Profiles in Volunteering: Blazing New Trails

A retired New York City transit worker now builds stone paths and staircases for make hiking safer

by Celeste Hamilton Dennis • Next Avenue
Artie Hidalgo image
Photograph: Courtesy of Artie Hidalgo

Originally from Cuba and now living in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., 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 doing trail building to make paths safe and 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:

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.
(MORE: Profiles in Volunteering: Navy Vet Gives Submarine Tours)

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.
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.

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