In Memory of Steve Hesse, Long Time Co-leader of the Ithaca Hikers

Those of you who are on the email list know by now that Steve Hesse, the former co-leader of Ithaca Hikers for sixteen years, passed away on Monday after an illness.

I spoke to Susan on Tuesday. She reports that there will be no services. Steve is being cremated and Susan will be interring the ashes with a tree she is planting. Given Steves years of enjoying the groups hikes on our many miles of area trails, something tells me that he would enjoy that very much.

Susan requests that any donations in Steves memory be made to either the Cayuga Trails Club or Hospicecare.

I came into the group just a few short years ago, well into Steve and Susans tenure as group leaders. Many of the “ Steve-isms”…the frequent  “YO!” he would bellow out to the group, the cantankerous complaining to hikers as he would herd us all together for a photo, or stop us in position so he could get his “ actions shots”…were well established by the time I started sharing a footpath with the Ithaca Hikers. I have many fond memories of hiking with Steve on some trail, somewhere in the conga line of hikers that was stretched out behind Susan who was invariably at the head of the pack. Our conversations covered a wide range of topics, rarely in any predictable orderly fashion. Conversations on hikes could be like that.

Steve and Susan took a casual group of friends who would meet for an occasional and informal exploration of local trails  ( see illustrated history of the Ithaca Hikers – ithacahikers ) and slowly expanded the nascent groups activities to regular once weekly hikes, then to twice a week and finally three regular, well-planned and dependable hikes a week by the time they stepped away from their leadership responsibilities. Under the Hesse’s leadership the group not only hiked; its members frequently opened their doors to the rest of the group for social events, or came together for social gatherings in public venues. Steve and Susan were instrumental in setting up the Ithaca Hikers website that we still use today. Before they stepped down the Hesse’s continued to steer the group through the early dark days of Covid, when hiking with a few friends in the outdoors became the sole social outlet available to many of us. When they passed the hike planning duties over to me Steve and Susan made sure to accompany me on many of the early hikes I led to ensure that I was comfortable with the route we would be taking. It would have been equally as easy for them to simply hand over the group to me and run for the door, but they didn’t do that.

I am sure that there are many area hikers with their own personal memories of Steve in his tenure as group co-leader. If you would like to send me stories of your recollections of Steve, we will include them in a post on the website

I wont be posting Susans address, phone number or email publicly on the website. If any past or present members of the hiking community need that information, please reach out to me privately.

Jim R

Report to Hikers May 22 – May 28

Wednesday May 24

Kennedy State Forest, Cortland County

Hike report and photos by Jim

Nine hikers met on the seasonal portion of Owego Hill Road for a loop hike combining portions of the Finger Lakes Trail and the Spanish Loop. This was the first time the group has hiked at this particular location. It was a cool, sunny day, the sunlight filtering through the leaves around the trailhead. Flying gnats were present but in greatly diminished numbers from recent hikes.

We picked up the Spanish Loop from where it completes a road section of about half a mile on Adams and Owego Hill roads. From the parking area, we descended into the forest on a footpath thick with old pine needles. The trail makes a series of gentle turns as it approaches Enrique Creek. After a quick stream crossing (almost unnoticed due to the low water levels), we hiked the opposite side of the stream in a northeasterly direction. We paused briefly at Mercedes Spring for a group picture before pressing onward.

The trail begins a gentle climb to the east, passing over the seasonal Liddington Hill Road and across a power line right-of-way. Here, the trail swings back to the north, and the remainder of the Spanish Loop is an easy route that weaves between trees, across old logging roads, and past stone piles and walls before arriving at the Finger Lakes Trail.

Here, we paused briefly for  a trail journal entry and a map and clock check. I found that we had completed the route to that point much faster than on my Friday prehike. In order to burn some time, we  turned east on the FLT, descending through a series of switchbacks until we arrived at an open field.

After turning around here, we retraced our steps to the Spanish Loop junction and continued north on the FLT until we arrived at Owego Hill Road. We roadwalked back to our cars, arriving only a minute late.

Counting both the Spanish Loop and FLT miles, we hiked about five miles today, for anyone who’s trying to get their FLT50 patch this year.

Saturday May 27

Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, Newfield

Hike report and photo by Dave B.

This hike saw 23 hikers meet at the Connecticut Hill Cemetery, a beautiful morning for a hike… and some unexpected, um, excitement? 

It all started innocently enough as I reviewed with the group the note that accompanied the hike’s announcement: “Note: These trails are not marked, are hard to see in some places, and occasionally intersect other trails. With the objective that we end the hike with the same number of people who started out, it will be important that the group stay together!

Spoiler alert: We did accomplish the objective of ending the hike with the same number of people who started out… eventually. 

With that goal in mind at the outset, we had a volunteer sweep who knew the trails, hoping that would ensure that no one went astray. An open area about halfway around the loop would have served as a great spot for the traditional group photo, but the fact that you are not seeing that picture at the top of this report is a clue: By that halfway point we no longer had the whole group together. As it turned out, at one point a hiker in the middle of the line, out of sight of both leader and sweep, answered nature’s call. (I’d say, “Beck and call,” but I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone…) 

Lesson #1: Don’t leave the group without alerting someone!

A short while later, as the group paused while people negotiated a downed-tree obstacle course (OK, we did get one picture!), someone noticed that a hiker was missing. Another hiker said that she had seen him step aside (correctly identifying the purpose) perhaps 15 minutes earlier.

Lesson #2: If you see someone leave the group, be sure to check that the person returns soon.

There being no cell service in this remote area, two people (including Dave G, who knows the region better than anyone) went back on the trail we’d been hiking, shouting for the missing hiker. 

Lesson #3: Especially don’t leave the group where there’s no cell service!

Now down three people, we continued the planned loop into a valley at the western edge of the WMA, waiting occasionally in hopes that the others would catch up. Nope.

Finally, we started the mile-long climb back to the cars. At a planned break point halfway up the hill, where we’d intended a brief side trip to the remnants of an old homestead, some hikers were concerned that the delays meant they’d not be back to their cars within two hours. Our intrepid sweep assured us that he knew the way out from there and proceeded on with about half the remaining group. 

Those who stuck with the original plan found the homestead interesting: stone walls outlining the basement of a barn with a ramp for getting hay onto the upper floor; the basement of the main house with more stone footers for adjoining smaller rooms; what had perhaps been a cistern or root cellar; and a deep, stone-walled well still holding water.

And then we finished the climb back to the cars. All of the cars. Not only was our hope unrealized that the missing hiker would be there or his car gone, but the we-wanna-leave-early folks’ cars were still there. Yikes! I had joked at the start of the hike that a 10% attrition rate was within the allowable guidelines for hike leaders, but now we were down to less than half of the initial group. Missing were the one original miscreant, the two searching for him, and about 10 people who followed a previously confident sweep who-knows-where. 

As we were standing around plotting what to do, ’twas with much relief that someone spotted the missing hiker calmly walking up the road toward the trailhead. Whew! He explained that, once finished with his, um, task, he thought he’d be able to catch up with everyone and started walking in the direction of the faint sound of voices. Good plan! Then the voices faded out. So he got out his cell phone that had been tracking the hike route, turning around to use it to follow the trail back the way we came. Another good plan! Until the phone died… 

Lesson #4: Be sure you have a fully charged phone!

Remember the prehike note saying that the trails on Connecticut Hill are not well marked and are hard to see in places? Yeah. Soon he found himself in unfamiliar woods with nothing that looked like a trail leading in any direction. He had the presence of mind (fortunately) to keep going in a relatively straight line by walking toward the sun, eventually coming out on a road that (fortunately) was the one the cars were on, where he (fortunately) turned in the right direction. 

As the telling of his tale wrapped up, someone else spotted the missing sweep-led group emerging from the woods down the road in the other direction, victims of one simple wrong turn. Ironically, it was the folks who wanted to finish the hike as soon as possible who were the last to get back to their cars. Well, except for the twosome search party, about whom I had no concerns. Finally able to make cellphone contact, I had assured them that everyone else was accounted for. They were a while longer returning than expected, though, because even they made a wrong turn!

I’m sure we’ll be hiking again in the WMA, hopefully with important lessons now learned. There’s a fundamental rule for hiking in areas that lack cell service and/or have trails that are not clearly marked: Stay together as a group and pay attention to the welfare of fellow hikers. See y’all on the trails!

Sunday May 28

Compton Road to Upper Buttermilk area and back

Hike report by Hank

12 Hikers and one dog met at 112 Compton Rd for a 2 1/2 hour, 3.7 mile hike.
It was a beautiful sunny day with temps in the mid 70s.
After some socialization, we proceeded to walk down Compton Rd, crossed 96B, down Comfort Road and picked up the Upper Buttermilk Trail, circumnavigating Treman Lake in  a counter clockwise direction. There were a few Hikers I had never encountered on the hikes before. And a few that had never taken this hike and seemed very grateful to be experiencing it, remarking on the beautiful topography of the area as well as the abundant bird habituation.
At about the half way point, we made a deliciously spontaneous change to the predetermined route, turned right instead of left, and hiked up to FireLight’s Glamping area on the advice of long-term hiking group member Mary. Along the way, we encountered a very large old growth gorges shagbark hickory and I put in a plug for its preservation. Upon arriving at Firelight’s,  Mary put in a plug for how generous Firelight is that lets a small group of Ithaca Hiking Group members come in and play bocce ball and listen to musical grooves on Tuesdays during the warmer months.
Some of us were even able to relieve ourselves of the morning coffee and whatever beverages may have been consumed at Firelights restrooms.
We backtracked to Upper Buttermilk park, and Treman Lake to the remainder of our hike looping around Treman, to Yaple road, and then Comfort, when lo and behold, we stopped at the high bridge over Upper Buttermilk Gorge only to look down and see the groups Paparazzi Cian- noticeable by a  billowy yellow shirt, and the trademark floppyhat, down below-well, that and the camera affixed to the long stick. Next appeared Ithaca Hiker  appeared Ithaca Hiker, Jamie, then Barb, and Barb in tow by Thor the husky Husky. After saying our hellos to the late arrivals, we hiked Comfort with minimal discomfort ( at least on my end ) back up to the house.
It was really great to meet some new people on this hike. To paraphrase one of the great ones, Forest Gump-The Ithaca Hilking Group is like a box of chocolates- you never know what you’re going to get!

Report to Hikers May 15 – May 21

Wednesday May 17

Fischer Old Growth Natural Area, Newfield

Hike report by Jack V.

Twelve hikers plus one dog hiked the Fischer Old Growth Natural Area. It was a cool but pleasant day. The trails have changed since we last hiked there, and they were in great condition!

We hiked the red loop trail twice, once in each direction, and all of the other trails once. There was much elevation gained and lost in the almost four-mile hike.

A warm welcome to new hiker Shufang!

Photos by Jack V.

Photos by Leigh Ann

View Leigh Ann’s photo album.

Saturday May 20

Dryden Rail Trail

Hike report and photo by Jim

Twenty-five hikers and a single dog met on the solar farm service road off Stephenson Road for a hike of the Dryden Rail Trail and nearby Rabbit Run trail.

The first part of the rail trail has had some recent work done to it, likely in preparation for today’s ceremony officially marking the connecting of the East Hill Rec Way and the Dryden Rail Trail. The section we hiked today has recently had gravel dust laid down and compacted between the trailhead and Mount Pleasant Road. There’s also been some tree cutting and other trail maintenance performed. Despite the scheduled trail opening ceremony, we ran into relatively few others in the area.

The group passed over the FX Fox bridge, the crusher run rocks there crunching under our feet. We reached some residential development along the rail trail and detoured into the woods, where we joined the orange-blazed Rabbit Run trails. We hiked through the woods to the Rabbit Run Road parking area, finding little in the way of mud or blowdowns along the way. The line of hikers had become fairly spread out, so a quick stop for photos on this stretch was a good chance for us to regroup.

Once past Rabbit Run Road, we rejoined the trail system and hiked along the creekside. We had done this hike relatively recently, but today the undergrowth was fully leafed out, creating more of a sense of hiking through a green tunnel than we’d had before. It wasn’t until the very end of this trail system that we encountered any mud, in a short section of trail well known for its muddy conditions.

After we returned to the rail trail, we hiked it directly back to the parking area. The hike ended about five minutes later than expected. Per Casey’s hike tracker, today’s hike was 4.99 miles, for those who are tracking their mileage.

Sunday May 21

Hurd Hill Road into Shindagin Hollow State Forest

Hike report and photo by Jim

If there has been any doubt about what season we are in, it is clearly flying gnat season. Fifteen hikers met on Hurd Hill Road for a loop hike utilizing several public roads and  a portion of the FLT. Joining us at the trailhead were swarms of flying gnats who were eager to accompany us on the hike. For the near future, headnets will be a handy fashion accessory on hikes.

The day was sunny but cool, with occasional breezes that cleared the air of our winged companions for short periods of time.

The steady downhill trek along Hurd Hill Road passed quickly. We encountered a few day hikers at various points along our route, including on Hurd Hill Road.

Hurd Hill Road runs into Pleasant Valley Road, which turns into the lower end of Shindagin Hollow Road as it proceeds north into Tompkins County. Other than some turkey hunters leaving the area, we were by ourselves as we hiked into Shindagin Hollow.

At the FLT footbridge, the entire group opted to do the loop hike route back to South Road via the FLT rather than the quicker out-and-back option. Casey set a good pace along the FLT, and I didn’t see the beginning of the hiker conga line again until the end of the hike. The trail was relatively dry, with no mud in any of the normal places along this section .

Casey reported a total hike mileage of around 5 miles. For those trying to get their FLT 50 patch this year, about 1.6 of those were FLT miles.

Report to Hikers May 8 – May 14

Wednesday May 10

Roy H. Park Preserve to Hammond Hill State Forest, Dryden

Hike report by Jim

Ten hikers met in Dryden to hike from the Roy Park Preserve to Hammond Hill State Forest. Temperatures were generally warm, and there wasn’t much mud anywhere along the route, which is unusual for this particular hike.

The climb from the preserve’s parking area to Hammond Hill Road passed quickly, and soon we’d entered the Hammond Hill trail system.

The group got somewhat spread out at this point, with the lead hikers getting as far as the seasonal part of Canaan Road before turning around.

We regrouped and retraced our steps back to the cars, arriving in the parking lot at a nearly perfect two-hour hike duration.

Photo by Jim

Photos by Leigh Ann

Saturday May 13

Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area, Newfield

Hike report by Dave B.

Twenty-two hikers and one dog met at the Connecticut Hill cemetery on a perfect morning for hiking — crisp and clear. The trail led us downhill through mixed hardwoods, then hemlocks, and finally a rooty stand of spruce before we reached a stream. A stepping-stone crossing was flanked by steel footers, the only remnants of a century-old bridge that carried truck traffic from a now-abandoned quarry.

We passed another bridge, this one with deck girders still in place, on our way to the partially overgrown quarry. A short-but-steep climb brought the group to the upper rim of the quarry and a nice view of a far hill in the WMA.

Ahead lay more woods and two more stream crossings. A steady climb followed, along the side of a wooded ravine and past an old metal sink and stone cistern (moonshiner debris?). The nearly four-mile loop, adorned by several species of wildflowers, brought us back to the cars in two hours. 

Photos by Leigh Ann
Photo by Jack V.

Sunday May 14

Jenksville State Forest, Newark Valley

Hike report by Jim

Seventeen hikers met in Tioga County for a hike in Jenksville State Forest. The hike involved a new route that included both blue- and yellow-blazed trails within the state forest. Previous hikes here had been limited  to yellow-blazed trails. The new route offered more variety in both views and forest environments than the old route. Sunday’s hike also ran over our normal two-hour hike time, but no one complained about that. Given the positive feedback people gave for this hike, I’m thinking that we’ll use this as our normal hike route here in the future.

The day was sunny but cool, and the trail was in excellent condition. We encountered a very small segment of trail that was muddy, but everything else was entirely dry. We had the multiuse trails to ourselves, except for a small group of cyclists and some equestrians we encountered in the parking lot but never saw on the trail.

Photo by Jim

Photos by Leigh Ann

Ithaca Hiker Stephanie Zerilli


For those of you who aren’t on my hike email list and who haven’t joined the group on a hike in the last week, I wanted to post about the recent passing of long time Ithaca Hiker Stephanie Zerilli.

Prior to the group bringing in people through resources like our Meetup page we tended to get many of our new hikers through word-of-mouth and referrals from current hikers. I came to the group through Stephanie suggesting that I join this Ithaca Hikers hiking group she was a member of. I worked with Stephanie during my relatively short time with the Village of Dryden where Stephanie was employed in the records division of the village police department.

It wasn’t long after I joined the group that Stephanie was first diagnosed with cancer. She stepped away from Ithaca Hikers for a while as she dealt with that initial diagnosis. Stephanie always seemed positive in her outlook about beating the cancer; I was happy to hear that the early treatments were successful, the cancer was in remission and she was eventually able to both return to work and resume hiking with the group.

Unfortunately the cancer later returned, with the result that we have recently lost Stephanie far too early. She was a good friend and a welcome companion on the trail. She will be missed by all of us in the group who knew her during that time.

Stephanies calling hours and service are this Thursday in the village of Groton. Information for calling hours and the memorial service is at the obituary link below.

Stephanie Zerilli Obituary – Ithaca Journal