When Champlain Area Trails (CATS) postponed its popular Grand Hike from early May until this fall because of the COVID-19 pandemic, supporters were disappointed, but understood. The Grand Hike, in its sixth year, has grown larger every year, attracting over 300 people to last year’s event, with participants coming from a wide geographic area.
A few supporters took their disappointment and channeled it into their own version of the Grand Hike—“CATS in Quarantine—The Grand Challenge.” Susie Smith, owner of event sponsor Dak Bars, Ken Hughes, Essex Town Supervisor, Martha and Mike Smiles (Martha is a CATS board member), and Bethany and Richard Teitelbaum, set out on a Saturday morning in a socially-distanced fashion to hike what ended up being 21 miles of CATS trails. The route they followed is described below.
“We had so much fun,” said Susie Smith. “We are fortunate to have these wonderful CATS trails right in our backyard. The wildflowers alone are worth it.”
The group followed the New York State Department of Health and Department of Conservation’s recommendation to recreate locally, practice physical distancing, and use common sense to protect themselves and others. The hike was also consistent with state encouragement to get outside and discover open spaces and parks close to home (#RecreateLocal).
“It’s easy to follow the guidelines,” said Ken Hughes, “and to respect the experts’ advice. The trails provide such a wonderful sense of freedom from quarantine and you could not ask for a more scenic area to hike.”
CATS hopes the group’s feat will inspire others to create their own challenges. Chris Maron, Executive Director of CATS, said, “This was such an inspiring idea. We encourage others to come up with their own CATS Grand Challenges and then share them with us by email. They certainly don’t have to be as long as 21 miles like this group did, but any distance and degree of difficulty will do as your circumstances permit. The only ‘rule’ is to respect the physical distance guidelines as we’ve been advised to do.”
For those who might want to follow the route of this intrepid group, it begins in Essex, at the Rocky Ledges Trail on Leaning Road then from Rocky Ledges to Foothills Trail to Boquet Mountain Trail. Then down Cook Road to Beaver Flow Trail to the Black Kettle Loop. Back to Beaver Flow to the Bobcat Trail to the Field and Forest Trail to the Art Farm Trail to Sayre Road to the Pine Hill Trail, then the rest of the Field and Forest Trail.
Back on Bobcat Trail to Beaver Flow to Homestead Trail. Then back up Boquet Mountain Trail to the upper Rocky Ledges Trail to the North Boquet Trail (with a scenic summit at the end!). Then return down the other side to Rocky Ledges and finish at Leaning Road.
The route can be followed with the help of CATS’ Central Champlain Valley Trail Map availably at no charge by contacting the CATS office as noted below.