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History of the Trails and Trail Organizations

Origins of the FLT System

In the summer of 1961, Wallace D. Wood of Rochester, NY, hiked portions of the Appalachian and Long Trails in Vermont. It occurred to him that a similar trail system might be possible in New York. He presented the idea to the Genesee Valley Hiking Club in Rochester, and a committee was formed to investigate the prospects for cooperation of regional outdoor clubs to build a long-distance trail in New York. A meeting of 12 people was held in November, 1961, at Rochester to discuss the idea of a trail system.

The following year, approximately 100 people met in the auditorium of Keuka College near Penn Yan, NY, on Saturday, March 17, for the opening session of the first annual meeting of the FLTC. At that meeting, the FLTC was organized to promote and coordinate the building and maintenance of the Finger Lakes Trail System.

It was agreed at the meeting of trail organizers in 1961 that they would build a new trans-New York hiking trail across the scenic southern ends of the Finger Lakes to connect hiking trails in Allegany State Park with those in the Catskills. The precise route of the main trail was left for the local clubs to decide. Spur trails to spots of similar interest not on line of the main trail also were to be built or included in the FLT System.

Role of the Cayuga Trails Club

In 1962, the FLTC accepted sponsorships for 70 miles of the main FLT each from the Cayuga Trails Club in Ithaca and from the Foothills Trail Club in the Buffalo area. Soon after, sponsorships by the Genesee Valley Hiking Club, the Onondaga Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club, and the Cornell University Outing Club were presented to the FLTC Board of Managers and approved.

The Cayuga Trails Club used an airplane in 1962 to scout for trail route. Cruising at 80 mph, Fred L. Hiltz reported to the club that he had flown “at 500 feet or a bit higher, because I don’t like to be too low in narrow spaces like Michigan Hollow.” Hiltz explained, “Visibility at that altitude was good enough to see animal tracks in the snow. Even at higher altitudes, you can see whether trail clearings will be brush-whip work or power-saw work.” Hiltz was a graduate student in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University and one of several members of the Cornell Outing Club who assisted the Cayuga Trails Club in routing trail. A 10-minute flight over Connecticut Hill, with the fold-down door of his Piper PA-11 open for better viewing, did the work of walking for several days. Fred also piloted a Tripacer on June 6, 1964, for the FLTC to scout 350 miles of possible trail route in the area of the Catskill Mountains.

In the fall of 1965, The Cayuga Trails Club and Onondaga Chapter of Adirondack Mountain Club acquired two trail shelters from the New York State Conservation Department. The Tamarack and Hemlock Glen lean-tos were dismantled and moved piece-by-piece from near Lampeer, NY, in Cortland County to their present locations on the FLT south of Danby in Tompkins County and on Morgan Hill near Truxton, Cortland County. The cornerstone of Tamarack Lean-to was laid on October 10, 1965, in a ceremony described by a local radio station as “perhaps the first time in the history of the world that a cornerstone was laid for a lean-to.” The cornerstone contained a Cayuga Trails Club emblem, an FLTC emblem, the October issue of Cayuga Trails, two 1964 pennies, some trading stamps, and orange and white flags used to mark the trail. Soon-to-follow shelters in the area were Shindagin Lean-to (fall of 1966) and Chestnut Lean-to (fall of 1967). From September 21, 1967, to July 21, 1968, almost 200 people had signed the register at Chestnut.

The first detailed, scaled map of a portion of the main FLT appeared as an enclosure in the October, 1963, issue of Cayuga Trails. It showed the route of the trail from the crossing of Cayuta Creek, just south of Cayuta Lake, over Connecticut Hill to Willowood Camp west of Robert H. Treman State Park. Local geographic and cultural features, trail access points, and landmarks along the route were included.

In the spring of 1978, The Nature Conservancy deeded the beautiful Riemen Woods to the Cayuga Trails Club. The FLT runs through Rieman Woods. This tract of land was purchased originally by The Nature Conservancy in 1969 with money raised by the Conservancy, Cayuga Trails Club, and interested individuals.

A ceremony in December, 1970, attended by state park officials, private landowners, and members of the Cayuga Trails Club and Finger Lakes Trail Conference, highlighted the opening of a spur trail connecting the upper section of Buttermilk Falls State Park with the main Finger Lakes Trail in Robert H. Treman State Park.

For several years, Cliff and Doris Abbott of the Cayuga Trails Club had a vision for the first loop trail of the Finger Lakes Trail System. After several years of planning, negotiating, flagging route, clearing trail, building foot bridges, and marking the final route, the Abbott Loop Trail was officially inaugurated in Danby State Forest in 1992. The 8.5-mile loop trail off the main Finger Lakes Trail features hardwood forests, pine and spruce plantations, meandering streams, and one of the most far-reaching vistas on the Finger Lakes Trail System from Thatcher’s Pinnacles near West Danby, New York. The vista overlooks the village of West Danby and the Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve, which is owned by the Finger Lakes Land Trust.

The FLTC commemorated its 25th anniversary during a weekend celebration at Ithaca College on May 22 to 25, 1987. A variety of hikes, workshops, tours, and lectures were on the program. The featured speaker of the weekend, Anne LaBastille, drew hundreds of members and non-members to the college auditorium. Anne is the author of Woodswoman, a noted lecturer, and a strong supporter of the “forever wild” concept for the Adirondack Park.

The 30th anniversary was also celebrated at Ithaca College during a special weekend gathering in June, 1992. This four-day event included hikes, speakers, workshops, and tours. Featured speakers included Cindy Ross, a thru-hiker of the 2100-mile Appalachian Trail and the 2500-mile Pacific Crest Trail. She has written two books on her experiences, A Woman’s Journey and Journey to the Crest. Other speakers included Bill Ehling, author of the well-known Fifty Hikes in Central New York and Fifty Hikes in Western New York. A special ceremony near Hoxie Gorge in Cortland County commemorated completion of the main trail and the realization of Wallace Wood’s dream of a continuous hiking trail across New York State.