Blazing Trails of Hope

Photo by Mark DeCracker
By Nancy E. McCarthy

hand-painted wooden archway and American flag marks Trail of Hope’s humble trailhead at the farthest edge of the Lyons Community Center parking lot. This unique nature trail, designed specifically to accommodate people with impaired mobility, offers wheelchair-friendly stone dust paths winding through planned theme gardens (such as a butterfly-shaped butterfly garden) and natural wooded areas. While compact in size, this ¼ mile trail packs in a lot of features for visitors of all ages and abilities: from child friendly play structures and informational signage to a willow tunnel and a tranquil bird viewing platform overlooking Black Brook.

Trail of Hope is one of three accessible Wayne County trails branded Forever Wild For Everyone (FWFE) by the non-profit volunteer organization Trail Works (TW). TW, founded in 1997, believes that all people should have access to enjoy nature trails. The group’s mission includes developing new trails, or designating existing ones, to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines such as firm and stable trail surfaces, wide pathways or passing space and benches placed at appropriate resting intervals. “Our goal is to let people know that they will be able to navigate the trails,” says Carol May, a Trail Works board member. 

In 2010, May was board president when Mark DeCracker (a Lyons businessman, avid outdoorsman and community volunteer) first pitched the Forever Wild For Everyone idea to her TW board. He even enlisted the talents of local artist Amy Colburn to design a logo for the slogan. “We saw immediately that he would be an asset to our organization,” says May.

The Huckleberry Swamp trail in North Rose was the first to be designated as FWFE. In 2011, the concept of shaping an empty field and dirt pile at the Lyons Community Center into an accessible community trail came together just a year later as Trail of Hope. It was dedicated to two Lyons residents: the late Jim Tuscher, a disability rights activist, and Leigh Ann Henry, a young woman who uses a wheelchair following a debilitating 2009 car accident. Henry and her family still visit “her” trail.

“The Trail of Hope was completed in 2013,” says DeCracker. “We just keep adding more themed gardens every year.” This year there are plans to add a “Jesus Garden” (ancient varieties that grew in the time of Jesus).

It was DeCracker’s vision but he was, and still is, supported by an enthusiastic cadre of local people and businesses plus visiting students who volunteer through Group Mission Trips (GMT). Trail of Hope is one service location, of almost 200 nationally, that the Colorado-based GMT offers as a mission trip experience called Week of Hope (WOH).

“Week of Hope enables youth volunteers from around the country to participate in meaningful faith-oriented and community service work throughout the summer, aiding local community members like Mark in the fulfillment of a specific need,” says Caleb Goodie, a program leader.

This year Trail of Hope was supported by four weeks of separate volunteer work crews. On one June Tuesday, WOH team leader Chelsea Lee was weeding a trail garden along the “Yellow Brick Road” section before others in her crew spread donated mulch on it. Lee, from Connecticut, had never been to the trail before and described it as “beautiful, absolutely stunning.” Later that day, nursing home residents from Clifton Springs were arriving for a tour.

Many people characterize the trail as a special, life-changing place. Carol Kildoyle is one of them. She met DeCracker in 2013 while riding her bike on the trail. Kildoyle, recently widowed, was looking for ideas to fill her time. Her T-shirt’s slogan “Too Many Weeds, Too Little Time” was a perfect conversation starter. She is a certified Master Gardener and DeCracker needed one to help the inexperienced volunteers differentiate weeds from flowers. Kildoyle jumped at the chance to get involved. Besides planting, weeding and watering, she has lead visitors’ tours, taught schoolchildren about gardening and healthy eating and supervised Week of Hope volunteers.

Kildoyle developed close relationships with many Week of Hope crew members who shared some of their own personal struggles as they worked side-by-side. “It meant a lot that they said that I was such a help to them, and in doing so, it helped me to heal after my husband’s sudden passing,” she says.

In addition to the FWFE initiative, Trail Works curates a Wayne County trail directory on its website and also participates in Wegmans’ popular “Hit the Trails Passport” program. The idea originated in Penfield in 2005 during a brainstorming session between Wegmans Food Markets and Penfield Recreation staffers. “We were looking for ways to get people moving and align with our Eat Well, Live Well program,” explains Linda Lovejoy, Wegmans community relations manager. Encouraging Wegmans’ Penfield customers and employees to hike or walk the numerous local nature trails was the impetus for the passport program which, in turn, helped to promote the trails and encourage movement and exercise.

The program has expanded exponentially to include 29 different trail passport booklets which intersect geographically with 60 store locations. Wegmans collects information from various town and city recreation programs and park conservancy groups to create and print the various pocket-sized trail “passports.” The booklets include easy-to-read maps, trail descriptions and motivation, in the form of prizes from Wegmans, for the amount of trails hiked. Participants can record each trail visit in their passport by using a crayon or pencil to make a rubbing of the trail marker. “Wegmans Hit the Trails Passport” program was recently awarded the 2017 New York State Recreation and Park Society’s “Outstanding Corporate Partnership Award,” recognizing Wegmans’ significant contributions to the field of parks and recreation and its important benefits to communities.

The Wayne County passports, a collaboration between Wegmans, Trail Works and the Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Newark office, can be picked up at the Wegmans Newark store or downloaded from Wegmans’ website. “It’s a unique trail passport because it covers an entire county,” says Lovejoy.

The 27 trails currently featured in the Wayne County booklets include the three Forever Wild For Everyone trails. The most recent FWFE addition is the Butterfly Nature Trail in Macedon. In the Finger Lakes region, only Wayne County and the Town of Greece offer ADA accessible trails in their passports. Greece has two out of 12 trails: Erie Canalway Trail and Canal Ponds Trails.

Mark DeCracker’s enthusiasm never wavers and he now leads Trail Works as its Board President. The group continues to cultivate the development and designation of nature trails without barriers that everyone can enjoy.

Visit trailworks.org or wegmans.com for more information. Find more trails and hiking ideas at gofingerlakes.org, a new Finger Lakes Land Trust resource for outdoor recreation in the Finger Lakes.