Sarah and Mike Ward

This cou­ple helped cre­ate a new trail sys­tem and re­vi­tal­ized a New York town in the process.

Backpacker - - Field Test Hall Of Fame - TEXT BY JES­SICA CO­HEN / PHOTO BY GENNY FULLER­TON

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.

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