Secret Places of Western New York: 25 Scenic Hikes
By Bruce Kershner, Jennifer Hillman, and William McKeever
Ready Press — April 2022
ISBN: 9781681063683 — Paperback — 192 pp.
In the early 1990s, Bruce Kershner wrote and published Secret Places: Scenic Treasures of Western New York and Southern Ontario, a well-regarded and influential book in the local environmental/nature scene. As an educator and ecologist specializing in old-growth forests, Kershner passionately advocated for land conservation and environmental activism, as well as the general appreciation of, and participation in, natural spaces.
Outdoor enthusiasts enjoyed this hiking and discovery guidebook for years. However, with the passage of time the information within became outdated, and the text soon fell out-of-print and increasingly difficult to find. Though Kershner kept extensive notes and thoughts on an eventual update, his death in 2007 from a battle with cancer prevented the fruition of any updated volume.
Kershner’s legacy, influence, and inspiration has lasted long after his death. Numerous sites are still available for people to enjoy, protected, because of his pioneering research and advocacy. This includes Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve, which is dear to me as a site to enjoy the outdoors, but also because I serve on the board for the Friends of Reinstein Woods non-profit group, which partners with the DEC employees who oversee the preserve. It’s also the site of one of Kershner’s 25 scenic hikes.
Another offshoot from Kershner’s legacy are Jennifer Hillman and William McKeever, two academics and nature lovers who became spouses through their shared interests, and shared that connected by hiking through all twenty-five sites in Kershner’s guidebook. Through connections with environmental/ecological groups, Hillman and McKeever eventually came into contact with the Kershner family, specifically Bruce’s wife Helene and their daughter Libby. Conversations led to the development of this update to Kershner’s original book, with Hillman and McKeever’s complete access to all of Kershner’s notes and materials.
The updated guide narrows the geographical focus down to the Western New York region, removing sites in Ontario to allow inclusion of new featured sites in WNY. With their photographer, Courtney Grim, Hillman and McKeever visited all the sites that would be retained to compare against the original text and Kershner’s notes. They completely rewrote information to match updated realities and changed landscapes. For instance, some sites referenced caves that the pair were no longer able to find based on Kershner’s maps and details.
The locales encompassed within the WNY region are: Niagara Falls and its proximity, Erie County (with Buffalo), the Rochester area, Zoar Valley and Cattaraugus County, and the Allegany to Dunkirk region. Each of the twenty-five sites that fall within these areas is featured in chapters that describe unique features to the landscape (or points of interest), a description of possible hiking activities, information for planning a visit, and a spot to take notes. Fabulous colored photos and hand-drawn maps of features break up the text. These maps (most, if not all, by Kershner) are a tremendous resource, in some cases the only known maps in existence for areas with ecological and geological details.
The start of each section includes vital summary information including GPS coordinates, key features, hike distances, and level of hike difficulty. Most all of the 25 hike locations fall into the easy to moderate scale of difficulty, though some more challenging also exist. In addition to specifying who manages the land and where more detailed trail maps can be obtained, each site entry also has extremely helpful usage icons. One set of four possible icons denote the seasons during which the hikes may be safely accessed. Another 28 different usage icons (with key at the start of the book) provide information on things like restroom availability, scenic overlooks, waterfalls, nature centers, family friendliness, etc. Most meaningfully to Kershner’s memory, there is also a usage icon for old-growth forests, which I’ll be enjoying again very soon at Reinstein Woods.
If you happen to live near WNY, know someone there, or plan a vacation to the area, grab this book and head outside to discover nature within one of these 25 gorgeous “Secret Places.” And let’s continue protecting them for the future to enjoy as well.