Enjoy Monroe County’s Parks

by Sue Freeman

Monroe County is blessed with 20 different parks. Different is the operative word. They offer a variety of recreational options and experiences – all nearby, and all free.
The origin of our park system stretches back to the late 19th century with land donations from Rochester’s early business leaders such as nursery entrepreneurs George Ellwanger and Patrick Barry and photographic entrepreneur George Eastman. Famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. was hired to use his talent to build on the value of the natural terrain at three of the county's best-loved and majestic parks: Highland, Genesee Valley, and Seneca. The building of parks continues today with the addition of Devil’s Cove Park and the expansion of Ellison Park along Irondequoit Bay.
Most of the parks offer trails that can be enjoyed for hikes or as a means to reach another activity. The terrain ranges from the steep glacial hills of Mendon Ponds Park to the flat, bird-filled scrublands of Black Creek Park. Follow the recommendations below for experiences or activities that excel at specific parks.
To enjoy plants and flowers head to the arboretum at Highland Park. It houses an exotic mix of rare trees and flowering bushes. Highland Park and Genesee Valley Park have paved trails for wheelchair and stroller access. The paths in Genesee Valley Park meander along the edge of the mighty Genesee River.
To hike away from crowds try the hilly trails at Irondequoit Bay Park East along the east shore of Irondequoit Bay or wander the rolling woods of Oatka Creek Park. Even Mendon Ponds Park can provide a quiet hike through nature if you pick lesser-used trails in more remote sections, such as the southwest quadrant.
Head to Seneca Park to hunt for waterfalls. This requires taking a long flight of stairs from the rim to the floor of the Genesee River gorge. It’s worth the effort, especially after a heavy rain when the water gushes down the steep gorge walls. Ride your bike on the Lehigh Valley Trail Linear Park. This rail-trail was recently resurfaced and now offers an easy ride through the countryside from Victor, through Mendon and Rush. At the western end it crosses the Genesee River on an old railroad trestle and meets the north-south Genesee Valley Greenway Trail.
Look for birds at Black Creek Park or let chickadees eat out of your hand at Mendon Ponds Park. The birds have grown accustomed to being fed and readily lite on your head (wear a hat) or outstretched hand, especially if you offer a few sunflower seeds.
Launch your canoe or kayak from Churchville Park, Genesee Valley Park, or Ellison Park into Black Creek, the Erie Canal and Irondequoit Creek respectively. Each offers a different paddling experience.
Walk in the footsteps of history with a trek through Powder Mills Park where gun powder used to be made, or through Oatka Park to view depressions where gypsum was once mined. Oatka Park is the also place to head if you’re into fly fishing.
Good winter cross-country ski trails can be found at Black Creek Park, Durand-Eastman Park, Mendon Ponds Park, Northampton Park, and Powder Mills Park. Trails in any of the parks can be used for snowshoeing after a heavy snow fall.
Monroe County Parks Department has created PDF files of the maps for some of the parks. They’re available on-line at www.monroecounty.gov/parks-index.php. Maps and trail descriptions for more of the parks are available in the “Take A Hike,” “Take Your Bike,” “Snow Trails,” “Take A Paddle,” and “200 Waterfalls” guidebooks from Footprint Press (800-431-1579, www.footprintpress.com).

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