Out & About – Take a Hike: Adirondack Mountain Club provides camaraderie and stewardship around the great outdoors

By Norah Machia

Are you interested in beginning a journey toward a healthier lifestyle through outdoor adventure, but don’t know where to start? The Onondaga Chapter of the Adirondack Mountain Club may be the answer.

The nonprofit organization, also known as the ADK, offers year-round recreational opportunities for Central New Yorkers to explore hiking trails in their own backyards. The group outings are led by ADK volunteers who have a strong interest in sharing their experience and knowledge of the outdoors.

We welcome anyone to join an outing and find out what we’re about,” said Lisa Druke, Onondaga Chapter Chair. “We have existing knowledge of hiking trails, what equipment to use and how to be safe.”

The Onondaga chapter has 1,200 members and is one of 27 chapters statewide that is run by volunteers. The affiliate chapters lead groups on hiking trips, paddling expeditions, and in the winter months, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing treks, both locally and in the Adirondack region. The ADK organization has more than 26,000 members statewide.

Although most members in the local chapter are from Onondaga County, there are many people living in the surrounding counties who have also joined, said Druke.

We are all like-minded when it comes to being outdoors,” and membership in the organization gives people from all backgrounds the opportunity to become part of a community looking for fun, adventurous and safe outdoor experiences, she said.

While trips are planned in the Adirondacks, many others are held in Onondaga County and the surrounding area. “We really saw an increase in membership during the COVID-19 pandemic” when people couldn’t travel, and really wanted to get out of the house, Druke added.

The ADK outings also provide an opportunity to capture some unique views of forestlands, rivers and wildlife along the trails, said Druke. Anyone interested may try out two free group outings, and will be asked to join the local chapter if they would like to continue participation in the club’s activities.

Adirondack Mountain Club volunteers plan to lead hikes this summer at Clark Reservation State Park, Jamesville; Highland Forest County Park, Fabius; Erie Canal Hike, Kirkville; Camillus Forest Unique Area, and the Oneida Rail Trail Hike.

Paddling trips are also scheduled for Deer Creek (starting in Pulaski), and at Little Long Lake in the Adirondacks. In addition, there are several trips planned along trail systems maintained by volunteers from the local ADK chapter.

The Onondaga Chapter has a vested interest in the Finger Lakes Trail System, which is a combination of state land and private land. The first Wednesday of each month in the spring, summer and fall is usually devoted to trail maintenance. “We stay in touch with the private landowners on a regular basis,” to monitor the trails, she said.

Our chapter maintains many miles along the Finger Lakes Trail,” Druke said. “People volunteer to be trail stewards and keep an eye out for one or two miles of trails.”

Several ADK chapters were involved in building the trail system in the early 1960s, including the Onondaga Chapter, which currently maintains approximately 80 miles of the trail, Druke said.

A lot of people are engaged in taking care of this trail system,” she said. Volunteers help to maintain trails by clearing brush, picking up litter, building steps and bridges, removing downed trees and painting marks on the trees to help identify the routes.

The Finger Lakes Trail starts at the Pennsylvania-New York Border and runs to the Catskill Forest Preserve, with trail branches to Niagara Falls, the Genesee River Valley, the central Finger Lakes and the Syracuse region.

A portion of the Finger Lakes Trail System is also part of the North Country National Scenic Trail, a national trail system that runs from North Dakota to Vermont and covers approximately 5,000 miles.

We have also adopted trails in the Black River Wild Forest and the Pigeon Lake Wilderness Area” in the Adirondack region, Druke added.

ADK members may book overnight reservations at the Johns Brook Lodge near Keene Valley in the Adirondacks, located in the “heart of the High Peaks area,” said Druke. Members interested in overnight trips can reserve lodge accommodations or stay in cabins or camp sites.

ADK’s Onondaga Chapter has also been expanding its outreach and education programs. As part of a partnership with the Fayetteville Free Library, the chapter offers educational classes on topics such as hiking, backpacking and CPR/First Aid. These classes are open to anyone interested, and “some people have later joined our chapter” after participating in them, Druke said.

For more information about the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Onondaga Chapter visit www.adk-on.org. The ADK’s main website is www.adk.org and includes a listing of all the statewide chapters.