JACKSON — The next time you are out walking or hiking one of the woodland trails that traverse Jackson, take a moment to appreciate the work of a group of local volunteers who maintain four trails that immerse the people who walk and hike them in the natural world around them.
In fact, the mission of the Jackson Pathfinders is considered so impactful that the volunteer group has official status as a township organization. Matthew McCall is the chair of the Pathfinders and Dan Green is the corresponding secretary.
“We have about a dozen people who are appointed members by the township because this (organization) is part of the Jackson government,” said Green. “This is the only township in New Jersey that has an actual budget for maintaining trails.
“The members of the Pathfinders are appointed by the township every January and everyone else we call participants. People have the option of participating at whatever level they choose,” Green said.
In addition to being supported by the municipal government, the Pathfinders also have the support of the township’s public works and recreation departments, and the Jackson Environmental Commission.
The Pathfinders meet on the third Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in the Jackson municipal building. All are welcome to attend a meeting, which are once again being held in person following two years of remote meetings.
The trails that are maintained by the Pathfinders are open for nature appreciation and hiking, while some trails also permit bicycling and horseback riding.
They are: the Silver Stream Trail, across from 254 Frank Applegate Road; the Steve Kitay Living Trail, accessed via the Silver Stream Trail; the Purple Heart Trail within the Bunker Hill Bogs Recreation Area, accessed at 820 East Veterans Highway; and the Jackson Jungle Children’s Trail on Jackson Drive adjacent to the Jackson Jungle play park.
The Pathfinders have a special connection with the Silver Stream Trail, which is in the Metedeconk Preserve of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and honors the group as official guardians of the trail, according to Green.
Volunteers trim overgrowth, clear fallen trees, install trail markers and signs, maintain boardwalks and bridges on the trails and much more. The Pathfinders also advocate for the New Jersey Forest Resource Education Center in Jackson and partner with scouts on special projects.
According to Green, work on the trails was severely curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic.
“There are usually a half-dozen people at our trail events, (but there have) not been many since the pandemic. We used to run hikes and jaunts, but we haven’t been doing that since the pandemic started,” he said. “What we have been doing is some trail maintenance. We trim any branches or weeds that may be over-reaching on a trail. More volunteers are always welcome.”
June 26 marked the Pathfinders’ second foray onto the trails, post-pandemic. A small group spent several hours clearing and maintaining the Silver Stream and Kitay trails, which are interconnected.
“We weed-wacked and we placed new trail markings,” McCall said. “That’s how the group comes up with work projects and a lot of times, which has been great, people will catch a member of the Pathfinders on the street or they will reach out to us through Facebook and say, ‘I notice there’s a lot of garbage’ (on a trail).
“At the end of April we put signs on the Purple Heart Trail and that involved the Pathfinders and three members from the Jackson ROTC cadet group. June 26 was more for the public. We sent out an email to all 400 members and four people came. Still, work got done. We cleaned the trail, removed excess growth and updated trail markings on the Kitay trail. The markings were a faded green and we updated them to orange,” McCall said.
According to McCall, individuals who walk the trails will encounter an abundance of natural beauty and native wildlife.
“The Purple Heart Trail is a huge pond and the trail parallels the length of the pond,” he said. “On the Kitay trail, you are looking at different trees and there are birds everywhere. It’s a quiet respite for people to get away from the hustle and bustle of all the roads and traffic. Trees, wildlife, waterways. It’s really just to introduce people to the outdoors.”
McCall said the Pathfinders take steps – he cited the plethora of signs – to allay people’s concerns about losing their way along the trails.
“A lot of people have a fear of going into the woods and getting lost. The Pathfinders’ trails are well maintained and have good signs.
“We really take that into account as a club and we try to take away people’s insecurities as far as entering Mother Nature and allow them to enjoy themselves and have confidence they can enter and exit with ease,” he said.
“None of these trails are mountainous, you are not navigating through waist-high water, they are all fairly level. They are accessible. We have children and parents on our trails all the time and it’s great for a family outing.
“Our trails are open, they are well maintained and well cared for,” said McCall, “and we are looking at ways to work with Jackson to get more trails. The trails are open, go outside and enjoy them, tag the Pathfinders on Facebook, give us photos and reviews of the trails.”
Visit www.jacksonpathfinders.org for downloadable PDF maps and interactive Google maps of the Pathfinders’ trails and several other trails in Jackson, including a trail map for the Forest Resource Education Center.
Trails are open to the public every day for nature appreciation, hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. However, bicycles and horses are not allowed on the Children’s Trail.
For more information about the Jackson Pathfinders, visit jacksonpathfinders.org or check the organization’s Facebook page.