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Five favorite places to walk in Western New York

Not everyone has the benefit of being married to a physical education teacher like Philip L. Haberstro, whose wife, Bonnie, works at Payne Middle School in North Tonawanda.

It’s not like his wife has to keep Haberstro on the straight and narrow. After all, he is the executive director of the Wellness Institute of Greater Buffalo, and has led the group for a quarter-century. But a little extra encouragement is nice.

Haberstro often walks the stairs to and from his sixth-floor office at Buffalo City Hall. He and his wife are healthy eaters and avid bikers who regularly use fitness equipment in their Kenmore home.

They also love to walk.

You might even call Haberstro the Walking Man of Buffalo. He leads roughly 50 organized walks – all of them free – in several parts of Erie County. His goal is to help the public take a collective 15 million steps during those and other public walks this year.

“The biggest thing about walking is that it’s the one activity that the greatest number of people of all ages can do,” Haberstro said during a walk on the Buffalo waterfront last weekend. “That’s why we’re such proponents of it.”

The Wellness Institute is hardly alone in this regard. The U.S. Surgeon General later this year is expected to include more walking among the “calls for action” to increase physical activity among Americans, nearly two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese.

Benefits of regular walking are many. It cuts the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other debilitating diseases. It improves balance and makes falls less likely. It boosts muscles, stamina and the brain. And so, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concludes, it lengthens longevity.

We’re blessed to have communities across the region where a brisk outdoor walk – except on winter days – is an exercise in enjoyment.

“It’s one of those elements of the national effort to increase physical activity,” Haberstro said.

Where are his five favorite places to walk? Let us count them.

1. The downtown waterfront Foot of Main Street,

Haberstro late last month led a gathering of about 50 people during National Walk to Lunch Day from the county office building down to Canalside and back. He also likes to walk along the Buffalo Harbor at the Erie Basin Marina and Buffalo River Fest Park in the Old First Ward. “There is the natural beauty,” he said. “You can’t beat a walk along the river or harbor for a sunset.” There are enough people around for folks to feel safe, he said, and the majority of waterfront parks are accessible to all ages, with restrooms nearby. This area also has places to explore, including Canalside and the neighboring Naval Military Park. “Walkers do have to pay attention,” he said, to bikers, joggers and roller bladers.

2. Akron Falls Park 44 Parkview Drive, Akron

“I look at our parks as the biggest fitness system in the county,” Haberstro said. “When you mix in the trail system – and there’s real strong elements of the trails becoming connected – then you can go between the parks by bike. That adds another dimension, another choice for people to have enjoyable, safe physical fitness.” He will lead a walk through this park at 9 a.m. next Saturday, starting at Cummings Lodge at the entrance. Haberstro likes the “ups and downs that can add a little more challenge” at this site, along with a stream, two waterfalls and picnic areas. “A family can spend a whole Saturday or Sunday in one of the parks,” he said.

3. Times Beach Nature Preserve Coast Guard Station South Road, Outer Harbor

Off Route 5, “it’s within literally a stone’s throw of downtown,” Haberstro said. “We’ve been there doing BeActive Erie County walks and we’ve seen deer. There’s lots of nature down there. There’s even blinds, and you can take a few minutes and sit beside them and you can see different species of birds and other creatures. It’s really a respite within the framework of a busy downtown.” One renewed amenity: You can walk from the park to the Buffalo Lighthouse on a path that was reopened to the public two years ago.

4. Delaware Park Lincoln Parkway at Iroquois Drive

This city’s “Central Park,” by the same architect, Frederick Law Olmsted. It spans 350 acres, but Haberstro prefers the swath near Marcy Casino and Hoyt Lake. “There’s little hidden fields back there,” he said. “It’s another powerful example of Olmsted’s vision and strength as a landscape architect. There’s places where you can go where it’s absolutely tranquil. When we get physical activity, that’s a plus, but when we can have that mental wellness built into the framework of what we’re doing, that is a great access. So many people can get to that park. If a family is spending a day in the park, maybe they take the children over to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery or over to the historical society to see the Japanese Garden. There’s just so many things that are within walking distance.”

5. Tifft Nature Preserve 1200 Fuhrmann Blvd.

This 264-acre bramble of marsh and forestland includes 5 miles of walking trails. Preservationists urged city leaders in the 1970s to cap a landfill here and prepare it as a preserve. In 1982, it became a department of the Buffalo Museum of Science. Today, it’s a haven for birds – including hawks, heron and osprey – and for a growing number of environmentally aware teachers and parents who bring children here regularly to the visitor center and grounds. “Tifft offers accessibility with tranquility,” Haberstro said. “The boardwalk and trails really let you connect with nature.” A growing number of younger people have learned to embrace it, he said, “but for some, it’s an unknown jewel.”


Related: See a calendar of upcoming walking events and five reader favorite walking places on Page 10

On the Web: See a photo gallery of Philip L. Haberstro’s five favorite walking places at