The Finger Lakes Trail: Your Passport to Nature

Young Trees along the Finger Lakes Trail in Cattaraugus County

Young Trees along the Finger Lakes Trail in Cattaraugus County. Photo courtesy Jane Eshbaugh

For Novices and Pros Alike, the FLT System of NYS Promotes Healthy Living and an Appreciation for the Outdoors<--break->

Just over 50 years ago, Rochester native Wallace D. Wood thought it would be possible for New York State to possess its own long trail system. After hiking such trails in Vermont, Wood figured that hiking enthusiasts like himself would enjoy the unexplored sweeping foothills of New York.

In 1962, the Finger Lakes Trail Conference was formed. Consisting of a group of people who enjoy the outdoors and exploring more than the paved/populated sections, the FLTC’s original mission statement was to promote the Finger Lakes Trail system and get people outside hiking.

Today, the mission statement remains the same and the trail is well known and well traveled. The main trail, which stretches across the state, is just over 550 miles long. If you count the secondary and looping trails, that number increases to just around 915 miles. Consider yourself a champion if you can see the whole thing.

There are plenty of access points and camping spots along the trail system. And if you’re not an avid hiker, then don’t be intimidated by the large mileage. The beauty of the trail is that you can jump on one part and get right back off after only a few miles. The natural features are well complemented by the large number of birds and animals.

Tony Crowley, the steward for two sections of the trail, is employed by the Finger Lakes Trail Conference and The Foothills Trail Club.

“The Foothills Trail Club maintains the Finger Lakes Trail from the Pennsylvania border to where it intersects the Conservation Trail in the Town of Ashford,” Crowley said. “The Foothills Trail Club also maintains one of the Finger Lakes Trail’s secondary trails, which stretches north to Niagara Falls.”

Crowley, who studied Fire Science at Erie Community College and Emergency Management at SUNY’s Empire State College, is an Ellicottville native. So it’s only fitting for him to maintain the land he grew up loving.

“As a trail steward, I am responsible for keeping the trails clear of debris - fallen trees and garbage - as well as keeping blazes visible and mitigating erosion,” Crowley said. “I also help other stewards with large projects such as major storm damage or new construction of stairs, bridges and puncheons.”

Of the 558 miles on the Finger Lakes Trail, around 80 miles are located in Cattaraugus County. Day hikes are a common occurrence because if you choose to only walk a couple of miles then it’s not like you’re stuck on it for the duration.

Finger Lakes Passport Program

In an effort to promote people living healthier lifestyles, some years ago Wegmans started a ‘passport’ program for the trails. You would come into the store and pick up a passport, go walk on the trail and record where you were by rubbing a pencil or crayon over the sign that’s on the side of the trail.

Wegmans promoted this for three different towns in the Rochester area and Wayne County did one for the entire county - with Wegmans being the primary sponsor.

Gene Bavis, who runs the office for the Finger Lakes Trail Conference, knew the people that ran the Wayne County program and wondered if Wegmans might be interested in doing a booklet for the entire Finger Lakes Trail. He was put into contact with Marcie Bartolotta, the manager for the “Eat Well, Live Well” Community Initiatives for Wegmans. The rest is history.

“I arranged a meeting with Marcie and made my pitch,” Bavis said. “We wanted to make the booklet a little larger in format, in color - which the previous one was not. When I first approached them with the idea, it was the entire Finger Lakes Trail region. But that’s an awful lot of area. So we decided to break it up into three parts that we would do individually. Finally, this year, we have completed it.”

They started in the middle around Letchworth State Park. The goal was to get people who wouldn’t normally hike onto the trail - with a family friendly atmosphere and scenic spots for people to look at.

“We developed it and put up a little mailbox at each post,” Bavis said. “People would find the register on the mailbox and do a rubbing on the post to document it. That way, they could leave notes about interesting things they saw on the trail for the next people to come across.”

With the original passports, people would do the rubbing on the page that described the hike. With the new passports, there’s a separate rubbing page in the back. That way, you could keep the book and use it again. The reward for completing the rubbings: Wegmans would offer incentives, like $100 gift cards. But now, Wegmans isn’t the exclusive sponsor. Eastern Mountain Sports, Monroe Muffler Brake, and Hickory Hill Camping in Bath, NY have now joined Wegmans in this initiative.

“Having more sponsors has allowed us to make the booklets nicer,” Bavis said. “This year, we’re celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the FLTC. We had commemorative patches made. It’s a testament to the people of our state, who have sacrificed their own time to make sure that the trail stays clean and kept.”

Get Out on the Trail

On June 2, the FLTC held the One-Day End-to-End Hike, where people from all over the state walked on every portion of the trail. Total mileage that day: 558 miles - the entire trail. A whopping 554 people came out to hike.

“I don’t get out as much as I’d like to anymore, but it’s an unbelievable trail,” Bavis said. “The End-to-End hike was a major success. It’s really about us getting people outside, appreciating the natural beauty and getting some exercise. With three part-time employees at our office, it does sometimes get a little overwhelming. But we do it because we love it, and it’s unreal how many people come out and volunteer.”

Everyone is welcome to hike on the Finger Lakes Trail. There are a few rules, however.

“Absolutely no motor vehicles on the trail at any time without landowner permission,” Crowley said. “Trail closures can occur due to unsafe conditions, logging operations, hunting or loss of landowner permission. We ask that people use common sense - don’t litter, don’t stay out unprepared after dark and don’t divert too far from the trail.”

Crowley and Bavis are just two of thousands of people who volunteer their time to make the trail accessible for everyone else. Hiking the entire Finger Lakes Trail would be an impressive feat, but just getting outside and walking on some is good too.

“I encourage people to explore the trail on their own rather than go to a place that’s considered ‘popular’,” Crowley said. “Allegany State Park is the best place to go if you’re looking to do an overnight backpack trip - lots of lean-to’s with water sources close to them. The trail is full of scenic views, beautiful forests and ample places for wildlife viewing. A definitive good time.”

View more about the Finger Lakes Trail at www.FingerLakesTrail.org

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