Most people would think it is crazy to send a 79-year-old and an 82-year-old up a hill with a chainsaw to cut up a fallen tree.
Not Jim Unckless, who is Trail Boss and Vice President of the Crescent Trails Hiking Association. He leads the Silver Foxes, who work year-around to keep the Crescent Trail clear and clean for Perinton residents.
There is no task too tough for the Foxes. Every Wednesday morning from April until late in the Fall, the group of about 20 retired volunteers work on mowing about 20 miles of the 35-plus trails in Perinton.
Each trail gets mowed 3 or 4 times a season, with 4 mowers working at a time. It takes about 6 weeks to make one pass and then they start all over again.
In the Winter, the Foxes patrol the trails and make sure the bridges are safe and no trees have fallen or are about to fall.
“It is a labor of love for these guys,” Unckless said. “My job is to just make sure we know what we need to do and we can do it safely.”
CTHA President Dave Wideman believes Unckless is underplaying what he does quite a bit.
“I joined them one day and all I could think was ‘are you kidding me?’ ” Wideman said. “They do incredible work. It is amazing what they do and they aren’t kidding around. It is a tight-knit group that loves being together and that all goes back to Jim. He creates that environment.
“He is so organized and so conscientious … he is the key to whole trail system. He is the man!”
Unckless moved to Rochester in 1967 to work for Kodak. He lived in Greece until 1971 when he moved to Fairport. He started as an engineer and then worked for the Instant Film program.
When Instant Film died, Kodak sent him to Brazil in 1983 and he ended up working on a world-wide software project.
He retired in 2001 and became a member of the CTHA in 2002. Howie Newton was the trail boss at the time and put Jim to work keeping the trails clear. He took leadership of the Foxes about 6 years later and immediately purchased safer mowers.
Unckless has been the CTHA representative on the Town Recreation and Parks Advisory Board for 8 years and has been a member of Historical Board for 30 years. He also spent 28 years – 10 as chairman – on the Village’s Office of Community & Economic Development and 7 years on the Village Audit Committee.
“Jim and his experience are vital to the trails and many other things we do in the department,” said Rec & Parks Commissioner Jeff Nutting. “It is invaluable to be able to go to someone like him and ask him what he thinks of a plan or to pick his brain for ideas.”
Last Winter, the Foxes – working with the Town Parks Department – cleared 75 fallen or dangerous trees from the trails. Often the trees will fall on bridges and destroy them.
Unckless also works with Eagle Scouts, who need to complete projects and often choose to build or fix bridges.
One Christmas Eve, the Foxes discovered a tree had fallen on a bridge and was blocking the stream. Rather than let it sit for the holidays, Unckless contacted the Town and the Foxes worked with the Parks Department to get it cleaned up.
They rebuilt the bridge in January.
“One thing that is really amazing is how much these guys love doing this,” he said. “We work very hard to keep the trails the way they are. I wouldn’t want to change anything to make any trail my trail. It is not my trail, it is the community’s trail.”
Although the CTHA is always looking for young blood to keep the trails thriving, he has no thoughts of turning over the reins anytime soon.
“I never put any time limits on what I do,” he said. “I like to keep busy and I like to work on things that are important to people.”
Trail Town USA is lucky to have them.
“They are a tremendous treasure to the community,” said Town Supervisor Ciaran Hanna. “Guys like Jim have kept the trails a jewel for decades now. I am in awe of what they do and how long they have done it.”