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Celebrate National Trails Day with a hike

We have gone overboard on celebrations in this country. Consider some of the special days we have to look forward to in the month of June. It is Adopt a Shelter Cat Month, Celibacy Awareness Month, Corn and Cucumber Month, Dairy Month, National Smile Month, Skyscraper Month, plus about 40 others. Not only that, but June 2 to 9 is National Clothesline Week.

I don't know who comes up with those 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 1,200 miles.

Yes, I am proud of that accomplishment, but I would not have been able to hike 100 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 said, "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 100 day hikes.

To celebrate these 20th and 50th anniversaries, FLT members are organizing a one-day, end-to-end hike on Saturday, with 75 simultaneous hikes covering the entire trail length. Those hikes range in length from 6 to 10 miles, and all of those in Western New York are rated moderate difficulty. That means 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, register at At that website, you can also find a map of the hike locations and other information.

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.