Man and woman sitting on a hill by valley

Hidden Gems: The Mohawk Valley Region

Two undeniable blessings of living in the Mohawk Valley are its beautiful summer months and its wealth of opportunities for outdoor adventure. People who know me have heard me talk about the stress-relieving properties and other health benefits of being outdoors and in nature. Now I have some recommendations for where you can go to reap those benefits for a stronger mind and healthier body!

Mohawk Valley Gems

The Mohawk Valley region sits between the resplendent Catskill Mountains and the largest of all state parks in New York, the Adirondack State Park. At 6.1 million acres, the Adirondacks abound with year-round opportunities for just about every outdoor activity from kayaking and mountaineering to ice fishing and snowmobiling.

The same can be said for the Catskills, the second largest state park at 700,000 acres. It, too, is rich with possibilities such as scenic drives, hiking, fly fishing and camping. With these formidable neighbors, collectively known as the New York State Forest Preserve, it should come as no surprise that the Mohawk Valley also boasts its own plentiful and varied selection of excursion-worthy destinations.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  1. FT Proctor Park in Utica and Lock 20 Canal Park in Marcy. The Lock 20 site features access to the Erie Canal tow path which affords miles upon miles for walking or riding bikes.  In the winter season, you can partake in one of my favorite activities, snowshoeing.
  2. Utica Zoo – Another great place for walking and snowshoeing, with the animals as an added bonus!
  3. South Woods Switchbacks at Roscoe Conkling Park in Utica. Anywhere that’s great for snowshoeing in the winter is great for walks and hikes in the spring, summer and fall, and this is no exception. For added fitness opportunities, take advantage of the 12 fitness stations around the 2.2-mile perimeter of the South Woods Loop.
  4. Hiking at Pixley Falls State Park in Boonville. The main attraction may be the 50-foot waterfall (and it is beautiful), but Pixley Falls also features a nature trail and miles of trout fishing.
  5. Trenton Falls Scenic Trail. This hidden gem is open just a few weekends a year. The main trail offers wonderful views of the Trenton Falls Hydro Dam. Secondary trails take you along West Canada Creek and the limestone and fossil-encrusted gorge. Unfortunately, they recently cancelled the final open date for 2020, but I recommend keeping this on your list for a future visit – it’s worth the wait!

I’ve only scratched the surface of opportunities for outdoor fun and adventure the Mohawk Valley has to offer. I encourage you to get out and explore one or more of the places I have listed, or ask friends and family, and search the internet for other recommendations. The great outdoors is a natural stress reducer and always a healthy choice. You’re never wrong when you step outside.

Hidden Gems: Audubon Community Nature Center

Spending time in nature can enrich us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. That’s the motto of the Audubon Community Nature Center (ACNC).  Looking for a new place to take in the great outdoors? Consider visiting this hidden gem in western New York’s Southern Tier.

The Highlights

ACNC is in Jamestown, N.Y., about 60 miles south of Buffalo. Established in 1957, this nature preserve includes close to 600 acres of wetland and forest ecosystems which are home to a variety of native plants, animals, and insects.

Visitors can enjoy hiking on more than five miles of trails, which are easily navigable for people of all ages. Wander through a native tree arboretum and explore educational gardens. Audubon Community Nature Center’s trails remain open throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. ACNC asks that visitors practice safe social distancing when they encounter others on the trails. The trails are made accessible to the public, free of charge, from dawn until dusk daily.

The Nature Center building, which houses the additional animals as well as interactive exhibits, is temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Many of ACNC’s programs have been moved online or have been rescheduled. For more information visit www.auduboncnc.org .

The Details

  • Location: 1600 Riverside Road, Jamestown, New York 14701
  • Hours: Trails are accessible daily from dawn till dusk. For information on the hours of the Nature Center building (when open), click here.
  • Admission: Use of the trails is free year-round. For information on the admission to the Nature Center building (when open) click here.

For more info: Visit https://auduboncnc.org/ or call (716) 569-2345

Don’t Miss

ACNC is home to ‘Liberty’ a non-releasable Bald Eagle, as well as a variety of other live animals that are cared for by Nature Center staff and volunteers. You can find Liberty in her enclosure near the Nature Center Building.

Picture of a bald eagle

Liberty, the bald eagle (photo courtesy of ACNC)

 

A man and a woman look at an ipad

Hidden Gems: Center shares the healing power of laughter

Most of us could use a good laugh right now. Fortunately, now you can enjoy comedy virtually thanks to the National Comedy Center.

The National Comedy Center, located in Jamestown, New York, is the nation’s official cultural institution and non-profit museum dedicated to presenting the vital story of comedy and preserving its heritage for future generations. Opened in August 2018, the in-person museum complex offers an unprecedented visitor experience using state-of-the-art technology, interactivity and personalization to create a true 21st Century museum environment. The museum was recently named the “Best New Museum in the Country” by USA Today, and named to Time magazine’s “World’s Greatest Places” in 2019.

Picture of the front of a building that is the National Comedy Center

Photo of the National Comedy Center in Jamestown, N.Y.

Virtual Comedy

While the museum is temporarily closed as a COVID-19 precaution, you can now enjoy the comedy experience from the comfort of home. National Comedy Center Anywhere is a new online museum experience, featuring exclusive content directly from the interactive comedy exhibits.

Explore the story of comedy virtually with the artists themselves as your guides. National Comedy Center Anywhere has rare archival material never-before-seen outside of the Comedy Center Walls. The platform features a selection of free material with the option to upgrade to access more content from the museum.

The Details

  • Visitors can begin their National Comedy Center Anywhere experience now, by visiting ComedyCenter.org/Anywhere.
  • Location: 203 West Second Street, Jamestown, N.Y. 14701; (716) 484-2222
  • Hours: Temporarily closed to visitors. Typical hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Saturday.

Hidden Gems: The Ausable Chasm in the Adirondacks

This summer a group of us moms and our teens took a weekend trip to the Ausable Chasm in the Adirondacks.  After visiting the North Star Underground Railroad located on the same park grounds, we explored the Chasm. We were hoping to build leadership skills among our teens, and have fun!

The trip was a highlight of my summer and one that I will remember for years to come.  Since visiting I have been telling my friends and family members about this upstate New York treasure!

The Highlights

The Ausable Chasm is one of the oldest natural attractions in the United States. It’s also known as the “Grand Canyon of the Adirondacks”. The Chasm is a long, narrow sandstone gorge that stretches for two miles. In between the Chasm is the Ausable River that flows into Lake Champlain.

The trails and scenery are breathtaking. There is a rock that looks like an Elephants Head and stunning Rainbow Falls.

The Ausable Chasm offers many different adventures. Lace up your sneakers and enjoy a scenic walking tour of the Chasm. If you are feeling more adventurous, you can go rafting through the Chasm, which we did. Furthermore, if you are really daring, you can scale the Chasm. On the other hand, if you’re looking to relax, you can take a tube ride down the river.

The Details

  • Location: 2144 Route 9, Ausable Chasm, N.Y. 12911
  • Hours: The park is open year-round, except for major holidays. During the summer, the park is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The rest of the year, the park closes at 4:00 p.m.
  • Accessibility: Tours of the chasm are not recommended for people who have difficulty walking or climbing stairs. Strollers are also not permitted in the chasm.
  • Pets: The park does not allow pets. The park does allow service animals in the Welcome Center, and on the Elephant’s Head and Rainbow Falls trails.
  • Admission: Basic admission is $17.95 for adults and teens, $9.95 for children (age 5-12), and free for children under age 5. If you’re a resident of Clinton, Essex or Franklin Counties, admission is $9.00. You can also purchase optional adventure packages for an additional fee.

To learn more about the Ausable Chasm, visit the website: http://ausablechasm.com/ or call (518) 834-7454.

Don’t Miss

If you’re looking to explore all that the Ausable Chasm has to offer, consider camping at the Chasm.

Fairies find a new home in Mendon Ponds Park

Countless hearts broke earlier this year when dozens of fairies were evicted from their homes in Henrietta’s Tinker Nature Park following acts of vandalism. The beloved fairy trail featured beautifully crafted and brightly painted doors carved into both trees and various pieces of wood.

The good news – you can rest easy! The fairies are safe and sound in their new slice of paradise – the Birdsong Trail at Mendon Ponds Park.

I recently had the opportunity to check out the fairy homes. They are brand new and tailored to the park. The inhabitants were too shy to come out and say hello, but I was blown away at how skilled they are at carpentry.

Check out the photos below to see how our winged friends live.  Don’t worry, though – there are still plenty more houses and surprises I didn’t include!

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The Highlights

If you’re interested in visiting the Tooth Fairy or checking out the Troll Hole, gather up friends and family and make the trek to Mendon Ponds Park.  The Nature Center sits on the corner of Pond Road and Clover Street.  There’s plenty of onsite parking, so don’t hesitate to load up several cars with eager explorers.

The Birdsong Trail begins to the left of the Nature Center, just past a small grass field.  Once you reach the sign, just follow the path in a square shape. It’s only about three quarters of a mile. Let your eyes feast on the adorable community built into the bark.

Feeling adventurous?  Instead of following the square path, turn right once you’ve completed half the square to continue down the Birdsong Trail into other criss-crossing trails.  You can find a detailed map of the Mendon Ponds trails here.  No matter how far you walk, the fairy house trail is a great way to get up and moving with your loved ones!

The Details

  • Location: The Mendon Ponds Park Nature Center is located at 27 Pond Rd, Honeoye Falls, NY 14472. For more information, call (585) 334-6170.
  • Hours: 6am-11pm (park access varies seasonally)
  • Pets not allowed on the Birdsong trail.

Don’t Miss

Once you’ve caught the fairy house fever (like I have), be sure to stop by the Corn Hill Arts Festival on July 13 & 14, 2019. The 7th Annual Fairy Houses Tour at the festival will feature tons of tiny dwellings built by individuals who want to carry on the fairy house tradition. Stop by and vote on your favorite!

11 Places to Picnic in Upstate NY

Summer is a short season in upstate NY. That’s why it’s the perfect time to exchange your usual lunch out with a meal “al-fresco” at one of these picnic spots in upstate NY.

1. Porter Park, Youngstown, Niagara County

There is no better place to have a picnic than on Lake Ontario. You can see Niagara on the Lake, and on a clear day, you have a full view of Canada! The beach is rocky but there is always plenty of driftwood to sit on and enjoy the view. There is a large grassy area, picnic tables and pavilions as well. This hidden gem is set back from the road and most people drive right by it.

2. Hamlin Beach State Park, Hamlin, Monroe county

Further east on Lake Ontario is Hamlin Beach State Park. This park also offers sweeping views of the lake,  beach swimming (when it is warm enough!) and great picnic facilities including pavilions. While you’re there, explore the self-guided trail of the Yanty Creek Marsh.

3. Highland Park, Rochester, Monroe County

Highland Park may be known for the Lilac Festival in the spring, but there’s plenty to see all summer long in this park. Not only does it have plenty of places to sit in the grass or at a picnic table, but in the early summer, the trees are still flowering and bringing in a wonderful smell. Also, within the park is Lamberton Conservatory, which is full of large palms and ferns, as well as little button quails that run around your feet.

Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park (photo by Rachel Dowling)

Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park (photo by Rachel Dowling)

 

4. Stony Brook State Park, Dansville, Livingston County

Head south to visit Stony Brook State Park. Enjoy a day in the park with a picnic and an adventure on the hiking trails. You can also go swimming in the natural pool, fed by the stream that is always refreshing.

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5. Harriet Hollister Park, Springwater, Livingston County

Less than an hour from Stony Brook State Park, Harriet Hollister Park is another beautiful spot with picnic tables, biking trials and a pavilion. This park comes with a breathtaking view of Honeoye Lake and the Rochester skyline in the distance. Sixteen miles of hiking, biking and even cross-country ski trails are available.

6. Onanda Park, Canandaigua, Ontario county

Located on the western shores of Canandaigua Lake, Onanda Park park offers picnic tables, a small beach, a swimming area, and a lake view. The park also features numerous hiking trails across the street. Trails can be found that are close to the stream, as well as more challenging hills that give you views of the multiple waterfalls upstream.

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7. Watkins Glen State Park, Watkins Glen, Schuyler County

At the southern end of Seneca Lake, Watkins Glen State Park is a perfect place for a relatively flat hike. You may get a little wet from the spray from the absolutely gorgeous waterfalls, but it is well worth it. They also have ample picnic tables to use after your hike.

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8. Clift Park, Skaneateles, Onondaga County

A short drive from Syracuse, this park offers an incredible view of Skaneateles Lake. Make it an even better trip by stopping at Doug’s Fish Fry for take-out to eat on the benches in the park. After your picnic, you can walk down the pier that stretches out into the water. The park also has a public beach that is open during the summer.

Skaneateles Lake (photo by Erika Gruszewski)

Skaneateles Lake (photo by Erika Gruszewski)

 

9. Green Lakes State Park, Fayetteville, Onondaga County

Named for its two glacial lakes, Green Lakes State Park has plenty of pavilions and picnic tables throughout the park, offering sun or shade depending on what you like best. After your picnic, enjoy a leisurely walk around the lakes or enjoy a swim in the blue-green waters.

 

10.  Southwick Beach State Park, Henderson, Jefferson County

It’s the closest thing you can get to being at the ocean within an hour’s drive from Syracuse. The sand dunes and miles of beach are beautiful with good sized waves for jumping or boogie boarding. There are plenty of picnic tables to use and a nice new playground. You can get ice cream at the pavilion after a long day at the beach.

11. Verona Beach State Park, Verona, Oneida County

This park has a large picnic and cookout area with a lot of tall shady trees. You can feel the breeze coming off Oneida Lake, which makes it a very pleasant place to spend a summer afternoon. Plus, there’s the beach!

A Sweet Family Activity: NY Maple Weekends are Here!

It’s just about time for my favorite family activity. As we anticipate our annual tradition of visiting a local maple farm, I can’t help but recall a favorite childhood memory.

I remember adding maple sugar to fresh snow to make a sweet treat (don’t worry, scientists say eating small amounts of snow usually isn’t harmful). Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House in the Big Woods” was a childhood favorite of mine and I copied this trick that Laura’s grandmother taught her. My daughter recently read the story and it will be great to re-enact the experience with her–especially given our upcoming trip to a “sugar house.”

With New York’s Maple Weekends starting soon, upstate New Yorkers can visit a maple farm and start their own family traditions.

Packard Valley Farms

Shevah (r) and her daughter making memories at a local maple farm.

Every spring, New York State Maple Producers Association coordinates events at the “sugar houses” at about 160 farms and museums. This year it will be March 23-24 and 30-31, 2019. Find a place near you!

Most places have hands-on demonstrations of how syrup is made, fresh syrup tastings, and experts on hand to answer questions. Many also have pancake breakfasts complete with—you guessed it— local syrup.

My family loves these maple weekends. This fun family activity signals the beginning of spring, even if there’s still snow on the ground. The highlight for my daughter is sampling fresh syrup, maple butter, and, of course, maple candy.

Making maple syrup

I also love seeing how syrup is made and how natural the process is. While upgrades have been made over time, the basic process has remained the same for centuries. Native Americans in the northeastern United States and Canada were known to make syrup, and today New York is a top syrup producer.

Really, anyone can do it. The process involves very simple, classic steps:

Phase One: Find a sugar, black or red maple tree, drill a hole for a tap, add a bucket under the tap and let gravity work its magic.

Phase Two: Boil! It takes about ten gallons of sap to make 1 quart of syrup. Farms have huge vats for this process. And don’t forget to filter the syrup once boiled to remove sediment.

Phase Three: Pour into a sterile bottle and cap. Keep unopened containers in a cool place for up to two years. Once opened, store in the refrigerator for up to a year.

Phase Four: Enjoy!

You may notice syrup comes in different colors. Some have rich hues of brown or amber or gold. There’s a reason for this! A syrup’s color and flavor correlates to when the syrup was made; sap from later in the season is often darker in color and typically has a stronger flavor.

More than Pancakes

Maple syrup isn’t just for breakfast.

You can bake with it, using syrup in place of the sugar.

If you’re replacing sugar with maple syrup, you’ll want to use about ¾ cup of syrup for every cup of sugar and decrease the amount of liquid in your recipe by about three tablespoons.

Maple syrup can also be added to ice cream, BBQ sauce, fudge and kettle corn. Some of my favorite food magazines, such as Epicurious  and Food and Wine , are full of inspiration.

Visit the Excellus BlueCross BlueShield Pinterest page for other tasty recipes for baking with maple syrup. (Don’t forget to view the recipes at the end of this story!)

“Just remember, maple syrup is basically sugar so enjoy it in moderation,” said Patricia Salzer, registered dietitian, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.

A local tradition

If you’re a Maple Weekend newbie, here are some of my favorite places to consider:

  • Cumming Nature Center in Ontario County. Part of the Rochester Museum and Science Center (RMSC), the tour focuses on the science of syrup making. This is a big place, so leave time to explore the extensive trails after breakfast.
  • Genesee Country Village and Museum in Monroe County. I’m a sucker for period costumes. You can experience syrup making in the 19th century. During maple sugar weekends, the museum is an especially attractive family activity with free admission for kids 18 and under.
  • Packard Valley Farms in Wayne County. This has been a favorite family activity for the past few years. There is a petting zoo and a hay ride up the road to a restaurant serving breakfast all day!
  • Schoff’s Sugar Shack in Ontario County. This family business uses modern techniques for making syrup. Instead of a tap and bucket, they use tubing to carry the sap into a pipeline.

Other farms to consider include:

Enjoying a Family Activity at Packard Valley Farms

Enjoying a fun family activity at Packard Valley Farms.

Try these (syrup-y) recipes

Print Recipe
Smoky Maple Marinade
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Whisk all the ingredients together.
  2. Use the mix to coat your favorite protein. For chicken, pork or beef, marinate one to four hours. For tofu or seafood, marinate for up to one hour.
Print Recipe
Maple Hash
Servings
Ingredients
Servings
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Brown the meat in butter or olive oil. Once browned, remove the meat from the pan.
  2. Stir in the sweet potato and onion, scraping up the meaty bits off the bottom of the pan. A splash of water, apple cider or apple juice on the bottom of the hot pan will help this process and add a nice flavor.
  3. Saute the sweet potato and onion until soft, about 10 minutes. (Speed trick - you can soften your sweet potatoes by throwing them into boiling water on the stove or in a microwave safe dish until fork tender).
  4. Once your sweet potatoes are fork tender, stir in the diced apple. Stir this around until the apples get soft, about four to five minutes.
  5. Once your veggies are fork tender, stir the sausage back in. Add the cinnamon, maple syrup and salt and pepper to taste. Cook together about three to five minutes or until everything looks happily married.
  6. Enjoy! It’s delicious on its own or with a fried or poached egg on top.

Hidden Gems: Sonnenberg Gardens

(Photos courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens)

My aunt and uncle recently visited from out of state, and I was deputized family tour director. We decided to make a day trip to Canandaigua which included the Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park.

Videos and photos give you a sense of the sprawling 50-acre estate. In person, you can see why the Thompson family kept the name Sonnenberg, meaning “sunny hill” in German. I recommend 2 to 3 hours to visit.

The author enjoying Sonnenberg Gardens on her recent visit.

Volunteers are Key

In 2006, the State of New York declared Sonnenberg a state park. However, the state does not fund daily operations. Therefore, the park relies on admission, donations, and 320+ volunteers who pitch in by driving visitors around, answering questions, and even tending rose bushes.

The knowledgeable, friendly folks we met added charm to the visit. The volunteer who drove us around the estate gave us lots of local stories and interesting information.

The Highlights

The Italian Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens

You can wander around on foot and listen to an audio tour available through your cell phone that provides an overview including:

History of the Estate: Sonnenberg was the summer estate of Frederick Thompson, a New York City banker, and Mary Clark Thompson, an area native and daughter of a New York governor. They both came from wealth and privilege, a fact that is certainly on display in their home. Yet they also gave back to the community by funding universities, museums, and scientific research.

Japanese Garden: Mary visited Kyoto, Japan in 1903. This inspired her to hire Japanese craftsmen to build her a garden complete with a Buddha statue and tea house.

The Japanese Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

The Rose Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens

Rose Garden:  In the original garden, only red, pink, and white roses grew. The garden was reconstructed in 1973 to resemble the original. Today, 2,500 rose bushes are in bloom.

The Rose Garden. Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

Deer Park: Mary imported European fallow deer and created a special area for them to graze on the south lawn. We saw one up close while we were there!

Roman Bath: Although in ruin today, in 1914 water was pumped from Canandaigua Lake and was warmed for this heated pool.

Mansion: The 40-room Queen Anne style home has large windows and breezy porches. 19th-century furniture, clothes, and accessories give you a flavor of what the mansion may have looked like. You can wander around by yourself, poking through the rooms.

Photo courtesy of Sonnenberg Gardens.

Statues: There are a number of statues throughout the park, including one of the Roman goddess Diana (she had her own temple on the grounds but the statue was relocated to another garden due to decay) and a statue of Pan in the rock garden.

The Details

  • Location: 151 Charlotte Street, Canandaigua, NY 14424
  • Hours: Open 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m., 7 days a week May 1 through October 31.
  • Extended Summer Hours (Memorial Day-Labor Day): 9:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • Accessibility: Wheelchair accessible with the exception of the 2nd floor of the mansion and some areas in the Rock Garden. A tram service may be available from the parking lot to the mansion and back.
  • Dog-friendly? The park does not allow pets, except service animals.
  • Admission: $14 for adults (discounts available), $2 for children ages 12 and under

For more info: Visit the Sonnenberg Gardens Website or call (585) 394-4922.

Don’t Miss

Check the online calendar for lots of events throughout the year like an orchid show in the spring, moonlight concerts in the summer, haunted walks in the fall, and holiday decorations in the winter.

Hidden Gems: Upstate N.Y. Spray Parks

Baby, it’s hot outside. This summer, we’ve had so many heat waves that kids can barely play outdoors before they get hot and want to retreat to the AC. But how can they release the energy they build up indoors?  Head to a spray park!

As a Corning native, I remember countless heat wave days of packing up our sunscreen and snacks and heading to “The Fountain” in Centennial Park. If you grew up in the Corning/Elmira area, you probably have similar memories. The Fountain was a huge hotspot for kids in my small town.

The Fountain was basically a huge spout in the middle of a park that kids would play in during the summer. I can still remember the feeling of water pounding on my back and the squishy rubber under my feet. The Fountain provided a relatively clean, free, and fun way to cool off during the summer.

“The Fountain” in Corning, NY

Little did I know that Corning was a little ahead of its time.  Spray parks, also known as splash pads, are popping up all over the country. A spray park is basically an area with a non-slip surface, and various nozzles and features that provide refreshing water in exciting ways.

Spray parks are a great place to take your kids. If my brother and I could spend hours under one water fountain, your kids are sure to avoid boredom in the captivating intricacy of modern spray parks. Here are some you can find in Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse, and Binghamton.

Rochester

There are so many spray parks in Rochester; you can almost certainly get to one easily from wherever you live. From Chili to Webster to the city of Rochester, there’s one in almost every pocket of Monroe County.  Most are free, and a couple even have fun themes your kids are sure to love, such as firetruck and pirate themes.

For an interactive map and exact locations of the spray parks check out this link from Rochester Kids Out and About.

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Buffalo

If you’re in the Buffalo region and suffering in this heat wave, you’re in luck. There are accessible spray parks all over the Buffalo region. There are 10 in the city of Buffalo alone, and even more all over Western New York.

For info about all other splash pad locations in WNY, click this link from Fun for Kids Buffalo.

Syracuse, utica and Binghamton

Picking where to go to get your spray on is less complicated in Syracuse, Utica and Binghamton. In Syracuse, a popular destination is Camillus Park. The splash pad is pretty new, and is open until Labor Day. The great thing about this park is that if you do get bored of the spray park, there are so many other things to keep you busy at Camillus Park, like a playground and hiking trails.

If you are a Binghamton local looking for a place for the kids to cool off, look no further than Columbus Park.  The spray pad was installed in 2014 and is sure to be a refreshing place to visit.

There’s also the splash pad at  Donovan Memorial Park in Chadwicks, which is outside of Utica.

So the next time your kids are roasting and you still want time outside, pack up some sunscreen and snacks and head to a spray park!

Hidden Gems: Salem Art Works

If you are in the Albany-Lake George area and have a taste for outdoor sculpture, then Salem Art Works in Salem, N.Y., is well worth the trip off the beaten path.

Salem is a small village located southeast of Lake George on the New York-Vermont border. Founded in 1762, Salem features beautiful 18th and 19th-century architecture. A great place to have dinner is the Salem Tavern, where a Salem Art Works staff member plays records (yes, vinyl) in the bar on Tuesday nights. Running through the area are the Battenkill River and White Creek, which are graced with three classic wooden covered bridges.

Salem Art Works occupies the grounds of a 119-acre farm on the edge of the village. It is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit art center and sculpture park. Large sculptures occupy the grounds and can be enjoyed while strolling the trails of the park. Expect to walk about three miles altogether if you want to cover all of the trails. The park also features some beautiful views of the Green Mountains.

So What’s My Connection?

Just in case anyone who knows me is wondering why this unrepentant suburban redneck has a connection to the arts, let me explain. My high school buddy, Nick Micros, is a recognized sculptor now living in Switzerland. Early this year, Nick told me that he would be moving his collection of six large sculptures from New York City to the Salem Art Works.

Six large sculptures created by Nick Micros.

Having outgrown his studio in New York City, Nick learned that Salem Art Works hosts exhibits of many artists known for their larger works. He welcomed an invitation to show his collection in a rural setting with plenty of space. His pieces had never been shown together in one place at the same time. Nick’s collection will be on display at Salem Art Works for three years.

Sculptor Nick Micros and author Hugh McCabe pose in front of one of the sculptures at Salem Art Works.

I told him to count me in as a helper. Given that Nick needed my help, and I only see him every few years, this was a great opportunity to lend a hand and spend time with one of my closest friends. It took us three whole days to set up Nick’s collection, some of which needed to be cut into sections for transportation to Salem. Because the outer layers of these works are made of plaster and cloth, we were able to put them back together.

Just Like Old Times

Sculptor Nick Micros and author Hugh McCabe.

Working on the project with Nick was just like old times. Nick and I played football, lifted weights and worked summer jobs together through high school on Long Island. As different as we are (technical geek vs. the artist), our connection is still as strong as it was when we were young. With Nick now living in Europe, we treasured the time together. It was especially gratifying to help Nick with a project that would have been a stretch for Nick to complete on his own.

Opposing Figurative and Abstract Imagery

Sculptor Nick Micros with one of his works.

Nick’s sculptures are a mixture of opposing figurative and abstract imagery. They include multiple large and small objects and represent people, events and times in Nick’s life while paying tribute to modern art masters. Knowing Nick and having grown up together, I found the sculptures to be very familiar. When you see them, expect to be struck by their size and overall form. As you move closer, you will be drawn into intricate details that will keep you lingering with each piece for quite some time.

Hugh McCabe admiring a sculpture at Salem Art Works.

Visiting Salem Art Works is well worth your time. With its mission of supporting emerging and established artists, there is a vibe and energy that is palpable. You’ll have an opportunity to view an amazing variety of artwork in a unique and beautiful setting. It will be worth your departure from the beaten path.

Hope you enjoy the visit!

The Details

Address:  19 Cary Lane, Salem, New York 12865

Phone: (518) 854-7674

Admission: Free. Donations are greatly appreciated.

Park Hours:  Dawn to dusk, 365 days a year

Winter Office Hours: Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. (October – May)

Summer Office Hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. (June-October)

Guided Tours: Available daily during office hours (please call ahead). Self-guided tours are also available, but you can simply enjoy wandering through the grounds during daylight hours.