The Alex & Michele Gonzalez Hiking Sanctuary & Preserve trails ( International Loop 1 ) , Virgil
This hike does NOT start from the same parking area as the near-by Kennedy State Forest hikes
Alex and Michele Gonzalez are long time trail maintainers for a long stretch of the FLT in the Virgil area. In addition they have created and maintained many miles of additional area trails commonly known as ” The International Loops 1 & 2″
Trail Maintainer profile on Alex and Michele, from the January 2024 DEC Newsletter:
Although Alex and Michele Gonzalez began their trail construction and maintenance relationship with the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) on private land a few years earlier, their formal volunteer work in Kennedy State Forest began in 2004. They concentrated at first strictly on the FLT, but soon began to construct a series of loops known collectively as the International Loops.
Kennedy State Forest spans three towns in Cortland County. The International Loops are distinguished by their names and distinct blaze colors taken from the corresponding nations’ flag colors. The first trail, the 6.1-mile Spanish Loop Trail, opened in 2002. Since then, Alex and Michele have helped blaze more than 15 miles of trail total to create the Swedish, Lithuanian, Irish, and English Loop Trails. Each loop trail has a story and a connection to Alex, Michele, and their family or to the DEC foresters who manage the lands.
Michele and Alex want to get more people out on the trails more often and believe that creating a “collection” of trails will encourage just that. Trail junctions also spark imagination and increase the number of options for trail walkers, who can cobble together many different routes of varying lengths while only rarely, if ever, having to retrace their steps.
Alex and Michele are next working on German and Ukrainian Loop Trails. These trails are all part of the Finger Lakes Trail system. Visit the Finger Lakes Trail website for maps and trip planning tools. The trails are well marked and well maintained. Give one of them a try, and you just may end up getting hooked into hiking them all!
In 2024 Alex and Michele are in the process of donating a sizeable portion of their land towards the creation of the Alex and Michele Gonzalez Hiking Sanctuary & Preserve. Not part of the adjacent Kennedy State Forest, this Preserve will be a non-hunting Sanctuary where hikers will continue to be welcome year ’round.
From the FLT parking along the side of the road in the vicinity of 1181-1185 Daisy Hollow Rd ( not starting from the parking lot area we normally use for our near-by Kennedy Forest hike). Look for the normal green FLT sign on the westerly side of the road as an indicator for the area to park in:
Google pin to 1181 Daisy Hollow Rd:
The AllTrails listing for the International Loop only includes a partial display of the trail system:
A new kiosk for the Preserve has been built on the hillside near the trailhead and just out of view of the parking area.
There are a number of interconnected trails that can be woven into a variety of combinations which can offer hikers a variety of hike experiences. The blue blazed trails in the south run steeply along Christina Creek and allow access to a number of small falls, while the red and orange- blazed trails to the north side of the Preserve travel along utility right of ways and have more to offer in longer views and vistas. Several of the trails offer at various times some wonderful stretches of treadway that pass through some nice monoculture stands of evergreens, offering short “green tunnels” to hikers.
Those hiking these trails in winter should pre-hike their planned route to determine which trails have had more frequent use to avoid the need to posthole through deeper snow.
Those new to hiking the Preserves trails absolutely need to carry some form of paper or electronic mapping that allows them to maintain situational awareness of where they are within the trail system. Larger hiking groups need to emphasize staying together to prevent losing stragglers within the maze of trails.
Last edit 02-2024 JFR