Sarah and Mike Ward
This couple helped create a new trail system and revitalized a New York town in the process.
When Sarah and Mike Ward went for an early-morning walk near their Port Jervis, New York, home in 2016, they had no idea that it would radically reshape their lives. The couple had moved there from Queens in 2005 and enjoyed the peace and quiet, but the local hiking scene left much to be desired. One “park” on the edge of the city was closed to the public and strewn with trash.
That morning, they ran into a hiker who told them about the new Port Jervis Outdoor Club, which aimed to transform the area into a hiking and biking mecca. Led by a judge, a teacher, a sport shop owner, and others, the club had begun clearing and marking trails.
“They knew the area and could find their way in and out, but other people couldn’t,” Mike says.
So Mike, 64, who did wiring for Broadway shows, and his wife Sarah, 55, a set designer, volunteered for an ambitious job: plan, map, and mark a 40-mile trail system for hiking, biking, and wheelchair access. Sarah painted signage; Mike put up 145 posts with trail names, GPS coordinates, and emergency info. They created kiosks to hold maps and information. Today, visitors can link the completed trails to form loops in what’s now called the Port Jervis Watershed Park and Recreation Area.
“Sarah and Mike have been key to the development and operation of the trails here,” says Port Jervis Mayor Kelly Decker. “Those trails bring people from all over the world. They helped in the recent explosion of retail businesses here.”
Mike now spends up to 50 hours a week working on the trails, while Sarah volunteers around 15. Mike also frequently leads hikes. And their commitment doesn’t end there: To make trail access easy for city residents, the Wards bought a 24-acre wedge of land to connect residential streets with paths. Next up: They plan to add links to other trail systems and communities.
Know someone doing great things outdoors for the love of it? Tag them #NoSponsor and tell us why at backpacker.com/nosponsor.
Sarah and Mike Ward have given time, sweat, and money to Port Jervis trails.