails Day, we’re kicking things off with Trail Maintainer (TM) Michael Siskind, who officially became a TM in April but has been volunteering since 2018. Michael stewards in Pelham Bay Park on the Siwanoy Trail between City Island Road and Orchard Beach South Picnic Area in the Bronx. 

1. What inspired you to become a Super Steward Trail Maintainer? 

MS: I learned about the program when I participated in a volunteer event on Hunter Island in Pelham Bay Park. I have been visiting the park frequently since 2018, traveling down the Siwanoy Trail on my way to the beach. 

I felt my efforts could help maintain and improve a very small slice of my favorite New York City natural area. 

2. What was it like becoming a Trail Maintainer? What was your favorite part? 

MS: In order to become a trail maintainer, I first completed my navigator training, where one learns to identity common invasive plants in the region as well as a number of common native species, some of which may be confused with invasives. The trail maintainer training  builds on that knowledge, plus looks at a number of other things, such as the blocking off of informal paths and reporting trail blockages and conditions. My favorite aspect of my training was the opportunity to sharpen my plant identification skills, and although I had some basic knowledge before I started, I can now distinguish between raspberry bushes and multi flora rose at a glance. 

3. What kind of work and improvements have you done on your adopted trail? Why were these changes necessary?

MS: Over the course of my time coming to Pelham Bay, and even more so recently now that I have officially adopted a segment of the Siwanoy Trail, I have removed a very significant amount of trash from the trail, from the woods in the general vicinity of the trail, and from the area where the trail ends at the picnic area. My Fiskars lopper has gleefully slaughtered numerous privet bushes, but I feel that so far general garbage removal has been my greatest achievement. People entering the trail should experience an unsullied environment. Viewing trash is spiritually polluting and takes away from the natural experience. 

group of volunteers holding trail markers

Michael (far right) with a group of volunteers installing trail markers on the Siwanoy Trail.

4. What’s your trail tip? 

Pelham Bay Park is a large park with a diverse ecosystem. A great walk is to take the Siwanoy Trail from City Island Road to the South Picnic Area and then cut across the beach to the water’s edge. One should then walk along the beach to the rocks on Twin Island. This trek is best undertaken on cold winter days. In the summer the Orchard Beach and its parking lot are obviously filled with people, but in the winter walking through the Central Woods, Rodman’s Neck and the edge of the beach to the rocks of Twin Island, one can almost feel a sense of wilderness. The vistas are broad and the people are non existent. Wildlife sightings of deer and wintering waterfowl are guaranteed. Seals can be often seen as well. 

In the winter walking through the Central Woods, Rodman’s Neck and the edge of the beach to the rocks of Twin Island, one can almost feel a sense of wilderness.

5. What do you want all New Yorkers to know about NYC’s trails and parks?

I think New Yorkers need to be aware of what an important resource New York’s parks and green spaces are. There is a surprising amount of wildlife in the city because of them. I believe that people are hardwired to enjoy nature (well at least I am). Our natural areas need to be protected and enhanced to provide a refuge for both people and wildlife.

Learn more about how you can become a Super Steward Trail Maintainer! Interested in getting on the trails soon? Check out our events calendar for upcoming outings.

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