National Trails Day


(This 1105th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on May 27, 2012.)


We have gone overboard on celebrations in this country. Consider some of the special ways we have to look forward to the month of June. On one list it is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, Celibacy Awareness Month, Corn and Cucumber Month, both Dairy and Dairy Alternative Month (?), National Smile Month, and Skyscraper Month plus about forty others. Not only that but June 2-9 is National Clothesline Week and June 1 is National Go Barefoot Day.


I don't know who comes up with those month, week and day designations, many of them simply silly, but among the chaff is some wheat. June 2 is National Trails Day and that is a day that I am fully prepared to celebrate. I urge you to do so as well.


Until the past few years I did a great deal of hiking. I am very proud to have hiked the full length of the Bruce Trail in Canada and the Conservation and Finger Lakes Trails in the United States. Thus I have trod paths all the way from Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula separating Georgian Bay from the main body of Lake Huron down across the Niagara River (on the Whirlpool Bridge), on to Allegany State Park and then across the state to the Catskills, a total of about 1200 miles.


Yes, I am proud of that accomplishment, but I would not have been able to hike a hundred yards of that distance if it had not been for those who designed, constructed and then maintained those trails. I thank them for their work and I apologize to them for my occasional unkind words when I managed to get off their paths and had to retrace my steps.


This is the 20th year of celebrating National Trails Day, but it is also the 50th year celebration of the Finger Lakes Trail. In 1962 about 100 people met at Keuka College to establish the Finger Lakes Trail Conference and trail building was initiated. That year our Buffalo-based Foothills Trail Club and the Cayuga Trail Club each accepted responsibility for 70 miles of that trail.


The design of trails is not easy. Fortunately, that first year Fred Hiltz flew his Piper PA-11 over parts of the trail at just over 500 feet. That way he was able to locate good trail possibilities. "Visibility at that altitude," he claimed, "is good enough to see animal tracks in the snow. Even at higher altitudes, you can see whether trail clearings will be brush-whip work or power saw work." His scouting saved many days of walking.


Today that trail is complete and hundreds of us have hiked its length, some like my friend Jim DeWan of Binghamton have done so in a single camping trip. Like most of the others, however, I did my traverse of the state in about a hundred day hikes.


To celebrate these 20th and 50th anniversaries, FLT members are organizing a one-day end-to-end hike on June 2, with 75 simultaneous hikes covering the entire trail length. Those hikes range in length from about six to ten miles and all of those in western New York are rated moderate difficulty. That means that there will be a few steep sections.


You are invited to participate in this event. There are about a dozen of these hikes within slightly over an hour's drive from downtown Buffalo. Leaders will work out car-pooling to bring hikers back to the starting point and for our area all participants are invited to a picnic in Ellicottville. They will also earn a pack patch.


To join the celebration you should register at the Finger Lakes Trail website. At that website you can also find a map of the hike locations, a list that provides information about hike conditions and an email address to contact the leader for directions.


I have to warn you, however: hiking on this trail can be addictive. You will finish the day physically tired and possibly even complaining about the hills you had to climb and the wet places you had to cross. But a few days later you'll find yourself thinking about how you might extend the length of the trail you have already covered.-- Gerry Rising