Blazing new trails: How a New York City retiree found purpose in stonework

Originally from Cuba and now living in Poughkeepsie, New York, 61-year-old Artie Hidalgo worked for the New York City Transit Authority for 36 years before retiring as an assistant general manager in 2010. That year, he started building trails to make paths safer and more convenient for hikers. Hidalgo now co-leads the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, an all-volunteer group specializing in wilderness stonework. Below, he talks about his passion.

This post originally appeared on Next Avenue, a PBS website that informs and inspires the 50 + crowd. 

I knew volunteering would be an important aspect of my retirement. I also knew I wanted to do stuff outdoors.

An avid hiker, I was always fascinated by the dry stonework used on hiking trails to prevent erosion, as well as how it got there.

Dry stone has been around for thousands of years. Look at the Great Wall of China and the Aqueducts in Rome. They’re such beautiful structures. There’s something primitive about building with natural stone. It’s like sculpture, in a way.

Since 99 percent of the work on U.S. trails is done by volunteers, I developed a game plan to volunteer by doing dry stone building.

In 2010, I joined the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference, a nonprofit that monitors and maintains trails and took a dry stone building course. As soon as I finished, I began volunteering and put in almost 1,000 hours that season. It was the highest number of hours from a volunteer for the group in a single year.

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Photo of Artie courtesy of the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew.

One of my jobs was working on a reroute of the Appalachian Trail on Bear Mountain. During the weekdays, there were hardly any volunteers so I had the opportunity to work directly with a professional trail crew that was overseeing volunteer training.

I developed a really close working relationship with them and they would ask me to do stuff that sometimes volunteers wouldn’t want to do because it was really hard, like turning big rocks into little rocks with a sledgehammer.

Toward the end of my first season, one of the guys took me to a site on Bear Mountain. “I need you to build a staircase here,” he said. “It’s probably going to be about 15 or 16 steps.”

I was shocked. Prior to that, I’d only built a two- or three-step staircase. I remember asking, “Tom, do you think I can do this?” He said, “Yeah, I think you can.”

I tell you, I worked for six or seven weeks on this project and it’s still so gratifying.

Sometimes, I walk new volunteers up it when we do an orientation because that staircase is so special to me. But I never think of it as my staircase. I always think of it as being done by all the guys on that crew who inspired me and gave me the opportunity to build it. I’m incredibly grateful to them.

I developed a special chemistry with two of the guys, Chris Ingui and Bob Brunner, and in 2011 the three of us built an all-volunteer crew specifically devoted to stonework, known as The Jolly Rovers.

We started with 12 volunteers who had little or no experience in trail building. We taught them how to do stonework and had an incredible season.

Now there are 23 Jolly Rover volunteers, men and women of all ages, and we have a deep connection that goes beyond stonework. This has become an extended family for all of us.

That’s the thing about my experience doing this kind of work. I’ve done it in New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Tennessee and North Carolina and the quality and caliber of people I’ve met is astonishing. Nobody is pretentious. Nobody has a chip on his shoulder.

Ideally I’d like to see the crew evolve to the point where we can do what we’re doing on a national basis and expand internationally.

I feel so proud about what I’ve done as a volunteer.

I look back on my 36-year career with the Transit Authority and say, “Wow, what was that all about?” But when I look back on the last three years of my life, every structure that I built will outlive me, outlive my sons.

I remember taking my sons to Bear Mountain and they said, “I don’t believe this, Pop! This is awesome!”

They had heard me talk about what we did, but they never saw the magnitude of the structures that we built.

That stuff is going to be around for a long, long time. Nobody is going to put up a parking lot in any of these places. These are protected sites.

And that’s what I feel is so gratifying about it. In today’s modern culture, where else are you going to get the kind of opportunity I’ve had?

In the NY area and interested in doing trail work? The Jolly Rovers are always looking for volunteers.  

Interested in trail work in other parts of the country? Try searching Idealist for opportunities around the U.S. and world

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Meet the dad who started an alternative Boy Scout revolution

This post originally appeared on good.is, a global community of people who give a damn.

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Scouts from Missouri’s 10th Daniel Boone Scout Group. (Photo via Baden-Powell Service Association.)

Over the past year, alternative options to the Boy Scouts of America have spread across the U.S. like wildfire. From Portland, Oregon’s 55th Cascadia Scouts, clad in homemade kerchiefs (and named after the kitschy camp troop in the Wes Anderson movie Moonrise Kingdom), to the 5th Brooklyn Scouts in New York, building forts in Central Park as part of their wilderness survival training, the new troops are primarily formed by families fed up with discriminatory policies.

But these troops would still be up a creek without a paddle if it weren’t for one frustrated father: Missouri dad and Cub Scout leader David Atchley, the humble computer programmer who reintroduced “traditional” scouting to the U.S., and in the process, furthered LGBT and gender equality.

Six years ago, David attempted to dodge the Boy Scouts’ commitment to excluding female and gay would-be participants by asking them to let his troop be all-inclusive. Instead, they threatened to take away his pack’s membership.

So he took things into his own hands. He turned in his Eagle Scout badge (the black belt of scouting), severed all ties with the Boy Scouts of America, and began crafting the country’s first all-inclusive scouting alternative.

But he didn’t have to start from scratch. In David’s search for other scouting options, he found Europe’s Baden-Powell Service Association (the original scouting model that the U.S. Boy Scouts was founded on in 1910) and was quickly hooked by its no-nonsense approach. With straightforward, loophole-free rules laid down in 1907, the association stressed outdoors-y goals and an all-inclusive atmosphere.

After convincing some of his current scouts and local families to join forces, David started the 10th Daniel Boone Scout Group, officially igniting the BPSA U.S. program. The goal? To bring scouting back to its roots. “Sure, the Boy Scouts’ discriminatory policies made me leave the program, but that isn’t the focus,” says David. “It’s time we bring back traditional scouting.”

To him, this means swapping “programming” and “computer game design” merit badges for those scouting was founded on, mainly outdoor survival and navigation. David agrees that youth tech education is important—it’s just not part of the scouting platform.

“Scouting is supposed to be focused on two things: outdoor skills and public service,” he says. “These seem to have been forgotten over the years.” David’s own troop reflects these values by spending weekends cleaning up trash alongside the Missouri River and honing their campfire cooking skills on camping trips.

Soon after his troop got off the ground, he began hearing from interested parents and ex-members across the country. There are now 24 BPSA-chartered groups, from New Hampshire to New Mexico, empowering scouts and leaders of all ages, sexual orientations, and genders. David’s been the national commissioner since 2009, both arranging national events and connecting interested scouts on a local level, thanks to their site’s handy Scout Finder application.

Still, he remains modest about his program’s achievements and long-term effects on gender and sexuality biases.

“I just wanted to find another alternative for my kids, one that focused on equality and traditional scouting,” he says. “But it wasn’t a new idea. I was just the first to make the move.”

Interested in starting a local BPSA troop or know a community that’s looking for an alternative to the BSA? Contact David Atchley at david.m.atchley@gmail.com or look for nearby members on the Scout Finder.

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How one business is helping female entrepreneurship grow

Each day, people like you have ideas on how to make the world a better place, but don’t know how to put their ideas into action. To help you take the first step, we’re profiling budding social entrepreneurs who are tackling issues that are important to them, one step at a time.

The idea

Chris Baker first traveled to the Himalayas when he was 18, and hasn’t stopped going back ever since.

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Chris Baker spending a day at the office in Nepal. (Photo via Chris Baker.)

In college, Chris researched rock carvings in the area surrounding Mt. Everest, and held the position of President of the Yale Mountaineering Club. Shortly after graduating he became a Kiva fellow in Nepal, working closely with Patan Business and Professional Women (BPW Patan), a micro credit program that provides women with business development resources.

From his experience in Nepal, Chris saw a real opportunity in linking the mindful traveler with local communities and entrepreneurs. Combining his passion for social enterprise and the mountains, he created OneSeed Expeditions.

OneSeed invests 10 cents of every incoming dollar directly into microfinance initiatives that provide capital to women entrepreneurs in Nepal. You take an amazing trip to Everest Base Camp; a local woman launches or expands her business.

Obstacles

Chris’s first step was laying the groundwork. As a teacher with Teach for America, Chris would spend his summers off in Nepal getting to know the people and land even more.

But as with any idea, Chris ran into a few challenges along the way:

Obstacle: Committing to the idea
Solution: After things started rolling, every founder had to make the decision to commit full time, which meant quitting jobs and possibly moving. Once everyone did there was no turning away from OneSeed.  “It’s easy to waver and and find reason not to do something, but at a certain point you have to commit and do it wholeheartedly,” Chris says. “There’s a level of momentum that comes with that complete commitment.”

Obstacle: Getting on the same page
Solution: When starting the social enterprise, the other two founding members were from Nepal. It was important to be clear and figure out what OneSeed’s core values were right away. It helped cause less confusion when communicating about the details over many Skype calls and to this day, Chris and his team are careful not to lose sight of their original principles. “The conversations and connections that come from sitting around a stove and drinking tea form the foundation of our company,” he says.

Obstacle: Fear of the unknown
Solution:  “It’s easy to be blinded by optimism,” Chris says of being an entrepreneur.  He had to become a true realist and take a self-assessment of the projections, which meant sitting down and asking himself and the team if they were going to meet their targets and goals. Once they evaluated their chances of success, Chris said they just had to jump. “When you’re making your idea a reality there is always a high risk and reward,” he says. He now has a thriving social enterprise that’s expanding, and everyday he loves his job. “I get to spend time in beautiful places with amazing people and we do a little bit of good along the way.”

Advice

Discovering the Annapurna trail in Nepal. (Photo via Chris Baker.)

Chris is now busy bringing the OneSeed name to Chile, offering expeditions in Patagonia beginning in January 2013. To date, OneSeed has raised over $16,000 for women entrepreneurs, and has trained and hired more than 30 local guides in Nepal and Chile.

Chris is of the belief that making a plan can’t be overstated enough. “Ideas are plentiful; execution is rare,” he says. “Some things wind up easier than you think.”

Specifically, here’s how he encourages you to move forward on your idea:

  • Know your limits of what you can and cannot do.
  • Be aware when you need to bring in other team members to collaborate.
  • Draw upon your networks to find true experts.
  • Recombine and link ideas across contexts e.g. travel and microfinance.
  • Ask a lot of questions.

Finally, Chris advocates for acting on your idea no matter what.  “Remember you’re always going to have people warning you of the constraints, challenges, and impossibles,” he says. “But if you’re willing to follow through, you find that you can do things that seem out of reach.”

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Starting your own social enterprise and need some advice? Feel free to reach out to Chris: chris@oneseedexpeditions.com.

 

 

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Fun in the sun: Volunteer opportunities for you right now!

By Amy Potthast.

Summer! Aching for reasons to be out in the sun all day, everyday? Or just want to keep moving?
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Planting a community garden is good for you, the community, and people needing food. Photo by USFS Region 5 (Flickr/Creative Commons).

Consider volunteering outdoors this summer. There are countless ways you can build karma while working on your tan – and you can find most of ‘em on Idealist. Read on…

Restoring and maintaining natural places
People can overuse or over-love forests, rivers, and trails. Non-native plant species can take root and overpower the natives.

When a natural area is damaged in these and other ways, you can take steps to bring it back to life.

Work with others to:

Keywords when searching volunteer opps on Idealist: restoration, environment, ecology, watershed, invasive plant species.

Gardening, farming, and permaculture
Tending the earth in sustainable ways is good for community, people who are food-insecure, and for you.

Connect with organizations and neighbors to:

Keywords when searching volunteer opps on Idealist: gardening, permaculture, agriculture, education.

Sports and recreation
Being outdoors can be all fun and games. There are lots of ways community groups advocate for healthy, active lifestyles, from engaging clients in physical activities to organizing fundraising events involving athletic contests.

Find ways to move this summer:

Keywords when searching volunteer opps on Idealist: sports, recreation, health.

Note: volunteer positions — even outdoors — exist for people of all abilities. Look for or ask about volunteer positions that accommodate your needs, whatever they are.

How are you quenching your sun-thirst this summer?

Amy Potthast served as Idealist’s Director of Service and Graduate Education Programs until 2011. Read more of her work at amypotthast.com.

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