What a period this has been. Anxiety abounds in this time of the COVID-19 crisis. Early on, New York State recognized that people need natural areas for both physical and mental well-being. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) suggested that people visit our state parks.
In response, the Adirondacks requested that people not drive long distances from other areas, carrying the virus with them to small rural communities where there are limited health care systems. In the Catskills, some trails have closed because of overcrowding when resources could not handle the possibility of injured hikers as well as COVID cases.
|(Bozen Kill Preserve, a Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy property)|
Along with those statements came the dictate to "hike local." DEC has not said what staying local means so people have defined the term for themselves. Like many hikers I know, I have ascribed to the policy of the Adirondack Mountain Club which says that "hiking local" means not driving more than 30 minutes from your home. We are fortunate to have an abundance of local parks, conservancies, and preserves to explore.
|(My friend, Karen, and I saw no one while we were at the Bozen Kill Preserve.)|
For me, local hiking began casually. One late-March day, I went to the Pine Bush alone. The next time I enjoyed the company of my friend, Deb. Besides staying local, social distancing had become buzz words that required people to stay 6 feet apart so as not to share air space and possible virus molecules with others. Deb and I were careful to maintain some distance, but we were not overly vigilant.
|(Old stone walls remind us that the Bozen Kill area was farmed not long ago)|
Every day, new protocols made the news. Social distancing had taken on a sense of urgency. The third time I went to the Pine Bush, my friend, Linda, was with me. Linda and I were more strict than Deb and I had been. We considered where we walked with every step. And, as if the virus were not enough to worry about, we needed to protect ourselves from ticks. Despite all, Linda and I enjoyed the woods and fields, small brooks and waterfalls, had a good workout and a visit to boot, while still staying within the social distancing directive.
|(The Albany Pine Bush Great Dune area has miles of trails)|
When Governor Cuomo declared that everyone must work from home if at all possible, my husband, Bill, settled into his office in our basement. He had plenty of work to do. Days went by without him getting a breath of fresh air or exercise since he was no longer biking to work. We made a point of going out together for a few hours each weekend. At least, as housemates, we didn't have to be concerned about social distancing!
|(Lichen and fungi add color and texture to the Great Dune Trails)|
We began with Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, just 15 minutes from home. Five Rivers is an old favorite and we know the trails well. Mud season lasts a long time in the Northeast so we skipped our usual route for a dryer one. I heard a high-pitched noise that got louder as we walked -- peepers! The sound of these little frogs in chorus signals the beginning of spring. We sat on a bench by a pond for a few minutes and listened.
(Peepers at Five Rivers Environmental Education Center)
When protocols first attempted to curb the spread of COVID-19 and adults and children all suddenly stayed at home, it seemed that weekdays and weekends were the same. But, as people settled into Monday through Friday work lives and homeschooling, weekends got busier. On our second weekend, Bill and I went to Thacher Park and were surprised to see that all the parking spots near the overlook were full.
|(A lot of people wanted to see the view from the Thacher Park Overlook, so we stayed only a few moments.)|
We parked in the Paint Mine area where we saw few people and where even the cars practiced social distancing. We headed out on the nature trail with its immediate ascent. As we went uphill, we left families behind. By the time we hit muddy bogs, we lost adults as well. Small streams and brooks tumbled with snow melt under a bright sky -- a perfect day to be outdoors.
|(Mine Lot Creek rushes through Thacher Park)|
An Adirondack Mountain Club acquaintance, Terry, and I went to the Saratoga National Historic Park (Saratoga Battlefield) on a weekday. The sky was a deep blue. I love the battlefield, a place I have visited in all seasons since I was a child. Terry and I chose to hike the 4.6 mile Wilkinson Trail that meanders through fields and woods along the battle lines of the Revolutionary Battle of Saratoga.
Terry and I very very carefully maintained distance while still soaking in the beauty and serenity of the area. After a while, though, this diligence felt stressful and exhausting...and we hadn't even seen anyone else on the trail! By the time I got back to my car, I decided that, as much as I enjoy my friends, I would hike alone now and then.
|(At the Saratoga Battlefield, the Wilkinson Trail goes through woods and fields)|
On our third weekend, Bill and I chose to visit Hollyhock Hollow in Feura Bush, just a few miles south of Albany. Hollyhock Hollow is a charming Audubon property with trails up a hillside riddled with stone walls, and back down to the Onesquethaw Creek.
|(Sun filters through the trees at the Saratoga Battlefield)|
I was on the lookout for wildflowers. I had seen pictures that other people posted on Facebook of little forest flowers, yet I had seen none. On this day, I finally saw a little hepatica blooming through the brown leaves.
When we reached the creek, we sat on rocks and watched the water. Even on a Saturday, we saw no one the entire time we were at Hollyhock Hollow. I almost forgot about COVID-19.
|(Some of the stone for the Brooklyn Bridge is said to have come from this quarry at Hollyhock Hollow)|
All of these short outings were great, each in their own way, but I began to worry that my muscles would turn to mush before I ever got the chance to go back to the Adirondacks. I reserved the nicest day of the following week to head south of Albany and slightly beyond my 30-minute driving restriction for a more strenuous adventure.
Hiking gear now included a mask. During the first half on my hike, I saw no one. On my return, only 6 people, 3 groups of 2, passed me, heading in the opposite direction. As soon as I heard them in the distance, I pulled my mask out of my pocket, put it on, and stepped off the trail so that they could go on by with lots of distance. I kept my mask on for 30 feet or more while I thought I might still be in their air space. Once sure I was well past, I took the mask off and put it away. I thoroughly enjoyed being by myself in beautiful surroundings, keeping to my own stride, and still maintaining safe directives.
|(A lonely but cheerful spring hepatica)|
Back at the car, I reached for my antibacterial cloths and hand sanitizer. I realized that, if I got in my car in my own driveway, drove to a trailhead, came in close contact with no one, took precautions when necessary, touched nothing beyond my own backpack and its contents, and drove back to my own driveway, I was not at risk of COVID-19 either to myself or others. I was satisfied with my efforts and with my solo experience.
|(The Onesquethaw Creek runs through Hollyhock Hollow)|
I knew, when Bill and I chose Peebles Island State Park for our next weekend excursion, that we would probably not be alone even though we were out early. A volunteer gave us a map, not passed hand-to-hand mind you but instead dropped onto the ground and picked up, with the location of an eagle's next marked in pen.
|(Peebles Island has wide sandy trails and great views)|
Peebles Island is at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers where cliffs rise above fast and raging water. It has historical and natural significance. Bill and I took a trail that crossed the island until it met with the perimeter trail.
Just a couple of days previous, Governor Cuomo had made the wearing of masks mandatory in close situations. We saw a couple of families, put our masks on when we passed them, and then took our masks off. At times there were long distances between other hikers.
|(Blooming shadblow hangs onto cliff edges at Peebles Island)|
We got a great view of the eagle's nest with an adult eagle clearly visible. Even though eagles are more common now, I am always thrilled to see one. No longer early morning, lots of other people had arrived and were excited about the eagles too. We put our masks on. From there back to the parking lot, we never took our masks off.
We had had a beautiful morning walking quiet sandy trails through grasses and airy woodlands, and we had seen the eagle on its nest. Still, it felt good to get in our car and take our masks off.
|(Eagle on the left in the nest, second eagle on the right in the tree.)|
Whether hiking with a friend, with Bill, or on my own, each outing has been a learning experience. I and my companions always complied with the ever-changing and ever-more stringent protocol and will continue to do so if more restrictions occur.
Nevertheless, each location has had its own beauty at a time of year when everything is new under a spring sun. And, while I miss the mountains and can't wait to head north someday, there's a lot to be said for re-visiting so many nearby natural areas.
Bill and I have already chosen next weekend's walking location -- a preserve slightly off the public's radar.
|(Wolf Creek Falls Preserve, Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy)|