When asked what his role is with the Crescent Trail Hiking Association, Dave Schaeffer said he is a fence mender “and I guess you could call me a trailmaster.”
What he really is, is one of the original driving forces behind the CTHA. Forty years ago, Schaeffer was a member of the Town of Perinton’s Conservation Board when the Town was seriously looking for ways to preserve its open spaces.
Schaeffer, along with residents Allan Donk and Frank Strong among others, started mapping out open spaces. As applications for new development came in, Schaeffer would negotiate with the developers to leave strips of the property open.
As members of the Conservation Board talked with landowners about Easements and Limited Development Districts, they came up with the idea of preserving the land in a way that would inter-connect many of the open spaces. The arc became the “crescent” and the objective was to create a footpath “trail” that would enable public access to, and appreciation of, Perinton’s environmental legacy.
The Crescent Trail was born.
Schaeffer, who also served 9 years on the Planning Board and 15 on the Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, was a member of the Conservation Board for 12 years. By the time he was done, Perinton had 30 of the 35 miles of trails in Town today.
“I’m proud of what we accomplished and I’m proud that I had as much to do with it as I did,’’ said Schaeffer, who also wrote the successful nomination for Perinton to become a TrailTown USA in 1996. “We were able to get a lot of people building houses to revise their plans to include trails.”
Schaeffer isn’t done yet, however. He is already working on the plan for the future as the original crew gets older and a new generation takes over.
“As the membership of Crescent Trail Inc. has turned over, we have become more about the future,’’ he said. “CT will be whatever the new officers want it to be. We need to really reconnect with the landowners and make sure the trails stay what they have been.”
Schaeffer says that 75 percent of the Trail users are people that go out after work to walk the dog or get kids outside. Not many users start at Point A and plan to walk the whole 20 miles of the trail to Point B. So some of the trails may end up being broken into segments within the trails.
And don’t even get him started on bikers.
“We need to keep these trails for hikers,” he said. “We need to get the bikers somewhere to go and keep Crescent Trail safe for hikers and property owners.”
The trails are an escape within the Town. One minute you can be driving on busy Pittsford/Palmyra Road and the next you can be immersed in the Indian Hill trail.
“You can be on a trail and you would swear that you are in the Adirondacks,” said Jim Smith, who was town supervisor from 1983-2013. “The Town has always been a partner with Crescent Trail and tried to help in any way we could. Allan Donk was in my office every day advocating for the trails. The people who got it started were so strong-minded that it would have been more of a surprise if they failed than if they didn’t.
“There are no negatives with the trails.”
Henry Howard, who grew up in Perinton, but now lives in Indiana, loves to hit the trails when he comes to visit his father.
“As a kid, I explored the woods behind my house long before the Town of Perinton morphed them into the amazing Crescent Trail,’’ he said. “Now, every time I return home, I schedule time to visit the Crescent Trail and rediscover that same joy as a trail runner.”
Jenny LePore is a big part of the new wave of the Crescent Trail Hiking Association. She has been a board member for two years and does the publicity for the CTHA, including social media and marketing.
Jenny and her husband Mike often bring their three kids, ages 3, 4, and 14, out to the trails. Sometimes they do tougher hikes by themselves.
“We plan to go out and see the ponds, the beavers, the birds and suddenly we are in the wilderness despite only being a short distance from a neighborhood. It’s a neat experience,’’ she said. “Some trails are family-friendly, others more suited for the avid hikers who don’t mind a little uneven terrain. All I know is they are popular. The parking lots are full, people parking on the streets. With the pandemic, everyone is looking for new ways to enjoy the outdoors and for parents, it’s about keeping their kids active – the trails are it.”
LePore went on to say that this is an important time for the trails as the use is at an all-time high after the COVID-19 shutdown.
“People that have never hiked before are now stepping out there,’’ she said. “After 40 years, there is this renewed interest and an opportunity to educate the community on what the trails are about.
“We have a small group of volunteers working hard to revamp our website, update our map, and spread the word about our monthly guided hikes. It’s an exciting time.”
Wegmans has also renewed the “Crescent Trail Passport” program, now called the “Hit the Trails.” Families can get a free card at Wegmans or the Perinton Community Center. Each time they go on a trail, they can they just need to do the rub on etching on the trail sign. Once they have visited all of them, they can enter the card into a drawing for a $200 Wegmans gift card.
“The trails are a tremendous asset to the community,” said current Town Supervisor Ciaran Hanna. “The trails allow residents and other members of the area to escape from life for as long as they want. The Town is committed to keeping the trails as wonderful as they are now. They are vital to where we live.”
Jim Unckless has been with the CTHA for 19 years. The Kodak retiree has been in charge of trail maintenance – along with the Town – since 2007. On any good weather Wednesday from April to November, you should be able to find Unckless and his crew of Silver Foxes mowing grass, cutting back weeds, clearing trails and even helping Eagle Scouts complete bridge projects on the trails.
“The people I work with on the trails are really dedicated,’’ he said. “I really believe this has prolonged my life. I’m doing something for the community and get great exercise every time I do it. It really is a pleasure.”
Unckless said it takes six weeks to complete a round of mowing on all the trails. So most get mowed three times a season and a few four times.
“We decide on Monday which trail needs the most work and then on Wednesday I just make sure the team has everything it needs to do the job,” said Unckless, who has 30 volunteers in his group and has various numbers help out each week. “Sometimes we are overloaded and we have a lot problems with flooding in the spring. But between us and the Town, we usually improve all the trails every year and make sure they are usable year-round.”
Schaeffer has been interested in nature since he fell in love with bird watching as a child. He grew up in West Redding, Pa. and landed his first job at the local museum working with bird exhibits.
After graduating from high school, Schaeffer enrolled at the University of Rochester to study biology and pre-med right after World War II.
He said he had problems with Organic Chemistry “so I knew I couldn’t be a doctor.” He was already enrolled in the Navy as part of the NROTC programs and committed to at least 3 years of active duty following graduation and commissioning. His time began as the Korean conflict was getting started.
Before he left, he fell in love with a coed from Nazareth College. His relationship with Geraldine last until she died in 2008 after a third bout with cancer.
After active duty, which included service in the Caribbean, Central and South America, the Artic, Japan and Korea, Schaeffer was hired as a civilian “security specialist” for classified contracts in upstate New York, with an office at Kodak’s Navy Ordnance Division in Rochester.
After getting the trails on the map, he helped form Crescent Trail Hiking Associated Inc. in 1980. Since then, he has been trying to keep the CTHA focused on what matters – getting people back to nature.
“People that are hiking need to be responsible for the nature around them,” he said. “The trails were created to give residents an escape right here in Town. We need to hold on to that.”
For more information and maps on the Crescent Trail, go to: crescenttrail.org/