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100 Things Plus - Walk around Hoyt Lake

Delaware Park has two circles. They are like two sides of the same Buffalo nickel.

The more famous is the Ring Road, which loops around the golf course. Buffalonians of all stripes get together there to walk it off, amid car stereos, personal stereos and noisy games of soccer. It's a kick.

But Frederick Law Olmsted, the park's designer, would prefer that you take the path around Hoyt Lake.

Olmsted planned his parks for quiet contemplation of nature, far from traffic and referees' whistles. And lo, on a weekday noontide in front of the Marcy Casino, all was calm. The lake, which was renamed in the 1990s for Assemblyman William Hoyt, was smooth as glass.

Two of us from The News, reporter and photographer, headed north over the bridge. You would never know Hoyt Lake was man-made, it looks so natural. Herons hang out here. We saw a cormorant.

The view across Hoyt Lake with the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, left, and the Buffalo History Museum in the distance. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

As the statue of David comes into view, the path forks. Let others take the high road up toward David. We take the low road, the road by the lake.

Almost immediately, the city vanishes.

Delaware Park has various options venues for walking or biking. One of the lesser known is the loop around Hoyt Lake which gives visitors the feeling that they are not in the … 

A forest separates the path from the Scajaquada Expressway. Traffic is a distant hum. You hear only the chirping of birds and the honking of geese. Crabapple trees, chokeberry bushes and bright wildflowers called to mind Monet and Van Gogh. Goldenrod stood out against purple New England asters and purple loosestrife.

Willow trees, which love wetlands, sweep out over the lake. The sun filters through the twisting branches to create sensuous patterns in the water. One robust maple bore a sign that once read: "Absolutely No Swimming Allowed." Nature makes its own rules, though, and the maple's trunk ate away at the sign so that it now reads, "Swimming Allowed."

Brian Cownie, of Buffalo, was walking his dog, Levy (named after Marv).

"I enjoy living in the city, but this is steps away from feeling like you're in nature," he said.

Samantha Sugarman, who lives on Buffalo's West Side, was trying her best to control a friend's dog, a hyper young husky.

"It feels removed," she said. "You can walk in the city, the Elmwood Village, and that's a wonderful vibe. But this is different. It's so relaxing."

A woman leads her dogs into the woods that surround Hoyt Lake. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo

The path turns gently, creating a mirage of seclusion. Still, you might greet a colorful character or two.

Near the casino, we had met the woman who calls herself Madonna, the Queen of Elmwood. On her many-hued bicycle, she looked like someone from "Alice in Wonderland." Another fanciful visitor appeared as we were talking with Michael Tracz and Neil Palmer, two Buffalo State College employees out on their lunchtime walk. We were asking them what they love about this place when a man in a Union Jack T-shirt strode past.

"Good day, guv'nor," he said. "God save the Queen."

He vanished. Palmer said smoothly: "That's what I love about this place."

As we drew near Delaware Avenue, the fountain came into view. Regrettably, a stink arose from the water. It evaporated, though, and was quickly forgotten. It's transfixing to gaze into the water, which is clearer than you think it would be, and listen to the splash of the fountain. A flock of Canada geese paraded across the surface and then, thrillingly, took flight.

Rounding the lake, the path meandered enchantingly beneath willow trees. The south side of the lake is more manicured, with a wider path.  It takes you past what seemed to be a dammed-up creek – not a pretty sight, with its graffiti-covered barrier and orange barrels. But beauty knows no boundaries. A few years ago I saw a turtle, over a foot long, emerge from those murky waters. He crossed the path with slow dignity, then glided into the lake.

The No. 1 activity at Hoyt Lake: taking a walk with other people. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

On we walked, through picturesque expanses of green. Bells sounded from Rockwell Hall, a rare reminder of how time was, gently, passing.

The Calhoun family had trekked in from Lancaster for a picnic.

"This was on my list all summer, to come here," said Kelly Calhoun.

She and her husband love the lake for sentimental reasons.

"We met at Buff State, and we used to come here and have lunch. We wanted the bring the kids." The kids, shrugging off those romantic details, were shuffling cards for a game of Rummy.

The lake invites us to unplug, to enjoy Victorian pursuits. On a sunny day you will see folks in hammocks, reading books. You might find a student sketching. It's perfectly normal simply to settle in, and just be.

That was what Michelle Taberski was doing, lying side by side with her toddler, Desmond. Desmond had chosen this spot, beneath a weeping willow. They live near the Buffalo Zoo, his mother said, and come here a lot.

"I love it here," she said. "It's one of our favorite places."

The Hoyt Lake path is just over a mile long. All too soon, you come full circle. Pleasant options beckon. The Albright-Knox Art Gallery and the Buffalo History Museum are steps away. You could stroll along Elmwood Avenue.

Then again, you might just want to take another loop around the lake.

The world can wait.


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