January 20, 2022

First Day Hikes offer a safe celebration

Colin Spencer/file photo

A trail connecting Lime Hollow Nature Center with the Gutchess Lumber Sports Complex is shown in this Cortland Standard file photo.

No ball will drop tonight at Main and Tompkins streets in Cortland. One will drop in Times Square before smaller, vaccinated and masked crowds. Revelers might want a Plan B for a New Year’s event.

Perhaps a first-day hike. They’re available and largely crowd-free in a COVIDrich environment.

“Start a new tradition with friends and family on New Year’s Day and join us outside at one of NY’s state parks, historic sites, or NYSDEC’s wildlife areas, and public lands,” the New York State Department of Parks & Historic Sites posted on Facebook.

The closest First Day hikes are in Chenango and Tompkins counties — 10 a.m. at Rogers Environmental Education Center in Sherburne and 11 a.m. at Bowman Lake State Park in Oxford and 10 a.m. at Taughannock Falls State Park in Trumansburg — but you can hike almost anywhere there’s a trail.

“Our trails have never been busier because of the pandemic,” said Ilya Shmulenson, executive director of Lime Hollow Nature Center in Cortlandville. “Lime Hollow has turned into a place to gather, to be together, because it’s outside and the safest place to be.”

Runners, hikers, parents and children, and classes have all used the outdoor space as an outlet, Shmulenson said. The 12 miles of trails on the nearly 600-acre facility are free to use and are open dawn to dusk daily.

“I’m home with my two kids,” he said, “and we definitely went a couple of times just as a destination.”

Erin Peppel of Cortlandville, a founding member of the HHH Hiking Club, said the group of more than 100 women hike all year across Cortland County and beyond. It doesn’t plan a First Day hike, but did schedule one for today at Lime Hollow, a last day hike, if you will.

“We feel so good when we’ve finished a difficult hike or a long hike,” Peppel said. “It just makes you feel so good to hike in such a beautiful area.”

The friendships that develop on the hikes bring camaraderie to the women’s lives, she said.

The Finger Lakes Trail in Virgil is a favorite footpath, Peppel said, pat of a 580-mile network from Allegany State Park in Cattaraugus County to the summit of Slide Mountain in the Catskill Forest Preserve.

“It’s very diverse in the landscape and what we see,” Peppel said.

Diversity is what Shmulenson loves about Lime Hollow Nature Center.

“I think my favorite trail is the Fenway Trail,” he said. “It has a really diverse set of ecosystems on it. You get lost in the sense that you feel in the middle of nowhere.”

The Trail for All, which weaves into the Art Trail, is another favorite, Shmulenson said, because it’s designed for strollers, wheelchairs and people with mobility problems.

“I think the Trail for All and the Art Trail offer the opportunity for anyone to get outdoors,” he said.

When heading outdoors, it’s important not to walk where you are uncertain of your bearings and to dress appropriately, Shmulenson said. Lime Hollow offers maps and an app to help guide hikers.

“Just know where you’re going, bring a snack and some water,” he said. “And bring a friend.”