Hey all, I am Karl Backhaus, one of the team members here at DigTheFalls and one of the trail leaders of the Narrows: Cascade and Heritage Trail. DigTheFalls has been one of the partners of the trail from the beginning of its construction in 2019.
The trail is the greatest thing to happen to the Burden Pond Preserve, where most of the Narrows trail runs along the Wynantskill Creek from the Campbell Avenue bridge to the Hudson River. The preserve has gone from a glacially carved bedrock chasm and tributary channel funneling sediment into Glacial Lake Albany to an industrial area Mill Pond, and lastly its modern iteration as the only publicly owned nature preserve in the City of Troy.
This preserve has undergone many years of neglect since the last volunteers ceased maintaining the property in the mid-2000s. The last crew to maintain the park was led by Christine O’Connell and the volunteer group “Friends of Christine O’Connell” who regularly maintained the “bowl” around the Burden Pond Dam with wildflower gardens and assorted trees. This group was responsible for maintaining all the retaining walls, benches, and the former boardwalk within the Preserve.
When the Narrows: Cascade and Heritage Trail began its initial construction through the park, the goal was to repurpose and restore any part of the original pieces and trails as possible. Starting in the Fall of 2018, DigTheFalls held the first official cleanup of the Narrows by clearing brush and picking up garbage but it was the start of something great.
The Spring through the late Fall of 2019 brought the first work season to the Preserve. The “Bowl” area was cleared of all invasives, sumac trees, garbage, and flooding debris. The wildflower gardens made a slight comeback in their shortened growing season, the falls were visible from the roadway and the first mile of the trail was cleared from the bottom of Mill Street to the wetlands on the east side of the Preserve. Three new sections of trail, as well as 0.6 miles of restored trails, were cleared and leveled.
We had many plans to continue creating and maintaining new trails in 2020, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic canceled all of our plans for the safety of our volunteers. Prior to the lockdown, our team was able to mark all the completed trails for residents to enjoy while socially distanced. Sadly, this pause in trail work led to the return of the sumac trees and invasive species as their growth was not controlled, but the wildflower undergrowth returned for the first time in ten years! During 2020 the team began planning the schedule for the return of workdays in 2021 with the completion of trail building for Phase 1 and beginning to Phase 2.
Work began in April for Earth Day; the trail was completed in the Burden Pond Preserve with the entrance completed to Project Road in June of 2020. With the approval of the easement on the THA property, the trail was continued further to Spring Avenue adding another ½ mile to the trail in less than two months.
In August of 2021, DigTheFalls along with the Mount Ida Preservation Association teamed up to apply for the City of Troy’s Neighborhood Improvement Grant or N.I.P. grant for short. Our goal was to build seven new park benches and two new trail kiosks. The grant received full approval and installation was set for the November #NewYorkSecondSaturday at the Preserve.
In August of 2021, the Mohawk Hudson Industrial Gateway installed their first history kiosk at the Burden Pond Dam detailing the historic lower Wynantskill Creek as the home to the Upper Burden Iron Works and Corning’s Albany Iron Works. These were officially dedicated by the City of Troy in September of 2021 (see link below) and serve as the first of many history kiosks to be installed along the trail to create an outdoor museum soon.
In October of 2021, the Trail Crew of the Rensselaer Land Trust (RLT) and Rensselaer Plateau Alliance (RPA) blazed another 1,500 feet of trail in the woods on the Southside of Spring Avenue. Following their work, the Narrows: Cascade and Heritage Trail is now over 2.5 miles long!
Following their work, the volunteers from Dig The Falls, Rensselaer Land Trust, and the Mount Ida Preservation Association worked on the final #NYSecondSaturday to install six of the seven park benches and the first of the two trail kiosks on a cool, partly sunny before being rained out after noontime. The first two benches were assembled and installed at the Burden Pond Dam with one facing the new history kiosk and the other replacing an aging, rotten bench on the north side of the dam facing Burden Pond. The next three benches were installed at the intersection of Campbell Avenue and Project Road along with a new trail kiosk. Another bench will be installed with one along the new section that the RPA and RLT and sits in a peaceful section of woods.
While we had thought that the NIP grant would only allow for the benches and kiosks to be built, the price of materials dropped significantly in price and allowed us to add to our project! The new trail along Spring Avenue had one treacherous crossing so we proposed and built the first boardwalk along the Narrows: Cascade and Heritage Trail! The 10ft long boardwalk used new 6×6 beams as joists and we were able to repurpose 2×12’s as floor pieces. This allowed us to be an environmentally conscious project. Following the installation of the boardwalk, the final benches were installed along the new Spring Avenue section and along the Mill Street section of the trail on the banks of Wynantskill Creek.
While it may have been a short year with only seven workdays and a low turnout of volunteers due to the pandemic, but we hope to come back strong next year!