Helping Nature Lovers Find Their Way

Cheektowaga, NY | December 2013 | By National Recreation and Park Association

Before this project, a walk along the nature trails at Stiglmeier Park in Cheektowaga, New York, often meant the possibility of getting somewhat lost or turned around. That was because many of the aging trail markers posted at intersections along the 5.2-mile Losson Nature Trail System were in disrepair, misleading walkers, families, birders, joggers, school groups, and others who explored the mature forest, meadows, aspen woods, and marshes of the park.

To help local residents find their way more easily, a Great American Trails grant from the Darden Foundation paid for new trail signs in the 308-acre Stiglmeier Park.
“We really had a need to help our trail visitors enjoy the experience by better designating trails and making the markers more clear,” says Ellen Fischer, executive director of Youth and Recreational Services in Cheektowaga, New York. Since the park was well-used — with regular summer Saturday guided tours for identifying common trees and plants as well as for viewing natural features and wildlife — the department was thrilled to receive this grant.

With the grant money, the town purchased and installed one seven-foot-high trailhead sign with an easily read map — to replace the present rotting one — and landscaped around it with native plants. In addition, 20 directional trail posts and six directional railing plaques, all made of high-density polyethylene, now help trail users navigate with confidence while learning about their surroundings. “The poly will hold up a lot longer than the wooden posts,” Fischer says.

Fischer shares that local LongHorn Steakhouse management was extremely receptive and enthusiastic about collaborating on the trail project. A check presentation took place at the local restaurant, and then approximately 10 employee volunteers helped with trail clean-up and landscaping before the park’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “They really enjoyed doing it, so I can foresee them coming out and helping with trail clean-up again,” Fischer says.

The Great American Trails grant and new signage has made all the difference. “We’re a municipality that’s trying to hold the line on tax increases for our taxpayers, so this was substantial amount well and beyond my budget for that particular program,” says Fischer, who explained that the trail improvements wouldn’t have been possible without the grant from the Darden Foundation and NRPA.

To receive a grant such as this, Fischer says it helps to hammer out a clear plan. “Know your project inside and out,” Fischer says. “Have a definitive project and a definite goal and timeline, and stick to it.”