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A walk through Reinstein Woods, 'Buffalo's backyard wilderness'

The holidays are a busy time of year – shopping, parties and all that kind of holiday activity – so now that the much calmer January has dawned, here is a suggestion for a nearby hike with easy access. It would be a great place to take the kids if they need to get out for some fresh air.

Bruce Kershner, the late local environmentalist, called Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve “Buffalo’s backyard wilderness.”

Just off Como Park Boulevard in Cheektowaga, the preserve encompasses 292 acres, although about a third of it is off-limits to hikers, protected as a sanctuary for wildlife. Reinstein Woods has 3.5 miles of level trails that weave in and out of old-growth forests, marshes and several ponds. The clearly marked trails follow different themes, such as State Symbols, Footprint, History, Beech Tree and Lily Pond.

Signs along the paths and self-guiding maps available at the Education Center at the entrance explain the significance of what you are experiencing.

We started out at the Education Center, picked up a couple of the self-guiding maps and headed out on the Lily Pond Loop. The .03-mile trail starts to the left of the center. This was an overcast day, and the temperature was falling into the low 30s with a slight breeze.

The Lily Pond was to our right and Heron Pond on our left. Dried milkweed pods lined the path, and two downy woodpeckers flew from tree to tree. The attendant at the center told us that several pileated woodpeckers lived in the forest, so we were looking for them, too, and hoped to hear their jackhammering at an old tree.

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You never know who or what you'll run into along the many hiking trails at Reinstein Woods. Here, a cardinal looks for something to eat. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

As its name implies, the Lily Pond is choked with lilies in warmer months, but not on this gray day as drizzle turned to freezing rain. Five mallard ducks paddled about 25 yards from shore, oblivious to the thin layer of ice forming on the pond surface.

Several well-worn paths across the trail and connecting the two ponds offered evidence of the abundance of beavers.

Numbered markers along the path corresponded with the guide map. So we stopped to see the multiflora rose bush, now naked in winter but bristling with thorns that form a natural fence to the four-legged animals yet a secure cover and nesting place for birds.

Other stops pointed out the dead standing trees called snags, the silky dogwood shrubs that offer berries for songbirds in summer and the evergreen trees.

[RELATED: Seven great hikes in the Buffalo area]

We crossed a small wooden bridge and kept to the left, now embarking on the State Symbols Trail. No guide map was needed on this .1-mile path, as the signs along the way explained our state mammal (beaver), state flower (wild rose), state bird (blue bird), state fossil (eurypterid), state fish (brook trout), state reptile (snapping turtle), state gem (garnet) and state tree (sugar maple).

A glance to the left revealed a marsh, to the right, a stand of hardwoods.

At the end of State Symbols trail, we took a right and picked up the Footprint Trail for a short distance and then made a left onto the History Trail along the north side of Flattail Pond. This trail (.8 mile) tells the history of Reinstein Woods with signs that include photos of the Reinsteins and their friends.

Dr. Victor Reinstein purchased the property in 1932 with the goal of making it a private nature sanctuary. He constructed 19 ponds and marshes and planted 30,000 trees.

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 Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve

Location: Cheektowaga

Trailhead: 93 Honorine Drive, off Como Park Boulevard

Distance: 2.1 miles. (3.5 miles for all trails)

Time: 1.5 hours

Difficulty: Flat and easy.

Best feature: Old-growth trees, signs and guide map

Worst feature: Very close to suburban homes

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Following his death in 1984, his widow, Julia Boyer Reinstein, donated the property to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

Along this trail, we passed the boarded up Stone House, which the Reinsteins built in 1960.

From the History Trail, we connected to the Beech Tree Trail (.5 mile). It took us through an old-growth forest of mostly beech and sugar maple trees, and the guide map for this trail explained what was before us as we stopped at the numbered markers.

The cracking bark and the “buttressed” roots sticking out above the ground to support the massive tree trunks are signs of the old-growth trees. The trees’ leaves carpeted the forest floor, so it was easy to notice how these giants possess “cauliflower crowns,” the lowest branches appearing 40 to 80 feet above the ground.

Some black cherry trees are also found in this forest, and one stop points them out.

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The old Stone House was built by the Reinsteins in 1960. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

Toward the end of this trail, we came across the “Champion of the Woods,” a beech tree that is more than 250 years old. The DEC staff confirmed its age in 2009. It stands 126 feet high and has a circumference of more than 11 feet. To be honest, it looks its age, with much of the bark peeling off and many of its limbs broken. But it has weathered many storms, including the October storm of 2006 that felled many other trees now rotting on the preserve’s floor.

At the end of the Beech Tree Trail, we took a right and retraced our steps on the History Trail and then a left back onto the other side of the Lily Pond Trail, which returned us to our starting point at the Education Center.

Along the Lily Pond Trail, we stopped to study the beaver lodge on the bank next to the trail.

We did not see or hear the pileated woodpeckers, but we did come across a flicker, cardinals, chickadee and mourning dove.

This is an easy hike right in our backyard. Just the place for a quick back-to-nature stroll to relieve the stress than can sometimes accompany the days around the holidays. We can’t emphasize enough what an educational experience it will be for the children.

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Reinstein Woods Trail Map (Text)

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