January 3, 2013
Published in Ellicottville Mountain & Valley News, January 4, 2013
As a photographer and outdoor enthusiast, I am perpetually on the lookout for the next alluring adventure. Lush forests, pristine lakes and enchanted mountains beckon to be found and explored- right here in our own backyard! Accepting the invitation of a friend – I joined the Buffalo Outdoor Meetup Group in their quest to snowshoe the Erie County Forest for the first time this winter.
The Erie County Forest -which is a part of the Erie County Bureau of Forestry- can be found in the hamlet of East Concord which is located in the Southern most part of Erie County. The 3,400 acre park features several miles of multi-use trails, providing year round recreation for hiking, mountain biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. There are even a series of trails specially designed for snowmobiling & horseback riding.
As I pulled into the main parking area and walked up to our meeting place, the rustic, woodsy smell of a fire wafted to my nose, reminding me of Christmas morning. I smiled to myself as I thought, ‘This is a good start!’ Inside the warming hut, I chatted with the group members as we readied our gear and strapped on our snowshoes.
I was excited to learn that there is a working maple sugar shack on the premises (Maple syrup, in my opinion, is nature’s best sweet treat). Hundreds of gallons of pure 100% maple syrup are produced by County workers and sold out of the Rath Building in Downtown Buffalo. The maple syrup sales go to benefit the taxpayers, so it is a noble endeavor. And if you want to see for yourself just how they do it-the Forestry’s sugar shack can be toured in the spring for free - just call 716.858.7037 or e-mail email@example.com .
We headed south on the snowy white carpet of trails that the forest rolled out for us. The conditions were great, with fluffy, big flakes gently painting a picture-perfect winter scene. The 23 of us adventure seekers ambled along the Scarbuck Trail, portions of which are shared with the Conservation Trail (part of the Finger Lakes Trail System). The path wound us through breathtaking vistas of snow covered pines, crossing over footbridges, past the working sawmill and through thickly planted hardwoods. We decided against warming up at the cabin in the woods and instead took a detour on a less traveled equestrian trail. It felt really good to get out and enjoy this winter wonderland – I had to fight the urge to whip out my camera every few steps in order to keep up!
My first experience with the Buffalo Outdoor Meetup Group was a pleasant surprise. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I am really impressed with how the group is run and the amount of activities scheduled- not to mention the most important part – the people! Friendly, knowledgeable, fun-loving and spontaneous- this group is a great bunch of folks! If you want to explore the outdoors this winter, I would highly recommend tagging along. With outings being scheduled far north as Niagara County to down south in Allegany County, the group has a large geographical footprint. For more information and to check out the upcoming events, go to http://www.meetup.com/buffalo-outdoors
Reflecting back on this adventure, I find myself wondering - was the Erie County Forest really the hidden treasure here? Or perhaps the real hidden treasure was this great group of people I discovered.
I’ll let you be the judge…
© Robin A. Frey