Using development tools to grow from intern to executive

When Melissa Gardner began her career with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield 18 years ago, she didn’t set out to become executive vice president chief population health engagement officer.  In fact, she wasn’t even aiming for a senior leadership position. “It wasn’t my goal to be at the executive level,” explains Melissa. “But I did aspire to solve bigger problems and help more people.  I’m fueled by solving problems and crave learning something new.”

Like pieces of a puzzle that fit perfectly together, Melissa’s eagerness to learn and take on new challenges coupled with the many development opportunities offered through Excellus BCBS, created the career we see today.  Her journey began when she was offered an internship with the provider operations department during her junior year of college.  Melissa’s forward thinking contributed to a process improvement initiative that had a great impact on the organization’s ability to track provider information.  Her success led to an offer to become a permanent employee even prior to graduating college.  She accepted the position and began working with Excellus BCBS in February while finishing her bachelor’s degree in the evenings.  “The company was able to provide me with a flexible schedule that allowed me to finish my degree,” says Melissa. “They were flexible with my work location as well.  I was able to finish school in Ithaca and move to Rochester after I graduated in May.”

Since that time, Melissa went on to earn her Master of Public Health degree from the University of North Carolina utilizing the tuition assistance program offered through Excellus BCBS. She has gained experience in almost every department within the organization, having had more than 10 different positions during her 18-year career. “My core strength is being a connector, understanding others’ strengths, and connecting people, processes, and technology,” explains Melissa. “When an area needed to work cross functionally, I was often asked to lead those teams.”

While hard work, talent, and determination played an important role, those are not the only factors that led to Melissa’s success.  She took an active role in her employee development, taking advantage of the many opportunities offered through Excellus BCBS including community volunteer opportunities, mentorship, internal and external executive coaching, sponsorship, LinkedIn Learning courses, the Excellus BCBS learning corner, emerging leader courses, and tuition assistance.

Mentorship has been one of Melissa’s most impactful development tools. “Our organization is focused on making sure that employees who have leadership potential have access and connection to leaders through the mentor program,” says Melissa.  Mentorships, whether formal or informal, can be extremely valuable. “I never felt alone because of my mentors. I always had someone who believed in me, and if I didn’t know how to do something, they were there to help.”

Community involvement was another pivotal aspect of Melissa’s professional development. “Having spent my career with Excellus BCBS, I needed to look outside the organization to gain new insights,” explains Melissa. “My ability to join various community boards provided me with that experience without having to leave the company.”  She had individuals who advocated on her behalf in the community and suggested her for board roles.  This is where sponsorship is essential.  Many of us think of sponsorship in terms of supporting an organization or event through funding. But as Melissa explains, in the professional setting, a sponsor is someone in your organization who says, “I’m going to take on the assignment of paving the way for you to be successful by mentioning your name and volunteering you for projects that will help you grow.” 

Sponsorship, mentorship, and coaching are important components of a professional development plan for employees within Excellus BCBS.  While a mentor can provide guidance and advice, a coach will act as your accountability partner, helping you work through challenges. “We encourage our leaders to take on these roles, not only to develop future leaders, but also because they learn so much from the experience themselves,” says Melissa. In addition to books and other learning resources, Melissa continues to gain new knowledge through conversations with her mentees.

If you are taking your first steps toward professional development, Melissa has some advice. “Begin by learning. Invest in your job knowledge to help drive the conversation.  Be present and ask for help, or a contact who can share new information, or a special project to gain additional experience.” 

Excellus BCBS strongly encourages employee development, education, and board and community involvement. Melissa’s journey from intern to executive is an example of what is possible when an employee utilizes the many support tools available within the organization. To learn more about employee benefits offered at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield visit careers.excellusbcbs.com.

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition, Jason Helsdon, at (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

Building tomorrow’s future today

What do I want to be when I grow up? What do I want to study? What are my options? All questions middle and high school students ask themselves. As potential future employees, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield is engaging and educating students in grades 7-12 about exploring a career in health care.  

​​​​​​​In March, we sponsored and participated in the virtual Junior Achievement Inspire Career Fair. Filled with interactive exhibits, chat rooms, and video presentations, students in school districts in all Excellus BCBS regions could “chat” with our employees to learn about our company, health care, internship opportunities, and our support of local communities.

​​​​​​​“Our experience was overwhelmingly positive. Students came equipped with thoughtful questions that exemplify a future generation in the workplace that will provide innovative thought and value,” says Patrick McDaniels and Dan Haasis, Talent Acquisition Sourcing Specialists.

Pittsford Central School District Teacher Suzanne Graser says, “bringing the career fair to the classroom is a spectacular idea and gave students valuable tools and career options to explore in a unique and fun setting.” ​​​​​​​

From the impact our employees have volunteering their time with Junior Achievement to the collaboration of our Talent Acquisition, Community Investments and Partnerships, and Corporate Communications and Marketing teams, our efforts to create a path inspiring tomorrow’s leader is a true workforce development partnership. 

“We are proud to serve on the board of directors for the Junior Achievement Program in the Central Upstate New York Greater Syracuse Region and Central Upstate New York Region to support effective teaching and student development programs that prepare young adults for future workforce opportunities and empower them for success,” say Kelli Lasher, Regional Sales Manager and Matt Wagstaff, Strategy, and Corporate Administration Director at Excellus BCBS.

Patrick and Dan are looking forward to future involvement with the program and say, “we are proud to work for a company that values the employee lifecycle from grade school until retirement.”

A great corporate culture / A great place to work

How does a company maintain an engaged and collaborative corporate culture when it no longer has hundreds of employees under the same roof, interacting in the corridors, or chatting over lunch in the cafeteria? That’s a dilemma for every business that’s gone to a flexible work arrangement, but it’s something in which Excellus BlueCross BlueShield has had some success.

“What’s your evidence?” you ask? The health insurer operates across upstate New York, and in one of its regions, it has again been among the top honorees in a competition to recognize the best places to work … a competition based on confidential and voluntary employee surveys conducted by a research firm retained by a weekly business newspaper.

This year, the health plan earned the Silver Award in its size category of 250+ employees, and over the dozen or so years it has participated in this event, it has consistently finished with Gold, Silver, or Bronze.

“Even more gratifying than finishing with a medal each year, is being recognized for maintaining genuine goodwill among our workforce family as we’ve transitioned from an in-person to a home-based model,” says Jim Reed, health plan president and CEO. “If there’s a ‘secret sauce’ to this success, a key ingredient is undoubtedly our program for Volunteer Time Off, or VTO.” 

Each year, full-time employees of Excellus BCBS get eight hours of paid time off to use to volunteer in the community. The hours can be used all at once or spread out over any number of days. Some employees use the time to chaperone their kids’ school outings, while others use their hours with community-based organizations that serve individuals most in need.  

“The benefit to the community is obvious, since every organization could use the occasional extra set of hands,” says Olivia Linke, a regional community affairs director with the health plan, and a point person for finding and coordinating group VTO opportunities for employees. “But on those occasions when we organize a VTO outing to make it easy for our colleagues to use their volunteer hours, the benefit to our corporate culture is beyond anything we can measure.”

Linke describes the teams of employee volunteers as strangers who start their day bound together only by the branded t-shirts they were issued, and who end their volunteer experience as a tight-knit group of friends eager for the next chance to pay it forward in the communities we serve. Often, when the next volunteer opportunity is presented to staff, they use their own personal time because they have exhausted their VTO.

“Our VTO teams represent every department and every level within the company,” says Linke. “It’s not unusual to have new hires who are looking to meet people, painting alongside a corporate vice president at a Habitat for Humanity build site.”

By creating personal connections that span job titles and even regions, the bonds of friendship are strong, and the contributions to corporate culture are lasting. Linke shares the story of a regional sales director who met one of the IT Department’s experts in Microsoft Teams at an event. They struck up a friendship, and then a collaboration, creating a Teams channel and training program for the sales department.

The reality is that you can build a strong corporate culture in this new flexible work environment: Excellus BCBS has a wall full of gold, silver, and bronze medals to prove it! 

How personal development led to professional gains

Is a college degree in your future?  For Juan Munoz, what started as an idea quickly became a reality as the father of three found himself enrolling in college while working full time. Juan began his career with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield in 2008 as a help desk analyst.  When he was later promoted to help desk team lead, the wheels started turning. 

Juan was eager to further his career in management and thought a college degree might be important to his advancement.  He turned to the vice president of his department for some advice and the answer to a simple question, “Do you think I need a degree to further my career?”  Familiar with Juan’s skills and abilities, his VP told Juan that, to him, the degree was not necessary; but if Juan wanted to advance throughout the organization, it would definitely be to his advantage to further his education.  Juan quickly heeded his advice and enrolled that week.

His decision was made easier knowing that Excellus BCBS offered tuition assistance.  “Enrolling in the tuition reimbursement program was really easy,” explains Juan. “The company’s internal website had simple instructions to follow.”  He worked with the school to provide information on the classes he was enrolled in and the corresponding costs.  His leaders reviewed this information and signed off indicating their approval.  Once the semester was complete, he would submit his grades.  “The company reimbursed the full cost of my entire undergraduate education,” explains Juan.

But Juan didn’t stop there.  After receiving his bachelor’s degree in business management from SUNY Brockport, he enrolled in the Executive MBA program at the University of Rochester’s Simon Business School.  As you can imagine, attending school, working full-time and raising a family of three young children was not easy.  In addition to the support of his wife, Juan received support from his work family as well. “They provided me with the flexibility I needed,” remembers Juan. “This was vital, especially while earning my bachelor’s degree. I often had classes that started at 4pm so I would need to leave work early or come in late depending on my schedule.”  The Executive MBA program took place on the weekends but required one Friday each month devoted to class time. “I was fortunate to have lots of flexibility and understanding from Excellus BCBS. In fact, my letters of recommendation for the MBA program came from within the organization.”

Another employee development benefit he took advantage of was the company mentorship program. This allowed him to build on his leadership skills and seek advice when needed. “The relationship I developed through my mentorship still continues today,” says Juan.

Throughout this process, he not only gained valuable knowledge, but he also experienced career advancement, moving to manager of IT Service Management and then to his current role director of IT Computing Operations Management.  “My education provided me with a great deal of background knowledge of business management. At the end of the day, you need to understand how to lead people and how organizations need to operate,” explains Juan.  Taking the initiative to continue your professional development can set you apart when opportunities for advancement are available. “I think it goes a long way and shows that you are willing to put in the work,” notes Juan.

With three years spent earning his undergraduate degree and an additional two earning his MBA, Juan looks back on the experience with a great sense of accomplishment and would recommend it to others.  “As long as you are willing to dedicate your time to the program and make it a priority in your life, it is a great experience.”  He does caution that managing your time can be a challenge. “Your free time is going to be limited so it is important to plan each part of your day.”

Juan’s story is just one among many who have taken advantage of the tuition assistance program to further their own personal development.  Excellus BCBS greatly values the pursuit of education, understanding that it strengthens the team and fosters innovation. At the start of 2022, a new option was added to the tuition assistance program that allows employees to receive their assistance prior to the start of their class. 

To learn more about tuition reimbursement and other benefits offered at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield visit careers.excellusbcbs.com.

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in others’ lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com.

Onboarding Experience Photo

My Positive Onboarding Experience

It’s normal to have first-day jitters when you start a new job. But what happens when your first day is remote and your onboarding is done virtually? It can be unsettling to start with a new company that has transitioned to a hybrid, mostly remote environment.

This month’s My LifeTime Story comes from new employee, Terry Donato, value- based payment account manager in the Southern Tier region. Terry shares how joining the company six months ago during the pandemic and onboarding remotely was indeed different and a bit challenging, but with the help and guidance from the Human Capital Management (HCM) staff, her leadership, and coworkers, coupled with robust onboarding planning, her transition was a rewarding and smooth experience.

Successful Onboarding Experience

“I have found that one of the hardest things about starting a new job is that each company has a culture of its own and that is sometimes hard to discern or figure out. When I joined Excellus BCBS, it was evident from day one that people in this company cared about each other. It was refreshing during my onboarding trainings and discussions that the importance of our company culture was emphasized and tied back to the 7-block strategy and company mission and goals. It was apparent early on that the staff and leadership “walked the talk” and that helped foster my sense of inclusion from the get-go,” said Terry.

Southern Tier Activities Club (STAC)

Terry also credits the regional Southern Tier Activities Club (STAC) with getting her acclimated and involved with staff activities and community volunteer events.

STAC is comprised of Southern Tier staff members that meet monthly to help plan events or activities to keep staff engaged, boost employee morale and welcome new staff members to the region.

“I joined the STAC group right away and it was a great way for me to connect with local employees in my region while helping to plan and attend some fun events. The first event that I attended in person was a group outing at the Iron Kettle Pumpkin Farm in October. I was able to meet most of the Southern Tier staff members and enjoy some fall fun events that even included a hayride!” said Terry.

Getting involved with local company sponsored events also helped Terry get acclimated with the company.

“I volunteered at the Greater Binghamton Bridge Run event in September at the Mirabito Baseball Stadium in Binghamton. I was aware of the event but had never

volunteered at it before. I helped work at a booth and gave out logo items to those attending that day. It was a fun opportunity for me to build camaraderie with colleagues and allowed me to help represent Excellus BCBS in the community,” Terry added.

My LifeTime Story is a feature each month that highlights employees’ personal accounts of how their lives have been enriched by our culture and our values.

Caring for Our Customers

Our Customer Care Advocates are often the first point of contact for our members and consistently demonstrate our corporate value of “Passionately Serving Our Customers.” They have the power to make an impact and change people’s lives, and they do. In return, the work they do and members they help make a lasting impression on them.

Maryanne Todd and Peggy Crist, both Customer Care Advocates, share how members touched their lives. Both say their work makes them proud to work for a company that cares about its people, members and community.

Maryanne Todd, Customer Care Advocate

“I have always been in the servicing area and really came to love assisting people over the phones. I love speaking to people, hearing their issues and being a problem solver. I really enjoy interacting with our members. I recently had a call from a member. He had several questions about his account and really needed me to explain in detail each of his questions.

The call lasted a better part of 35 minutes. Just before he hung-up he stated that he really appreciated the professionalism and the time I took to go over his questions in such detail that he was able to understand it. He stated I made his entire weekend and really thanked me for being such a nice professional customer service rep.

I’m not sharing this for “kudos” but to show my passion for my job and our members. Health Insurance is very important and very confusing when you don’t work in the field day after day. I feel like I made a real difference for a member and educated him. This is what I enjoy about my job!!!

Peggy Crist, Customer Care Advocate

“I received a call from a member who had recently been diagnosed with a chronic condition.  She needed to see how much her treatments and medicines were going to cost.  She was scared. I was the first person she told about her diagnosis.  We talked about her life and her family. We cried together. Then I looked into her medications. With much relief to both of us they were all covered with minimal costs.  She thanked me for “being her angel” that day. I still think about her.”

“Passionately serving our members is part of our customer care organization’s D.N.A.,” said Alex Levi, vice president Customer Care for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.  “We aim to provide an experience for our members that is low effort, worry free and full of compassion. Our members have a significant impact on our advocates as they help navigate the health care system, often in very challenging circumstances.”

Job Opportunities

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and make a difference in other’s lives?

We have the right fit for you. Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more. Check us out at ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com

Healthy Snacking Tips from a Football Party Veteran

Watching the big game can be grueling when you’ve got a super-sized buffet to celebrate.

But you can approach kickoff with a solid game plan to help you avoid getting sacked by too many fatty barbecue wings or ill-advised slices of calorie-laden pie:

  1. Before you start the bash, have a small, healthy snack such as an apple, yogurt or a handful of nuts. If you’re hungry when you start the game day snacks, your willpower will go ‘wide right.’
  2. Set up a salad bar for a super-sized bowl of produce and more. The possibilities are endless and include mixed greens, cucumbers, tomatoes, celery, carrots, red onions, broccoli, mini peppers, radishes, chick peas, cooked marinated chicken, roasted vegetables, sunflower seeds, dried cranberries, orange slices and feta cheese. Make a salad dressing with olive oil and your favorite vinegar. Experiment with spices such as oregano, crushed red pepper, turmeric and curry powder.
  3. For something different make a cauliflower “steak” or “wings”. Roast chickpeas or kale for a crunchy, fun food.
  4. Baked tortilla chips make just as good a base for nachos as their greasy fried counterparts. Stack them high with shredded lettuce, beans, fresh avocado, diced tomatoes, jalapenos and cilantro. If you’re adding ground beef, use the kind labeled “90 percent lean,” and be sure to drain away the fat.
  5. Looking for a healthy, but sweet snack? Try cookie dough hummus. I promise – it’s tasty! The sweetness of the peanut butter, maple syrup, and chocolate chips hides the fact that this is a bean dip! Click on the video below for the recipe.
  6. Another tip is to first take a 30-second food time out to assess all the choices on the game day spread before deciding on what you really want to nibble on. Then, move away from the table or walk around. If you stay next to the food, you’re more likely to overeat.

By being aware of what you are eating and focusing on portion size, you’ll be able to make it to the presentation of the trophy feeling like a winner.

Picture of Chad Tooke

Success at Excellus BCBS: A veteran’s story

“I started at Excellus BlueCross BlueShield on Sept 23, 2002,” recalls Provider Network and Strategy Manager Chad Tooke. Shortly after being hired, he received news of his deployment. “On my first day, I let them know that I was deploying to Afghanistan on Sept 26, 2002, and it did not feel proper to accept the position I was hired for.” Much to his surprise, Chad was told to fill out the orientation paperwork and that his job would be waiting for him when he returned. He was given the rest of the week off to prepare for his deployment and returned, after nearly a year, to resume his role at Excellus BCBS. “I think that is a great testament to our organization and how they support their employees who serve,” says Chad.

Chad joined the U.S. Army in 1992, earning his badge from Air Assault School at Fort Polk, Louisiana. In Afghanistan, he led a civil affairs team that coordinated and conducted the building of wells, schools, and medical facilities to assist the local populace, as well as provided food and clothing. In November 2007, he was mobilized to Fort Dix, New Jersey, for a one-year tour that turned into nearly five years, training soldiers going overseas to the Middle East and Africa. He retired from the Army in June 2015, but carries with him the unique experience and skill set that can only be gained through military service.

“At Excellus BCBS, I found that my military experience and leadership skills were greatly valued,” explains Chad. “It even led to a promotion.” The organization recognizes the special skill set of military members and continues to explore ways they can be utilized within Excellus BCBS.

Supporting a diverse workforce, including veterans and active-duty military, is a top priority for the organization. One way this is accomplished is through employee resource groups (ERGs). ERGs are groups of employees who join together based on shared characteristics, life experiences or interests. They are an extension of Human Capital Management and the Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and align themselves in support of the company’s strategy while enhancing career opportunities and professional development goals for employees. With 10 different ERGs throughout the organization, employees of various backgrounds and interests can find many ways to connect.

The Veterans Network ERG focuses on promoting awareness and support for the veterans within the organization, providing a resource for success and advocating on behalf of veterans and veteran-related issues internally and throughout our communities. Members of this group include veterans, active-duty military, and family of those who’ve served.

Each region of the organization has a Veterans Network chair. Chad is proud to be the leader for the Utica region. Since its inception in 2012, the group has sponsored numerous veteran-based events including parades, award ceremonies, and donations to veteran outreach centers. They are proud to not only provide financial support but take an active role in participating in events such as serving Thanksgiving dinner to veterans in need. “Veterans are all about service,” explains Chad. “It is important to provide an outlet to allow them to continue to serve, not only the community, but fellow veterans.”

The Veterans Network also helps provide support for those within in the organization who have the shared experience of military service. Engaging in activities and events together provides a sense of community and promotes wellbeing.
“Knowing that our company supports the Veterans Network and many other ERGs is great,” says Chad. “It shows that our differences are appreciated while we work together toward common goals. The company is invested in us as individuals.’

Job opportunities for veterans

Are you looking to take the next step in your career and build on the unique skills and abilities you’ve acquired during your service?  We have the right fit for you.  Positions are available in many departments including Customer Care, Operational Excellence, Marketing and Sales, Information Technology, and more.  Check us out at ExcellusBCBS.com/Careers.  Get to know our people and our values, and grow your relationship with us.  For more information, reach out to Director of Talent Acquisition Jason Helsdon at (585) 453-6215 or Jason.Helsdon@excellus.com

Woman sitting at laptop

Volunteering Virtually and a Fulfilling New Hobby

Grateful to work for a company that gives employees one paid volunteer day per year, I was straining to find a virtual opportunity that was meaningful to me before the year ended and the generosity was lost.

I had almost given up hope when I stumbled on a topic that I value – history! The Smithsonian Transcription Center depends on volunteers to make their collections more accessible. Transcription turns handwritten, typed, and audio recorded materials into searchable and readable resources.

If you like history, treasure hunting, or learning something new, working with The Smithsonian Transcription Center may be a fun virtual volunteer opportunity for you too!

Smithsonian Transcription Center website

The Day Begins

Most of the historical documents are written in cursive and are faded, which makes reading them difficult. Transcribing them makes them discoverable online and readable for anyone, including individuals who depend on technology for text-to-speech conversion.

So, on Friday, December 11, I created an account with the Smithsonian to begin my volunteer work. I spent the first hour reading all the training materials and transcription requirements. There is no expectation to completely transcribe an entire document alone; volunteers can transcribe a new document or continue the work another volunteer has started. Once the document is finished, it’s submitted for review before it’s published.

A Chance To Leave My Mark on History

I got to work reading about the various projects I could select from, and then chose to begin with the Freedmen’s Bureau. As the Civil War was ending, President Abraham Lincoln and members of Congress wanted to help formerly enslaved individuals make the transition to freedom and citizenship. As a result, in March of 1865, The Freedmen Bureau was formed. Transcribing these records is important to me because it makes them accessible for anyone researching their family history and expands our knowledge of the experience of Black Americans during the post-Civil War era.

The Report of Schools for Freedmen document

The time passed quickly, and it was nighttime before I knew it. I checked my activity history to see how much I’d done. In seven hours, I had supported three projects by transcribing ten pages.

Transcribing rows and columns of the was the most tedious task, but deciphering the 19th century handwritten letters took a lot of patience and problem solving. Even though President Andrew Johnson had the nicest penmanship of all the documents I worked with, I couldn’t quite distinguish between his capital “I” and “J.” Thankfully it’s a collaborative process and another volunteer helped to decode the text.

Deciphering a document from President Andrew Johnson

Discovery of a Local Hidden Treasure

One of the most exciting discoveries recently completed by The Smithsonian Transcription Center was an antislavery newspaper, The North Star, published in Rochester, N.Y. by Frederick Douglass. Included in the 1848 issue is a letter from Douglass to his former enslaver titled, “To My Old Master,” in which he explains his intentions as a runaway, recounts his life in freedom, and signs off “I am your fellow man but not your slave.”

The Frederick Douglass discovery!

Success For the Project … and My Soul

While the main goal of this volunteer opportunity is to transcribe a document, half the fun comes from learning and the excitement of overcoming small challenges as I develop my skills. Aside from being the first person to read forgotten documents and getting that feeling of finding hidden treasure, making my discoveries accessible to others is even more rewarding.

My new virtual volunteer experience has become a hobby and I hope one day I too will contribute to a famous discovery.

To see more discoveries by The Smithsonian Transcription Center, follow them on Twitter @TranscribeSI.

boy playing in snow

Hidden Gems: Winter in the Mohawk Valley

Those of us who choose to live in upstate New York do so for a variety of reasons. For many of us, one of the biggest is because we love the region’s four very distinct seasons, each with its own unique opportunities for outdoor fun and adventure.

Picture of a woman snowshowing

Eve snowshoeing at Moss Lake

Winter Traditions in the Mohawk Valley

Usually, at this time of year, there would be annual winter-themed festivals that would pull people out of the warm confines of their homes and into the crisp winter air, such as the Ice Harvest Festival in East Meredith and the Cooperstown Winter Carnival, both traditionally held in February.

Even though we can’t do most, if not all, of those types of things right now, we still have plenty of options in the Mohawk Valley when it comes to getting outside and being active during the winter.

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Potato Hill Farm in Boonville: My favorite place for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing is Potato Hill Farm. It’s part of the Black River Environmental Improvement Association (BREIA); it’s amazing, beautiful land, and there’s a bonus: there are bathrooms on the trail!
  • FT Proctor Park in Utica: In the winter season, there are few better places to partake in one of my favorite activities, snowshoeing. The park has some hills and a creek – and provides a very tranquil setting for getting out and exercising.
  • South Woods Switchbacks at Roscoe Conkling Park in Utica: Another favorite is Roscoe Conkling Park and its South Woods switchbacks. The wooded hills provide a good work out whether you’re hiking, shoeing or skiing; and I’ve seen many deer and a few wild turkeys while out on the trail!
  • Sherrrillbrook Park in New Hartford: Sherrillbrook Park is great for both cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, with its varied landscape through open fields and woods. Dog owners should also take note of the park’s dog run.
  • Moss Lake Trail in Eagle Bay: The Adirondack Park has a lot of places to go, obviously, but one gem that’s on my favorites list is Moss Lake and the Moss Lake Trail. It’s a relatively short jaunt around the lake, but its location deep in the Adirondack Park makes it a particularly beautiful spot – you’re bound to see plenty of wildlife, and the wooden bridges on the trail afford a pleasant view of the surrounding woods and water.

These, of course, are only a handful of the vast number of great locations to get out and explore, exercise or just relax and do a little sightseeing. If you’re looking for more ideas and other places to go, check out the NYS Parks website here: https://parks.ny.gov/ and the Discover Upstate New York website here: https://www.discoverupstateny.com/. Now get out there!