Joe Torok

Shenango River Watchers Trail Maintenance Coordinator Joe Torok.

On a cool and sunny Friday morning in late October, I pulled into the parking lot at the Kidds Mill Covered Bridge Park, located off Route 18 in Transfer, to meet with Joe Torok, retired Reynolds High School Principal and current Trail Maintenance Coordinator for the Shenango River Watchers, a conservation organization which has taken over maintenance of the trail.

Joe agreed to show me some of the improvements he and others have made recently to the Shenango Trail, an 8-mile improved hiking path that roughly follows the Shenango River from Kidds Mill down to Big Bend. This is one of my favorite all-time hiking destinations, because it’s a local trail I can drive to in 10 minutes, and yet it feels wonderfully remote. At any given time you’re only a few miles from civilization, but you don’t much see it or hear it because of the thick riparian woods and thickets and swamps that grow on either side.

We started down the Kidds Mill branch, which is relatively new because it closely follows the river, unlike the old Erie Extension Canal Trail, which was man-made and which ran much straighter than the riverbed would allow but which now is bypassed on the north end by the newer river trail. At first we mucked through some wetlands and swamps, which are projects Joe is working on either by constructing bridges or moving the trails up onto higher ground, but then we came into more open woods, where we could look past mature forest to the river itself.

There was a cool breeze blowing across the river, which was discolored from the recent rains. All around us was lush off-green foliage- maples, beeches, red and white oaks, black walnut trees, which overhung the waters and dropped their heavy fruit with a splash. The foliage was turning auburn, yellow, and red, and I noticed the steady early dropping of single leaves, which foreshadowed the later cascade. There was birdsong the the air, and the faint distant honking of Canade Geese. We felt like we were deep in the woods, and that’s a great feeling.

“The main goal,” Joe told me, “is to increase community recreational activities through the maintenance and improvement of the entire trail. But more effort is needed on the northern section, from New Hamburg to Kidds Mill, to open it up and increase usage.”

He listed some of the major areas of effort:

Installation of mileage indicators on the entire trail,

Replacement or upgrade of wooden trail bridges, as needed,

Strategy for mitigating water hazards in several trail locations,

Ongoing maintenance of the complete trail, including re-opening of the New Hamburg section,

Secure funding through grant writing. And more.

At a later date I contacted Monica King, Executive Administrator to the Board of SRW and asked for her thoughts about the project. She said, “The Shenango Trail is a gem we have in our community that needs to be preserved and protected.” She’s also working via emails to the membership and social media to get volunteers to come out for the short SRW work days, usually on a Sunday for 4 hours or so. Monica missed the last work day because she was busy getting married. “A poor excuse is better than none,” my father always said.

One upcoming event is not a work day but just a hike, the National Take a Hike Day, on Sunday, November 17th. Shenango River Watchers is inviting the general public to come out and go on a 4-mile hike with them, starting at 1:30 p.m. Everyone will meet at the Big Bend Trailhead off River Road, and we will hike up to the New Hamburg Trailhead, which is a beautiful hike on some of the best-conditioned trails of the entire Shenango Trail. So mark your calendars and don’t forget to wear hiking boots. I’ll be there, too, giving away copies of my Camp Chronicles book to a selected male and female hiker. See you on the 17th!

DON FEIGERT is the outdoors writer for The Herald and the Allied News. His latest book, The F-Troop Camp Chronicles, and his earlier books are available by contacting Don at 724-931-1699 or dfeigert@verizon.net.

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