Pittsford trails see higher use

Morgan and Harnish help start a town legacy


Though Pittsford’s trails are nothing new, they’re now more important to the town than ever before.

“When we started (the trails) in the ’80s, people didn’t really use them,” Baird Morgan told The Reporter. “Over the years, that has changed. We saw a tremendous increase in activity with COVID.”

Recreation Director Jen Popp agrees.

“We’ve noticed a lot more people out walking their dogs on the trails, for sure,” she said of the uptick in trail users during the pandemic.

She and Morgan say that the trails are used by Pittsford residents as well as people from Vermont and beyond.

“When I’m on the trails, I’ll stop people and (ask them) where they’re from,” Morgan said. He estimated that “about 80%” of trail-users are not from Pittsford.

The 16 miles of trail are part of a system founded by Morgan in 1980, along with Bob Harnish and Allen Hitchcock, who died in 2014.

THE WINTER SCENE of an entrance to the Pittsford trails on a snowy winter day provides seasonal contrast to summer in which 16 miles of trails throughout the town are open to hikers and bikers.

Morgan and Harnish are still in charge of trail maintenance and call themselves the trail masters. Both men are responsible for mowing and maintaining certain sections of the trail. Harnish is often the coordinator of trail-related volunteer efforts in addition to his mowing commitments.

“There’s usually someone who steps up,” Harnish said of responses to volunteer requests. “I have a couple of people with chainsaws. They go out if we have a tree down.”

But even with volunteers ready and willing, Harnish isn’t sure what the future of the trail system is – he and Morgan are in their 80s now and are beginning to slow down.

“It’s hard,” Harnish said in a phone interview this week. “There are people willing to step up and help us when we call for help, but I don’t know if there’s someone (to take over) out there or not.”

But Harnish isn’t worried. He said he’s sure someone will step up, though he also acknowledges the amount of work that goes into what he and Morgan do.

“Not everyone who can volunteer has the time to organize the whole deal,” he said.

The trails aren’t just remarkable in the way they encourage and rely on volunteerism: the paths run through public and private land, making it a rare project in a country that often discourages trespassing on private property.

“We actually went to landowners and got their permission to have trails on their land,” Morgan said. “We actually came up with a trail license so that landowners are protected from any liability.”

Morgan said that this also means that landowners can decide they’d like to stop hosting a trail on their property. This recently happened with one of Pittsford’s trails, though it isn’t a common occurrence.

Morgan says that having the trail run through a property is often viewed as an asset rather than an obstacle.

“(Landowners are) very generous with their land,” he said, referring to one family’s land in particular. “They’re very happy to have the trails maintained because it helps maintain their property.”

Not only are landowners often generous with the property, but many are content with the trails being enjoyed in different ways.

Mountain biking, for instance, is allowed on all trails. Horseback riding is also allowed on most, though there are some places where landowners have asked for horses to stay off the trails.

This sort of limitation makes sense to Morgan, who mentioned how muddy the trails get in the spring.

But even when the trails are used pretty hard, he and Harnish view their work on the trails as a success.

“When I stop at a trailhead to check on the supply of maps and I see three or four cars in the parking lot, I can see that the trails are being used,” Harnish said in an email.

Morgan agreed, adding that back when the trail project started, it felt like a success to see a single car parked at a trailhead.

“Walking wasn’t something people did 20, 30, 40 years ago,” he said.

Nowadays, the trails even draw a crowd.

“There are times below (my) house (at the trailhead where) you can go down there on a weekend and see 15, 16 cars parked,” Morgan said.

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