Popolopen Gorge Trail
Harriman State Park, NY

[ NY/NJ Trail Conference's West Hudson Crew ]


I think this trail is one of Harriman's lost secret treasures.  As trails go, it's nothing extraordinary - even kind of routine.  Largely following an old roadbed, it runs upstream along the Popolopen river starting just off the Bear Mountain traffic circle.  With no trail head parking, access at this end is problematic (which I think is why it seems to be much less used than many others in the park).


But the gorge is quite the gem!  In the high water seasons it is one of the most dramatic watercourses I have seen.  At low water, the pools and water-carved stones are a study in peaceful persistence.  Check out the NY/NJ Trail Conference's map #4 (North Harriman set) for the trailhead.


Here are some photos from the trail reconstruction this Spring along the Popolopen Gorge Trail in Harriman.  Once again, the NY/NJ Trail Conference's West of Hudson Trail Crew had a great crew of volunteer men & women working on this.  Work remains - so contact the leader if you'd like to join in.  Check the "West of Hudson Crew" schedule on the NYNJ Trail Conference website.

Last Updated: 01/30/2005

Spring 2001

Repair in place of some sections where the steep walls of the gorge have declined to the point where the trail had become eroded and unsafe.

Lower_steps_01.jpg (39871 bytes) As you hike upstream, about a third of a mile along you get to where this first part of the repairs begin.  This lower section was simply eroded to the point where there was hardly any trail at all.  The silty soil is very easily washed away, and this area has had plenty of time to work at it.  So, first we cut a side hill several feet back into the hill to re-establish a tread area.  Then we placed periodic rock steps to support the slope and to keep the terracing from being to steep.
Lower_steps_02.jpg (42741 bytes) The side hill / stepped terrace process morphs into a rock stair as the hill gets steeper.  Of course, there were no rocks worth using anywhere nearby, let alone up hill.  So all these had to be mined from the riverbed, 35' below and dragged up.  The local granite is amazingly heavy!  I am told that it is around a 'specific gravity of 5' (which translates to about 200 pounds per cubic foot).  At that rate a basketball sized chunk weights about 180 lbs.
Lower_steps_03.jpg (32033 bytes) When all is said and done, looking down from near the top of the lower work area.  These photos were taken just a couple weeks after the work was finished.  Already the trail is blending back into the 'natural' landscape.  You can never completely hide trailwork, but the best is when folks don't even pay attention to it being there...
Mid_steps_sidehill_02.jpg (33093 bytes) At the top of the lower section, the trail mostly levels off for 75-100 feet.  Here, the crew placed a couple of rock steps to transition from the stair below, onto the level area.  Then major side hilling was done, again, cutting back into the hillside to create a new shelf / platform for the tread to occupy.  Given the tendency for erosion, even this fairly flat area needed occasional steps to keep the overall slope from getting too steep.
Mid_steps_sidehill_01.jpg (35154 bytes) One of the terracing steps along the way.  This is also a textbook illustration of how to do a side hill.  By defining where the tread level is to be at the outer edge and cutting back into the hill, all the exposed tread surface is undisturbed, fully compacted soil.  As the cutting back is done, it rises slightly to give about 1 to 2 inch rise in 3 feet of width.  Just enough to keep the water sheeting off the tread, but not so severe as to create a hardship for walking.  When you can do a side hill like this, you rarely need to re-enforce the lower edge, except when the soil is very poor.
Mid_steps_sidehill_03.jpg (33584 bytes) A little further along, and the out slope of the hill is so steep, that the side hill is re-enforced in sections.  Ideally, you do this exactly the same way as a regular one, except that you first dig in and plant a 'curb' of stones (or logs, if you must) so that their tops are even or just below the desired outside edge level.  Then, you cut back the tread surface the same way as normal.  This way, you have the hardened curbing to help hold the lower edge together, but it does not create an obstruction to the free sheeting of water off the trail.  Anything that sticks up on that lower edge will keep water on the trail, promoting erosion -- which was the problem in the first place!
Upper_steps_02.jpg (37320 bytes) At one point, the trail ducked sharply uphill and around the back of a large boulder.  The problem is that over the years this had eroded into a 6 foot high mud cliff with a few scraggly roots to clamber up by.  The repair here was to relocate the tread and remediate the damaged area.  Since the relocation had to go steeply up and around below the boulder, a staircase was the only safe and durable solution.  The masterpiece you see here is the result.  You can just barely make out the damaged area.  (Its at the left edge, just below the boulder, about 2/3 of the way up the stairs.)
Upper_steps_03.jpg (31324 bytes) Wow!  Remember the 180 pound basketball?  These steps are probably 500-600 pounds apiece.  Many of them came from above the work site, but all had to be brought in by hand.  

Ron, Chris, Brian - beautiful job, guys!

Upper_steps_01.jpg (32561 bytes) And finally, the stairs bring you up to a built terrace which swings around the under edge of the boulder and rejoins the original treadway via a couple of rock steps.
Sidehill_02.jpg (39765 bytes) More of the side hill work that required occasional terrace steps and a re-enforced edge.  In truth, the rocks along the outer edge are as much for effect.  The hill below here falls away very sharply to the river, and most people just feel better about having a defined edge.
Sidehill_01.jpg (38538 bytes) Isn't this pretty?  Before, you could hardly find it at all, now it just flows with the hillside.
Sidehill_03.jpg (32719 bytes) Here the trail swings past this large tree's root.  When you are working on this steep a hillside, you use all the help you can get to keep the trail on the hill.  Tree, grass and brush roots are what hold a hillside together better than anything else.  Avoiding walking over them will preserve the tree.
Sidehill_04.jpg (37445 bytes) Again from the textbook side hill: Notice the uphill edge of the treadway is back sloped at about a 45 angle, sometimes bolstered with embedded flat rocks.  This will slow down the collapse of the uphill side onto the tread.
Sidehill_05.jpg (33348 bytes) The crew cut in close to 500 feet of side hill trail along this section in one day.  Talk about working like beavers! (or is it gophers?)
Sidehill_06.jpg (35320 bytes) What was once an impassable mess of an eroded away hillside is now a safe, pleasant trail which will hopefully be enjoyed by many, many people.
Top_steps_01.jpg (35310 bytes) Looking back down at the newly refurbished trail from the end of the project area.  At this point the trail rejoined an old fire road which is in very good shape at that point.

Fall 2001

More to come: The NY/NJ Trail Conference's West of Hudson crew will be back there in October.  There is tons of work to be done.  Come on out and join the fun!


Hill_2_from top_01.jpg (34116 bytes) This is one time when I got 'before' pictures of where we will be working.  Believe it or not, this is looking down the hill along the marked trail.  It goes right down the center of this picture.
Hill_2_from_bottom_01.jpg (33774 bytes) The same stretch of trail, this time looking up from the bottom.
Hill_2_from_bottom_02.jpg (33801 bytes) I promise, there really is a trail in there... at least the trees have blazes on them...
Hill_2_from_bottom_03.jpg (33611 bytes) You are standing on the trail, looking up.  That blow-down in the background is just below where the trail turns a hard right and crosses a wash caused by a highway storm drain on the PIP.
Hill_2_from_bottom_side_01.jpg (33937 bytes) A side view of the pictured area from above.  It's all at least this steep, and this rocky.
Hill_2_top_continue_01.jpg (32243 bytes) Once you cross the wash, the trail continues to traverse across and up the hill.  This will all need to be side hilled, probably with several steps and terraces along the way.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The images which appear on this web page are copyrighted material, the exclusive property of their creators. These images may not be posted on the web or used for any purposes whatsoever without prior written approval directly from the copyright holder.

Copyright 2002-2005 by Trails To Build. All rights reserved.