Hiking in New York’s Finger Lakes Region

By Sue Freeman

I had never hiked in a rich shrub fen before. Heck, I didn’t even know what a rich shrub fen was. Fortunately, as I headed down the trail at The Dorothy McIlroy Bird Sanctuary south of Lake Como in Summerhill, I passed an informative kiosk with diagrams and descriptions explaining exactly how a fen differs from a bog. You know; the technical stuff.

Armed with this new found, if not totally digested information I continued down the trail into a magical wonderland. Elves and pixies should have popped out from behind the trees. The trail was covered in a soft duff, padding each footfall. Beyond the trail, the woods floor was lumpy with the slowly decaying remnants of old tree trunks. I tip-toed on (not wanting to disturb any sleeping elves or pixies) and reached the shore of Lake Como Outlet. Gazing past the sedges and dead trees I discovered why this is called a bird sanctuary.

Such is the joy and diversity I’ve found hiking trails in New York State’s Finger Lakes Region. I’d progressed from pixie-land to bird-land in one short hike. The Finger Lakes Region is better known for its long, slender glacially gouged lakes. But, among the hills and valleys surrounding these lakes is a day-hiker’s paradise.

Another joyful surprise was the Sandy Bottom Nature Trail. OK, why should a place called Sandy Bottom be a surprise to anyone? Well, for starters, I didn’t see a sandy bottom. Maybe I just didn’t look closely enough. I was spellbound by the loon paddling a flooded wetland where Honeoye Outlet Creek leaves Honeoye Lake. I associate loons with pristine northern waters, but here was this little fellow paddling away in the spring run off from a Finger Lake. He was enjoying his world of extended wetness and I was enjoying being high and dry on a raised boardwalk that wound through the marshland where plants poked their heads above ground in recognition of spring. We were both happy.

On a hot summer day I hiked the trails at Wesley Hill Nature Preserve in South Bristol, one of the many newly preserved lands with hiking trails compliments of the very active Finger Lakes Land Trust. I wandered through a pine forest enveloped in the aroma of fresh pine, then descended to the depths of Briggs Gully. Here my impish side took over and I frolicked in the stream where water slides gracefully over scallops of shale, then slows in deep pools. I couldn’t resist the urge to splash in the pools. A hike and a dip on a hot summer day – life doesn’t get any sweeter.

I could go on and on. I hiked 68 different trails systems recently while researching my new guidebook “Take A Hike – Family Walks in New York’s Finger Lakes Region.” Now it’s your turn. Grab a copy (www.footprintpress.com or call 1-800-431-1579) and head into the hills and valleys to discover your own surprises and joys.

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