When asked what his role is with the Crescent Trail Hiking Association, Dave Schaeffer said he is a fence-mender and “I guess you could call me a trailmaster.” Actually, he is one of the original driving forces behind CTHA.
Schaeffer was a member of the Perinton Town Conservation Board when the town was looking for ways to preserve its open spaces 40 years ago. Schaeffer — along with residents Allan Donk and Frank Strong, among others — started mapping out open spaces. As applications for new development came in, he would negotiate with developers to leave strips of the property open.
As members of the Conservation Board talked with landowners about easements and limited development districts, they came up with the idea of preserving the land in a way that would interconnect many of the open spaces. The arc became the “Crescent,” and the objective was to create a footpath that would enable public access to and appreciation of Perinton’s environmental legacy. The Crescent Trail was born.
Schaeffer, who also served nine years on the Planning Board and 15 on the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, was a member of the Conservation Board for 12 years. By the time he was done, Perinton had 30 of its current 35 miles of trails.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished and I’m proud that I had as much to do with it as I did,’’ said Schaeffer, who wrote the nomination for Perinton to become a TrailTown USA in 1996. “We were able to get a lot of people building houses to revise their plans to include trails.”
Schaeffer is working on a plan for the future as the original crew gets older and a new generation takes over.
“As the membership of Crescent Trail Inc. has turned over, we have become more about the future,’’ he said. “CT will be whatever the new officers want it to be. We need to really reconnect with the landowners and make sure the trails stay what they have been.”
Schaeffer said 75% of trail users are people who go out after work to walk the dog or get kids outside. Few start at Point A and plan to walk the 20 miles Point B. Some trails may end up broken into segments within the trails.
“You can be on a trail and you would swear that you are in the Adirondacks,” said Jim Smith, who was town supervisor from 1983 to 2013. “The town has always been a partner with Crescent Trail and tried to help in any way we could. Allan Donk was in my office every day advocating for the trails. The people who got it started were so strong-minded that it would have been more of a surprise if they failed than if they didn’t. There are no negatives with the trails.”
Jenny LePore became a board member two years ago and does the publicity for CTHA, including social media and marketing. She and her husband, Mike, often bring their three kids out to the trails. Sometimes they do tougher hikes by themselves.
“We plan to go out and see the ponds, the beavers, the birds and suddenly we are in wilderness despite only being a short distance from a neighborhood,” she said. “It’s a neat experience. Some trails are family-friendly, others more suited for the avid hikers who don’t mind a little uneven terrain. All I know is they are popular. The parking lots are full; people are parking on the streets.
“With the pandemic, everyone is looking for new ways to enjoy the outdoors and for parents, it’s about keeping their kids active — the trails are it … People that have never hiked before are now stepping out there. After 40 years, there is this renewed interest and an opportunity to educate the community on what the trails are about. We have a small group of volunteers working hard to revamp our website, update our map and spread the word about our monthly guided hikes. It’s an exciting time.”
Wegmans renewed its Crescent Trail passport program, now called Hit the Trails. Families can get a free card at Wegmans or the Perinton Community Center. Each time they go on a trail, they can do the rub-on etching on the trail sign. Once they visit all of the trails, they can enter the card into a drawing for a $200 Wegmans gift card.
“The trails are a tremendous asset to the community,” current Town Supervisor Ciaran Hanna said. “The trails allow residents and other members of the area to escape from life for as long as they want. The town is committed to keeping the trails as wonderful as they are now. They are vital to where we live.”
Jim Unckless, a 19-year CTHA member, was charged with trail maintenance — along with the town — in 2007. On good weather Wednesdays from April to November, Unckless and his crew are mowing the grass, cutting back weeds, clearing trails and helping Eagle Scouts complete bridge projects on the trails.
“The people I work with on the trails are really dedicated,’’ he said. “I really believe this has prolonged my life. I’m doing something for the community and get great exercise every time I do it. It really is a pleasure.”
Unckless said it takes six weeks to complete a round of mowing on all the trails. Most get mowed three times a season and a few four times.
“We decide on Monday which trail needs the most work and then on Wednesday I just make sure the team has everything it needs to do the job,” said Unckless, who has 30 volunteers in his group and various people helping out each week. “Sometimes we are overloaded and we have a lot of problems with flooding in the spring, but between us and the town, we usually improve all the trails every year and make sure they are usable year-round.”
According to Schaeffer, “People that are hiking need to be responsible for the nature around them. The trails were created to give residents an escape right here in town. We need to hold on to that.”
Visit crescenttrail.org for information.