Three Legs are Better Than Two

by Robert P. Malvica, M.D.

As we hiked up the steep, irregular woodland path on a bright October morning in our beloved Finger Lakes, I observed my childhood friend deftly negotiate his way along the tortuous trail. Despite a disability which disrupted his equilibrium system, he was doing quite well. I watched as he grasped a small sapling with his left hand and used the walking stick in his right hand to create a three-point stance. In fact, as I slipped and stumbled on two perfectly healthy legs, I noted that he appeared to be solid as a rock. It dawned on me …Three legs are better than two.

Each year, more folks are joining the ranks of outdoor enthusiasts. Many are seniors seeking to improve their health, others are returning injured military women and men, and finally there are the disabled who refuse to let disabilities interfere with their quality of life. In the United States, more than 4 million folks use canes and other assistive walking devices. These aids provide assistance by reducing lower limb loading and compensating for muscular weakness. They improve balance by providing a mechanical advantage and somatosensory feedback. In other words, they provide the brain with additional information about the environment that allows it to coordinate input from the eyes, the inner ear, and the bones and muscles of the body. This provides a person with balanced, coordinated movements. The beauty of this is that these assistive devices work equally well for everyone, even the most youthful and athletic outdoorsmen and women among us! The triangular stance provided when using a walking stick clearly results in greater stability. This translates into safer, more comfortable, and even quieter, movement through the woods. The assistance is magnified when traversing irregular, snowy or icy paths.

Fortunately, there are many choices available to the outdoors person. These choices range from long, finely-crafted “staffs” to metal, collapsible canes. The tall, handcrafted staffs are usually selected by hikers. These walking sticks usually have a leather loop affixed to the top through which a hiker can place his/her hand (EasyComfort Walking Stick). Some choose a shorter wooden cane or walking stick. These canes may be simple in design or quite ornate. It’s the buyers’ choice. Metal or carbon fiber collapsible walking sticks come in a variety of styles as well. Some have a simple pistol style grip and a small nylon loop through which you place your hand (EMS Walker). Others have a cork-covered ball grip which unscrews to reveal a base to which a camera may be affixed (ProMaster monopod). Another choice provides a V-shaped bracket that serves as a rifle support (Cabela’s). There are even models that have a small flashlight built into the handle facilitating nighttime walks (Walker). Most of the aluminum, collapsible sticks come with a rubber tip that is easily removable to expose a sharp metal spike that is helpful when traversing icy or slippery surfaces.

Each of these assistive devices has its pros and cons. The wooden staffs and canes have a natural appearance, and some folks prefer the natural beauty of the wood. Clearly, these are assistive devices that combine beauty with utility. The disadvantage is that they are somewhat bulky and because they are constructed of a natural material, they are more prone to damage, although most are made of hardwoods that are designed to withstand the elements. The collapsible, aluminum or carbon fiber walking sticks have the advantages of being lightweight, compact and very resilient. They are easily packable and very versatile. They also offer the advantage of being adjustable to accommodate various heights. An additional advantage is that they are fairly inexpensive. The carbon fiber models are more expensive but are extremely durable and lightweight. A disadvantage of the collapsible models is that they may not support a very heavy downward force due to the collapsibility design. One must be careful to screw the sections together well before use.

So, we can see that there are many choices once one buys into the idea that three legs are better than two. It is clear to anyone who has ever used a walking stick, even a homemade stick made from an old, solid tree branch, that ambulation and stability are improved by the third “limb” (no pun intended). The chance of a fall and subsequent personal injury is diminished. This translates into a more relaxed, safer and pleasurable outing, regardless of whether it’s taking photos, hunting, getting to your favorite fishing hole or just simply hiking through your
favorite woods!


Try Out Your Walking Stick
Hemlock-to-Canadice-Lake Trail Opens

For more than a decade, The Nature Conservancy (nature.org) had a dream to create a scenic trail linking the last two undeveloped Finger Lakes, Hemlock and Canadice. Officially opened in fall 2016, the new trail – Rob’s Trail – is now a reality.

Rob’s Trail is like no other in the Finger Lakes. Located in Ontario County just south of the village of Hemlock, the trail begins at a scenic overlook on State Route 15A owned by The Nature Conservancy. It then continues down-slope across state lands, through mature woods, and over a bridge above a deep gorge and waterfall. One-and-a-half miles from the trailhead, the trail emerges at the pristine shore of Hemlock Lake, where hikers can continue north for three miles to a boat launch.
“This first-of-its-kind trail will give visitors greater access to Hemlock and Canadice Lakes, the source of Rochester’s drinking water and one of the only places in the Finger Lakes where you can experience what the region looked like long ago,” said Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy’s Central and Western New York chapter director.

Hemlock and Canadice Lakes are the only two Finger Lakes with undeveloped shorelines. In 2010, The Nature Conservancy teamed up with the City of Rochester and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to permanently protect them. “Hemlock-Canadice State Forest is unique, containing a large intact forest as well as habitat for black bears, lake trout and bald eagles,” said Paul D’Amato, DEC regional director.

Rob’s Trail was made possible through generous contributions from family foundations, businesses like Xerox, and members of The Nature Conservancy from all around Central and Western New York. Volunteers also played a critical role, including 95 employees from the Genesee Brewery who dedicated more than 600 hours.

The new trail is a winner economically. “Clean water, clean air and outdoor recreation are essential ingredients of New York’s competitiveness,” said Robert Duffy, CEO and President of the Rochester Business Alliance, former New York Lieutenant Governor and former mayor of Rochester.

Rob’s Trail is named after Rob van der Stricht, the former chair of The Nature Conservancy’s board of trustees. “I’m delighted to have this trail dedicated in honor of my late husband,” said Sue van der Stricht, who has now taken Rob’s seat as chair of the conservancy’s board. “Rob would be thrilled to know that more people will get to see these two lakes, thanks to The Nature Conservancy’s new trail.”

For more information and directions, visit nature.org.