Posted in Allegany State Park, Finger Lakes Trail

In Search of a Loop

In Search of a Loop
by Jennifer Schlick

Through-hikes are fine when you have a friend and two vehicles and the patience to spot cars.  Sometimes, though, you just want a loop.

I had searched for this one once before on a sunny fall day with only dogs for companions.  They weren’t much help.  And I, distracted by the beauty of it all and confused by a trail that needed some TLC, I got lost.  Not lost-lost… just temporarily misplaced.  I finally found my way back to the car, though not by the route that looked so clear and easy on the topo.

For my second attempt, I take a human buddy, as well as the dogs.  We pick winter when the foliage is gone, eliminating bright-white sun-spots on the bark that look like blazes.  We opt to tackle the most confusing part of the trail first while we are fresh – the opposite way around the loop than my first attempt.  Besides, Coon Run Road isn’t plowed up to the where the FLT crosses.

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The dogs played while we drank coffee.

This “loop” is actually one half FLT, maintained by some of the best trail stewards ever, and one half Tuscarora Fire Tower, maintained by Allegany State Park.  An unfortunate combination of events – strong winds, tree falls, and a cut to State Park funding – made for the difficulties on the ASP portion.

Shortly into the Tuscarora trail, we lose the blazes near a tree fall, puzzle our way past it, and continue along what appears to be a trail.  When it ends abruptly we take it as a sign that it’s time for coffee and regrouping.  The dogs aren’t ready for a break so soon and romp impatiently in the snow.  We check the topo, figure out where we are and plan our strategy.  After coffee we retrace our steps to the fallen tree and investigate.  Sure enough there are blazes in amongst the tangle of branches.

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Views that stretch from one hilltop to the next.

Back on track, the trail begins its climb – gentle in some spots, steeper in others.  I know the effort will be worth it.  I love the views from the summit.  Through the upper canopy you can see over the valley to the distant hills on the other side.  I’m ready this time for the confusing bit where the loop takes its hairpin turn – I’ll enjoy the views without getting too distracted by the beauty of it all!

Our stomachs growl as we enjoy the view, but we opt to follow the FLT and put off lunch until we reach the lean-to at Willis Creek.  After lunch we hike from the shelter to Coon Run Road, then take the road back to the truck where after-hike beers await.  We did it!  I’m sure we’ll try this loop again.

Trail Update:  I took this hike in January of 2013.  A friend who works in the park tells me that he spent two long days on the Tuscarora this summer (2014) to open it up.  He also says that people interested in volunteering should call and ask to speak to the park managers.  The number is at Allegany State Park is (716) 354-9121.

Other Info:

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Posted in Allegany State Park, Finger Lakes Trail, North Country Trail

Birthday Hike

Last week, I worked 6 days.  So my weekend was Sunday-Monday.  Monday dawned foggy with promise and I decided to take myself on a little hike.  OK, a LONG hike.  At Allegany State Park.

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My companions – canine only.

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Glock & Lolli – and neither would sit still for a proper portrait.

The hike turned into a wee bit of an adventure with being “lost” a part of the bargain. I didn’t have a solid plan as I started out. I knew I wanted to hike to the Willis Creek Lean-to. Beyond that, I wasn’t sure if I would just hike back out again and go to some other part of the park – maybe Thunder Rocks… I had the whole day to myself and no one but the dogs to answer to, so it didn’t matter what I did!

Golden-crowned kinglets were the first to greet me as I started out.

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When I got to the lean-to, I discovered campers. It was 10:30 and they didn’t appear to be awake yet. Hmm… I ate a snack by the creek and pulled out my most wonderful topo map of the park. (You can buy yours by clicking here.)

I had forgotten that the Finger Lakes / North Country Trail meets up with the Park’s fire tower trail. I decided to hike to the intersection, then back to my car along the Park trail and then back up Coon Run Road. Perfect!

Now, hiking in Autumn can be rather challenging. Especially on a sunny day. First, the trail disappears under a thick blanket of leaves:

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And second, the sun is either in your eyes so you miss the trail markers completely, or it is making strange patterns on the trees that you easily mistake for trail markers! The FLT/NCT blazes are white.

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This is NOT a blaze. This is the sun hitting the bark of the tree!

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There is a blaze (and a drip) on this tree!

I am a grateful member of the Finger Lakes Trail Conference and the North Country Trail Association because I appreciate the work they do to keep the trails open and well marked. The white blazes on the trails at Allegany State Park that are maintained by the FLT group are fresh and easy to see and I whisper grateful Thank Yous to the crew every time I hike one.

That being said, I got briefly lost when the trail took a sharp turn. I was distracted by a gorgeous view and incredible fall colors! But thanks to my trusty map, I found the steep climb I was supposed to be taking and when I got to the top, I stopped for lunch… and to take off the long underwear that I needed in the morning, but certainly didn’t any more!

Map with comments

The last leg of the trail should have been easy. Sadly, though, many of the Park trails have fallen victim to state budget cuts. There were so many downed trees and missing trail markers. And when I got to the crossing of Willis Creek, I think I got distracted by an older, abandoned trail – which eventually just ended completely.

I knew if I followed the creek upstream, I’d eventually find the lean-to again and could follow the FLT/NCT back to my car. Unfortunately, this strategy left a bad taste in my mouth! When I got back to the lean-to, the campers were gone… but not their garbage… but that is a rant for another day.

My hike was delightful. I saw deer, grouse, squirrels, a pileated woodpecker, downy woodpecker, juncos, nuthatches, and chickadees. It was a great day and a great way to celebrate my birthday (a few days early). And such adorable hiking companions.

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I don’t know what Terry’s dog is doing this evening, but Lolli is snoring!

Posted in Allegany State Park, Finger Lakes Trail, North Country Trail

Tiny Hike

What will it look like in MayNine A.M.  Six inches of fresh powder… I wonder if I will need my snow shoes.  But no, someone was here before the powder and packed me a nice base.

“They” are predicting 24-hours of lake effect snow starting later this afternoon.  A few early-arriving clouds are practicing off and on, ocassionally allowing sunlight through to add a sparkle to the snow.

The wind is in a particularly creative mood.  She lifts great puffs of snow from the branches of the trees and directs the sparkling crystals in swirling dances through the sunlit air.  She coaxes a great black cherry bow to play against the strings of a nearby hemlock.  She adds percussion – the shushing rustle of a branch full of dry beech leaves, the clacky rattle of a single leaf on another branch.  Birds join in…  A blue jay’s loud jeer-jeer-jeer, the high-pitched, quiet teet-teet-teet from a small flock of exploring chickadees, a nuthatch’s nasal pnnt-pnnt-pnnt.

Not many animal tracks… a squirrel, a mouse, a deer.  Holes in trees capture my attention.  Pileated.  Bark Beetles.  Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

Pileated Has Been Here Bark Beetle Gallery Holes - horizontal rows

Time slips away as I practice taking pictures with my new lens of nothing in particular.

Cocoon on Cherry Bark Yellow Birch Bark Leaf Cocoon 1

I long for a heavier pack – one filled with tent, sleeping gear, food – so that I might set up camp and stay in the woods tonight.


This hike:

Access Point #4 to the Finger Lakes Trail is along ASP 3 inside Allegany State Park.  It’s a little confusing because the pulloff for parking is on one side of a creek, and the entrance to the southbound section is on the other.

A little ways in, I crossed a snowmobile trail.  I saw few sleds which is curious, since it was such a gorgeous winter day.

I posted more pictures on Flickr:  http://www.flickr.com/photos/jenniferschlick/tags/tinyhike/

Posted in Allegany State Park, Finger Lakes Trail, North Country Trail

Finger Lakes / North Country Trail – Allegany State Park

The grasses and weeds and even the sign at the trailhead are covered with frost, sparkling in the slanting rays of late morning early autumn sun.

FLT NCT Wooden Sign at Trailhead

I walk alone today, if you consider hiking with two dogs “alone.”  And then there are the birds.

As I cross the first bit of meadow, warblers and juncos, not the least bit shy, flutter in front of my face, foraging in the shrubs and weeds for seeds and bugs.  If only they would sit still I might manage a picture even without a 300mm lens.  I think of Tom who could probably tell me what kinds of warblers they are.  Oh, but if I stop here, I’ll never make my goal:  the shelter by lunchtime.

The rise through the meadow, gentle at first, becomes steep.  Just before entering the woods, I turn:  Route 86 –  the Southern Tier Expressway – winding through the Allegany Mountains, one week past peak autumn color.

View from the top of the clearing

I’ve driven this road hundreds of times and longed to explore the round, rolling hillsides on foot.  Today I get my chance, if only for a couple of hours.  I cross a boundary – a line of very old sugar maples strung together loosely with bits of rusty barbed wire.

Old Fence-line at top of the Clearing

The forest on the other side is open, spacious, and made up of much younger trees.  I am grateful for the white blazes without which it would be impossible to find the trail due to a fresh fall of colorful leaves. 

Blanket of Leaves

A few hopeful songbirds try to flip the seasons with their spring songs.  Year-round residents voice their “here I am” foraging notes.  A Bluejay Forced me to take This PictureThe nasal “pent pent pent” of a white-breasted nuthatch… The insistent “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” from the black-capped bird of the same name…

The loudest sounds are my labored breathing, the thumping of my heart as I ascend the steep hillside, and the crunchy rustling of dry leaves beneath my feet.  A blue jay practices a borrowed sequence from another bird’s repetoire, then shouts, “Jay, jay, jay!” – which I take to mean, “Get out your camera and photograph these brilliant yellow leaves against this crystal clear saphire blue sky.”  So I do.

The hum of the wheels on the highway fades to silence after I reach the crest and descend into a more peaceful woods.  Here, only airplane noises can reach me – and there don’t seem to be many of those today.

Leaves on the branches above are thinning as the blanket beneath my feet deepens.  My nose stings from the frosty cold.  My stomach reminds me that there’s an apple in the backpack.  I tell it to shush and be patient… We’ll be at the shelter in a few more minutes.

The trees on this side of the ridge are older and their stateliness calms me… My pace slows, my heartbeat normalizes.  Just as I have left the sound of the highway behind, so, too, my worries and stressors.  I am…

… walking home.

Shelter and Picnic Table


This Hike: I started at the northern-most access point of the Finger Lakes / North Country Trail that goes through Allegany State Park. The trailhead is on Bay State Road, just after you get off the Expressway, long before you enter through the Park Gate.

I hiked to the Trail Registry / Shelter that is northeast of Beck Hollow Road. I had lunch at the shelter, then hiked back out again. Everything was in great shape. The trail stewards must have just been through to clean up the leftovers from Hurricane Ike. I evicted a mouse from the privy, though I suspect he’ll be back.