The Finger Lakes Trail

Walking Across New York in 50 Days
By Spider Rybaak
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Ask a dozen hikers why they walk and you'll get dozens of flowery answers. You know, smelling the roses, soaking in nature, escaping the rat race, stuff like that; everything but the oldest reason for walking: getting from one place to another. There is a small group of practical ramblers who never lost sight of why nature gave us feet. Marrying their playful wanderlust with direction, they gave birth to the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT), a fabulous footpath stretching across New York and straight to your sole's desire.

Started in 1962 by the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC), it took hundreds of volunteers over 30 years to complete this continuous, 800 something-mile-long network of footpaths. Tying together a delightful combination of animal trails, abandoned railroad grades, ancient wagon lanes, paved roads, city streets, even sections of beach, the FLT sets a wavy course through forests and fields, along dizzying cliffs, over streams, into hanging valleys, wetlands and deep gorges, always climbing out again, onto gentle hills that seem to roll on forever.

Today, the FLT consists of a main trail, six branches, two loops and one spur. A new branch, the Link Trail, is on the drawing board. The brain child of Bill Coffin and Mary Kunzler-Larmann, it'll run for 35 miles through Madison County, linking the FLT to the old Erie Canal Towpath.

Access is easy throughout the system. Parking is available at most trailheads and large FLT signs mark most access points. The main FLT is blazed with white rectangles painted on trees and posts; branch trails are blazed yellow or orange. Two blazes, one on top of the other, indicate a change of direction. On the last leg of its eastern end, the FLT uses trails maintained by the Department of Environmental Conservation and is blazed by DEC disks of various colors.

The Main FLT

Stretching from west to east for 557 miles, the main trail begins at the Pennsylvania border in Allegheny State Park. As it crosses into NY, PA's eastern end of the North Country National Scenic Trail (an interstate footpath planned to reach from North Dakota's Lake Sakajawea to New York's Lake Champlain, a distance exceeding 3,200 miles) turns into the FLT. Winding through the southern tier, the FLT heads for the Catskills and its rendezvous with the Long Path, a trail that'll reach from New York City to the Adirondack Mountains when completed (all work is done through the hard work of volunteer trail builders).

Besides being a route to good health and incredible views, the main FLT offers backpacking and hiking enthusiasts a serious challenge: membership in the End-to-End Club. Comprised of individuals who walked the whole stretch, this exclusive group just keeps growing and growing, and numbered 62 as of April 7, 1997.

End-to-end coordinator Edward J. Sidote, the third person to go the distance, says the roster includes characters from all walks of life. Some are gung-ho hikers out to conquer all the major trail systems in the country. They hold odd-jobs just long enough to finance the next leg of their journey. Most, however, are average folks like 13-year-old Jeff Bloom of Lafayette, NY. The youngest end-to-ender, he backpacked the route in 49 days with his dad, Tim. Another milestone was reached when Chalfont, PA, resident Mary Ann Nissley completed the trek last year. She's the "first senior woman to backpack the entire main FLT," says Sidote.

Published: 25 Jun 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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