This was my familiar zone. Last year I spent at least one day a week running in Lewiston, N.Y., particularly doing hill sprints up and down the Artpark road as I was training for the Hatfield-McCoy Marathon and then the Mighty Niagara Half Marathon. I love running in this area, along the Niagara river among history and nature and the occasional “woots!” of the Whirlpool Jet Tours. (Don’t get me started.)
As a lifelong native of Western New York, I had been to Artpark many times — from theater performances in grade school to rocking out to Barenaked Ladies and Lowest of the Low. I vaguely remember when the art community was vibrant in the state park. It may still be, but when I think of the state park these days I think of concerts and hill repeats. So many people may be familiar with the miles of trails at Artpark. Me? I didn’t until I ran by them so many times I just had to find a time to explore.
That opportunity came this week. I had a random Thursday off (Because I was working on Saturday. Don’t get jealous.) and had lunch with a friend in Niagara Falls. It was a sunny, mild January day and while there was vacuuming to do and laundry to finish, I needed to take advantage of what was available. So I had tucked a pair of hiking sneakers into my backseat and stopped at Artpark on my way home.
I parked in the upper lot and walked over to the gorge trail entrance. Three cars zoomed past me to park right at the trailhead and as I approached three guys in their 20s bounced out of their respective cars and immediately lit up cigarettes. While I’m trying to cultivate a soft heart and a live-and-let-live mentality, there also was the space that I just did not want to share the trail with the guy in the short-sleeved Jack Eichel Buffalo Sabres jersey-style t-shirt. So instead of taking the lower road, which went right up against the water, I took the upper road.
Immediately I was grateful for the dudes who forced my decision because this trail was beautiful. There was some ice on the trail and giant icicles decorating the gorge wall like tinsel. While there were lovely vistas of the river, I was completely taken with the gorge wall and the giant blocks of ice. I stopped at a particularly beautiful spot where there was a trickle of water creating a small, but tall, waterfall amid the rocks, moss and ice. I took the time to sit and look. Really look. There was a tree bent at 90 degree angle and I wondered if was because of the wind or because it was fighting for sun and that’s how it grew. As with most things in life, I figured it was a blend of both reasons and probably a bunch I didn’t know. I thought about an interview I was preparing for with ultrarunner Krissy Moehl who said one of the reason she loves trail running is because it takes you to places you otherwise would never see. I wasn’t running. I wasn’t even particularly “hiking” if you want to be all technical about it. But I was out on a trail, exploring and discovering places, places in my own backyard, that I otherwise would never have the opportunity to see.
I continued on, walking for about a mile on the trail before turning back. I could have gone further, but the trail was icy, the dropoff was steep and the trail was winding closer to the gorge wall where on occasion the sound of giant blocks of ice crashing down the rock wall startled the crap out of me. Perhaps I was being overcautious. But I was good with that.
What didn’t sit well with me on the walk back was the garbage I noticed along the trail. It looked as if one of the garbage cans was overturned, right near that beautiful waterfall where I had my meditative moment. I’m not sure whose responsibility the trash cans are, but I wished they had taken care of it. There were smatterings of graffiti on some of the rocks. If I didn’t know about this trail clearly some of the teenagers in the area did. To be honest the trash and graffiti made me a little sad, like it had spoiled such a beautiful space. But was it enough to spoil my enjoyment of the trail? It was up to me to decide and there was too much beauty and peace to allow the trash and graffiti to ruin my trail walk.
Still, I wasn’t finished. The base of many of my hill repeats begins at the trailhead for the “Indian Mound” and “Richards’ Marsh.” Today was the day I was going to into those woods. The Indian Mound is just off the road. Called the “Lewiston Mound” on the informational sign, it is a Hopewell-style burial mound that dates to around A.D. 160. The Hopewell, the sign told me, were traders and artistic people. This is one of the few burial mounds in Western New York.
“Who was buried here and why remains a mystery. Please respect this sacred burial site.”
I was particularly interested in the mound since my boyfriend Scott was just telling me the night before about such mounds in a book he is reading on Native American history in North America. I wanted to pay my respects, but how? The sign of the cross seemed a little out of place, still it was about the only thing I could think of to do to offer my spiritual gratitude.
I continued on the trail, which seemed like old asphalt, which took me through the woods and past a few art installations. There was a sign to the upper trail, so I took it, got a bit lost as the leaves covered the trail. There was more to these woods than I ever thought possible and I meandered a bit, taking in the crisp air, the soft ground and the noise of some very well-fed squirrels.
I ended up looking for Richards’ Marsh. I think I found it, but there was no interpretive sign for me. I did find “The Storytelling Place” which may be the greatest sign I have run across. The stage and seats clearly was created as a tiny outdoor theater, but something about the name, “The Storytelling Place” really spoke to me. I often joke when someone corrects me on a set of facts that “I’m constructing a narrative” which is nicer way of saying “don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story.” But regardless of fact or fiction, the way we tell a story has a profound impact on how we live our daily lives. Every day we are telling ourselves stories — if we’re tired or energized, overworked or overjoyed, if that event was a setback or a challenge, if that graffiti on the gorge trail was obnoxious and detrimental to my experience or just a passing observation that does not impact my view of the walk.
Moreover, how great would it be to have a storytelling place where you could routinely return? Where you could tell your story, where you could try out different versions and create new stories? I think I need to dwell in this possibility for a while.
Hike 52 Project
Date: Jan. 7, 2016
Trail: Gorge High Road, Indian Mound
Total distance: 3 miles
Duration: 1 hour 24 minutes
Weather: 41 degrees, sunny
Hiked with: Solo hike
“A January afternoon spent exploring some of the trails.”
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