Hiking Challenge


(This 1043rd Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on March 20, 2011.)


The idea of running around city or suburban neighborhoods in your underwear has never appealed to me. There may well be health gains in straining your heart, but you are at the same time punishing your legs. Orthopedic surgeons surely gloat as they watch you and you see the same old stuff over and over.


Hiking, on the other hand, I consider the ultimate in outdoor exercise. You can walk fast and push yourself or, like me, you can simply saunter. In either case you can enjoy the scenery and the wildlife and think great thoughts. (There was a time when, in trying to get in shape for an Outward Bound expedition, I jogged, but the only thoughts I could muster then were about how soon I could quit.)


Although I have hiked many miles with friends like Earl Colborn and Jerry Lazarczyk, I have hiked more miles alone and I recommend solitary hikes. You meet your own schedule and set your own pace. On many of my hikes, that meant doubling back to where I left my car, but seeing scenery from the opposite direction also has its appeal. Today, moreover, many trail societies offer assistance: you can have a car spotter pick you up from where you park and deposit you at a trail point from which you walk to your car.


Almost all of my hiking has been day hikes. Only a few times did I backpack and, although I salute those who do so, I much prefer the opportunity to end a day of hiking with a hot bath or shower and a short limp to a fine country restaurant.


Remarkably, I suspect that few readers of this column realize that we have a 177-mile hiking trail right here. The Conservation Trail runs from Niagara Falls down around Grand Island, then east to a few miles past Clarence where it turns south and meanders all the way to the Pennsylvania border.


Both that Conservation Trail and the Foothills Trail Club (FTC), whose members gained access permission from landowners and built and maintain the trail, are celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.


Celebrating indeed. The FTC, led by committee members Annette Brzezicki, Mike Schlicht and Jake Kern, invites anyone interested to join a series of hikes along the northern 99 miles of the trail from Niagara Falls, Canada (at the Brock Memorial) to Springville. The other 78 miles will be completed in 2012.


The hikes will begin in April and, if you wish to participate, you must sign up immediately. The deadline for mailing an application is March 21. Download the form from the FTC website or email Ms. Brzezicki for information.


I certainly admire FTC members for taking on this enterprise. Already over 75 people have signed on and that number is sure to grow. It seems more like an army bivouac than a hike, but I am certain that these experienced trip leaders will do well by their participants.


One thing I like about the application form is that signees can indicate their commitment or ability level: "Anticipated hiking speed: Fast (3.5-4 miles per hour); Medium-Fast (3-3.5 miles per hour); Medium (2.5-3 miles per hour); Medium-Slow (2-2.5 miles per hour); Nature Appreciative (2 miles per hour or less)." If I could still manage these hikes at all today, I would be well down in that latter group.


When I hiked this trail almost twenty years ago, the route was not yet fully completed and, especially at the north end, I had to design my own route. My early hikes took me due east from Lewiston and only later did I go back and hike the Grand Island sections.


Today's hikers will not only follow a well-established route but will also tread a much-improved trail, because FTC members work on it constantly. New or improved bridges have been erected, many pathways have been enhanced with steps and drains, and signage has been improved.


But this wonderful trail continues to show western New York at its best. Whether you join this mass challenge or hike on your own, you will find the Conservation Trail one of our finest local attractions.


Kudos to FTC members and congratulations on your 50th.-- Gerry Rising