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 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.

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

Special Report: Trail Maintenance Work Party

April 13, 2023

Report and photos by Jim

Four Ithaca Hikers met David Priester of the Cayuga Trails Club at Hanshaw and Lower Creek Roads for a small trail maintenance project on our adopted section of the Cayuga Trail. One of the footbridges had become destabilized due to erosion on a bank.

After a short hike to the work site on the orange-blazed trail section, the work party spent a few minutes digging out one end of the footbridge. David lag-bolted some new 2 x 8  stringers into the existing footbridge, and we backfilled the end of the bridge with rocks and dirt.

No sooner had we completed the project than a Primitive Pursuits class of a dozen or so young kids and adult counselors hiked through and had a chance to try out the reinforced footbridge.

Thanks to everyone who came out to assist with this project!

Remembering Ruby

In November, we posted a tribute to Diego, a longtime and much-loved canine member of Ithaca Hikers. Sadly, a few weeks later Roger’s other dog, Ruby, also passed away. Like Diego, Ruby hiked with our group for many years. Ruby and Diego had different personalities, but both added much to our hikes. Ruby tended to stick closer to our group and could often be found walking directly behind Roger. She was a sweet dog and will be missed.

Below are some hikers’ reminiscences of Ruby. If you have some memories of Ruby you’d like to share, please email them to Jim or Nancy H.

Photo by Katharine H.
This lovely watercolor painting by Steve Schwartz shows Ruby (on the right side) looking at hiker Jack McGory.
From Jim:

On our recent Saturday hike around Stewart Park and the Farmers Market, I asked Roger how his remaining dog, Ruby, was handling the passing of his other dog, Diego. I was curious about whether Ruby displayed any observable signs of grief at Diego’s passing. We spoke a bit on the topic before we each moved on to conversations with other members in the group, as we so often do on our hikes.

The next day, I received word from Roger that Ruby had also passed away. I am sorry to hear of Roger’s second loss in such a short time, and I thank hiker Katharine for being there for Roger at this stressful time.

In my years with the group I’ve noticed that Roger’s two dogs each had their own personalities. Diego often went tearing off into the woods with exuberance to explore some exciting new thing, and was happy to start off the hike with a Milk Bone or two from my pocket. Ruby inevitably stayed with the group and closer to Roger. She would usually refuse a Milk Bone from me at the beginning of a hike, but somewhere around the middle of the hike she would approach me and accept a treat, staying close by after that if she wanted more.

In contrast to Diego’s boundless energy and devil-may-care attitude, Ruby often reminded me of a disapproving older aunt, sometimes fixing me with a stare that seemed to take me to task for something I was doing at that moment. Even with that, she was a good trail companion.

Roger had recently retired Ruby from hikes, content to let her sit in his car until the hike was over or, in some cases, leaving her home entirely on hike days.

Roger, thank you for sharing the company of  your dogs with us over many years. I’m happy that I was able to share the time on the trails that I had with both Diego and Ruby.

Photo by Leigh Ann
Photo by Cian
From Mary W.:

Ruby’s quiet enjoyment of the trails was often my inspiration. She and her brother Diego have lifetime memberships, their past and future, on the trails and in the memories the Ithaca Hikers.

Rest peacefully, Ruby.

Photo by Leigh Ann
Photo by Leigh Ann
Photo by Cian
From Shannon G.:

I am a relatively new hiker to the group, but I had the sheer pleasure of doing a few hikes with both Diego and Ruby this year.

My oldest pup, who will be 16 in a couple of months, is too slow-moving and car-averse to join.  So it was awesome to see those two zoom about, having a blast. 

Our deepest condolences to Roger and his family. 

Photo by Leigh Ann
Photo by Katharine H.
From Sandra B.:

To Roger: Your dogs were always welcoming to my exuberant border collie, Skye. Sorry for loss of both of your four-legged friends in such a short period of time. 

Thanks to Ithaca Hikers for allowing us to bring our dogs. It is a special privilege.

Photo by Leigh Ann
Photo by Cian
From Bud:

Ruby and Diego were friendly and enthusiastic hikers for a decade or more. Both are missed.

Photo by Cian

See more images of Ruby in photo albums by Leigh Ann and Cian.