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New York's Superlative Letchworth State Park

© By Mike Keenan






















  According to the calendar, summer begins June 21, but there are other hints that summer has arrived. By the end of June, the Toronto Blue Jays are in need of pitching, dandelions have taken over my pesticide-free lawn and the Stanley Cup playoffs have finally concluded, allowing black, blue and bearded players a few days rest before pre-season training camp opens.
     Speaking of camp, I associate summer with camping. With our young family, we took advantage of nearby campgrounds in Western New York, particularly those near the Finger Lakes area. A favourite was Letchworth State Park. It's precipitous walls, dramatic waterfalls and the 17-mile long snaking pathway along the Genesee Gorge earns it the moniker, "Grand Canyon of the East."
     It was at Letchworth that my family learned to admire my brilliant tactics dealing with pesky raccoons that nightly patrol the campground, foraging for free food. Our first night there, soundly sleeping in our tent, we were rudely awakened by the crash of metal trash cans systematically knocked over, their spilled contents greedily consumed by the clever predators, often accompanied with a noisy altercation between two dominant coons, worthy of a championship WWF match. The clash of trash, faint at first, rose in dramatic crescendo as packs of rapacious raccoons roamed around the circular sites on their nightly caloric pilgrimage.
     The next evening, our can was firmly fixed on its side, astutely wedged against a tree. The strategy worked, the score was now even: raccoons: 1; me: 1. Next night, the ploy attained success again. Soon, all of the appreciative, bleary-eyed campers emulated my crafty tactics. This, you may realize, is how legends begin. For years thereafter, whenever they discussed the essence of wisdom in their philosophical rants, my family invariably bragged about my cunning.
     "Remember how dad outfoxed the raccoons at Letchworth?"
     "I didn't marry your father for his looks," my spouse would reply, and the fun began.
     "Yesirree, raccoons were no match for dad," another chimed in.
     I think that they were being complimentary. For me, it was merely a simple deduction like E = MC squared.
     Letchworth boasts an Olympic-sized swimming pool with adjacent diving pool that features three spring boards. There, another Olympic-size legend was born, this time aquatic. We often camped with neighbours. One afternoon, the men, whom I will fictitiously name Larry, Curly and Moe, displayed their incredible diving prowess for the assembled bathers, performing three simultaneous gargantuan cannonballs which produced a terrific, typhoon effect worthy of National Geographic Magazine. The lifeguards, resolutely unimpressed, assessed us misconduct penalties and asked that we not use the diving towers again. However, I'm sure that there are Western New Yorkers who fondly recall that historic day. "Remember those three fat guys who emptied the diving pool?"
     There are over 70 miles of hiking trails in Letchworth leading to beautiful scenic vistas in the 14,350-acre park, a favourite backpacking destination. There are also more than 20 miles of biking trails. The canyon represents millions of years of geological history. In winter, paths transform into invigorating cross-country ski trails. Besides campgrounds, there are cabins and a quaint inn located at the Middle Falls.
     Besides me, two other historic Letchworth legends are Mary Jemison and William Pryor Letchworth. Jemison, the "White Woman of the Genesee," was captured by natives in Pennsylvania at age 15 and transported to Genesee Country where she married, raised children and lived to age 90 amongst her Senecas.
     William P. Letchworth, a wealthy industrialist who admired the land around the canyon, acquired 100 acres and began a lifetime of restoring the cut-over forest, building an estate called Glen Iris, now a restaurant and inn. After his holdings increased to 1,000 acres, in 1859 he deeded the property to the State of New York as a park.
     Letchworth is an easy drive, located 20 miles south of Rochester. There are entrances in the towns of Portageville, Castile, Perry and Mount Morris. If camping, make a reservation at 800-456-CAMP. It's popular, and, at night, don't forget to secure your trash!

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

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Mike Keenan

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Perry Area Chamber of Commerce: http://www.perrychamber.com/letchworth-park.php
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation: http://nysparks.state.ny.us/parks/info.asp?parkID=12
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perry_(town),_New_York

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