Fit Body

Published on January 31st, 2020 | by Roger Dubin


Enhancing Longevity Through Hiking

by Roger Dubin

The New York–New Jersey Trail Conference, now in its 99th year, has more than 2,000 volunteers and maintains more than 2,150 miles of public trails in the metropolitan area. The hikers share a love of nature and the outdoors; the need to give back; and the endurance to go out on a trail maintenance hike carrying, in addition to the usual knapsack and water, tools like saws, pruners, clippers, crowbars and hammers.

As the volunteer engagement manager for the Trail Conference, Kendra Baumer attends multiple meetings per month with numerous trail supervisors, and can attest to the unique energy of this community. “I’ve been at several volunteer meetings where I’ve heard it said, ‘Hiking and working on trails must be the elixir of life—just look around the room!’” she says.

Baumer noted the achievement of Robert Ward, who received the Trail Conference dedicated service award last spring at the age of 91. He served the Trail Conference since 1950 in a variety of roles, including trail supervisor and Queens Trails Council chair and retired in November after 69 years of service.

Volunteer Roland Breault is 87 and attributes his health and happiness to his time spent hiking and in nature. “I started hiking in my early 60s, when I retired,” he says. “I currently hike three days a week for about three hours a day, and still do some unofficial trail maintenance. The trails and nature are my savior and spirituality. I feel the presence of God when I’m out in the mountains. I don’t take medication, and I know that all the oxygen and movement keeps me young and active. Plus, I am sustained by the people I run into on the trails.”

Bob Ross joined the Trail Conference more than 50 years ago, when he stumbled across its office on Madison Avenue. Lots of hiking followed. When his wife, Janet, developed an inoperable brain tumor, he became her sole caregiver for the next 34 years. Ross offers three bits of advice for anyone in the trenches like he was: “Take care of yourself first, get a dog to break the tension and maintain a trail.” His choice was the Orange Trail, part of the High Mountain system, in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, two miles from his home. This way he could get back if his wife needed him.

After she died, Ross discovered the joys of fundraising at the Trail Conference and elsewhere, and expanded his trail maintenance to include the Franklin Lakes Nature Preserve. At 83, he reports that he feels fantastic and walks five to 10 miles a day now, primarily on New York City streets. After 25 years of annual checkups, his doctor continues to give him a clean bill of health with less than a 2 percent risk of death from heart disease over the next five years.

Roger Dubin is a volunteer trail supervisor for the New York–New Jersey Trail Conference. For more information, visit

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