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Meeker Steps – The Heavy Lifting of a Steep Rocker

Chapin Bates, Volunteer "Steep Rocker"

We recently sat down with Chap­in Bates, a dedicated volunteer who is one of our skilled “Steep Rockers” – a small group of crafts­men who, along with out Trail Management Team, was trained by outside experts to learn how to do specialized stonework.

Since 2022, their main respon­sibility has been to transform the Meeker Trail into a safe and sus­tainable passage for those enjoy­ing Macricostas Preserve. The trail was continuously washed out and eroded due to heavy rain­storms and needed to be moved to a drier locale where a slope with a steep grade was a significant concern.

Throughout this past year, the Steep Rockers worked to “har­vest” stone for steps from the surrounding forest, shaped them to the correct size, and installed them on the precarious slope, cre­ating a sustainable natural pas­sage that should last for decades with minimal maintenance. Thus far, 20 steps have been installed and another 10 are planned for this summer.

How did you get started volun­teering for Steep Rock?

I have always loved Steep Rock and spent a lot of time explor­ing the trails, and after retiring, I wanted to get more involved with the community. I had done a couple of Saturday Work Parties in the past, so I signed up to par­ticipate in Trail Management for a year. The following year, they had so many volunteers on the trails that Mike, [Giapponi, former Trail Manager], said he had a special project for me: The Steep Rockers.

What constitutes the training pro­gram of a “Steep Rocker”?

The training involved a lot of in­formation delivered in a very short period. Over two days, we met with Artie Hidalgo and Kent Striv­ers of the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, a highly trained and skilled group of volunteers who specialize in trail stonework and providing public access to iconic places–a real niche in the world of conser­vation. They taught us to safely and properly handle the tools, most of them new and obscure to us. We also spent hours on com­munication and the proper vocab­ulary for managing and manipu­lating those tools, the intricacies of laying a trail, understanding the slope of a hill, and measuring the rise and run to develop a trail plan when steps are required to pro­vide accessibility and safety. The Goat Trail (also known as “River’s Edge Trail”), completed last year in Steep Rock Preserve, is a great example of stonework, where the steps add to the beauty of the trail and hiker experience. The steps keep our hikers on the trail, rather than clamoring around for an eas­ier passage, therefore protecting the flora and fauna that live all around it.

What tools are used?

The most commonly used are hammers, pick mottocks, and other arcane-sounding tools like feathers, Maasdam, Porta-wrap, clinometers…and rock bars. The stones are sourced right by the trails, typically within 100 feet of the site. A step requires a rise of 7-10” and a flat surface on one side. Rock bars, 5-6’ long heavy metal bars, are used to position or free the stone in order to strap a sling around it. The sling is con­nected to a winch line, usually about 40-50 feet long, manually cranked up hill with a grip hoist or a “come along” to the site. The bars are then used to lever the step into its final position. There is very little environmental im­pact on the site. The only source of electricity we have is a small Honda portable generator, which we use to power the drill needed to split the stone. It’s quite ba­sic and harkens back to what the Egyptians were doing with the pyramids 2000 years BCE!

What has been most memorable?

Working with Artie Hidalgo, a re­tired senior executive at the MTA in New York, a short stout strong man with a deep Brooklyn ac­cent, who in his retirement can be found all over the country, in the woods, pounding stone, teaching people about nature. He’s a great character and a great person.

What inspires you to continue to do this work?

It’s wonderful to see how fellow hikers have benefitted from our work. Everyone is ap­preciative, and the permanence of the stone steps, knowing they will be there for years to come, is equally inspiring.

Are you interested in joining our team of volunteers? Fill out our Volunteer Form and we’ll reach out to you!

Steep Rockers laying 20 steps on Meeker Trail, Macricostas Preserve
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