As with every college campus, there will always be places and buildings that you go your four years as a student without ever entering, or maybe even knowing about. While I do feel that it is easier to forgive a lack of campus exploration this year considering our opportunities have often been limited by COVID-19 restrictions, it would be wrong for me to let you leave Colgate without knowing about the trails.
I discovered the Cross Country and Hiking Trails back in the fall semester when I began to hear about people’s mysterious experiences hiking on campus. At first, I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about but eventually trekked up there with a friend to find out. It’s certainly an interesting walk to get there: past Frank and the Chapel House, past the cemetery and across the old Ski Hill. But the 575 acres of Central New York woodland that awaits you is worth the trip.
Back in 2017, environmental geography major Jenna Lilly ‘17 and Professor Peter Klepeis worked together to enhance visitors’ experience on the trails. They designed a color coded system and posted a map by the start of the trails in order to ensure easier navigation. Admittedly, the first time I went, my friend and I were too caught up in the beauty of Hamilton’s fall leaves on the ground to pay any attention to the trail markings on the trees, so we got lost. But since then, I’ve come to appreciate the color coding system and better understand the different routes, although simply exploring can be fun, too.
The trails, which vary from flat, wide grassy areas to steep, narrow dirt paths, offer space for runners, hikers and snowshoers. As the weather has continued to get warmer, I’ve begun to move my runs out of Trudy Fitness Center and up toward the trails. But if you’re not keen on exercising in the woods, the trails are still a place for you. You’ll often find people on picnic blankets, doing homework (or just pretending to as they soak in the sun) and enjoying a quick meal. I’ve seen some people also set up their hammocks along the trails, settling in for a few hours of serenity amidst nature. I will, however, encourage you to be mindful of the mosquitoes if you plan on going later in the afternoon. My roommate and I recently brought our Good Uncle back into the trails for a picnic dinner but were not anticipating the bugs. Unfortunately, this oversight resulted in us sporting a matching strip of bug bites from our crop tops for a few days afterward — itchy proofs of our ignorance.
In terms of prime places to throw down a picnic blanket, there’s one particular spot that I encourage you to check out, if you’re able to find your way there. It’s a bit off the trail but is marked by a black bench beside a tree. When the sun is right overhead, this is an unbeatable warm, open space to overlook Hamilton. It’s perfect for a date, a picnic with a friend or just a solitary escape from reality — and that’s exactly what the trails have to offer. Especially this year as we are forced to cling more than ever to our dorm rooms, the trails present the perfect on-campus off-campus experience. A quick run through the woods to clear your head and you’ll already forget about the homework sitting on your desk back in your room, waiting patiently for you to return. While getting to the trails is a bit of a hike itself, it also serves to elevate the experience because you really feel a sense of separation from the campus.
There will always be something special about laying out a blanket on the quad to read a book and wave to your friends as they pass by, but sometimes — especially this year — you just need a break. The Cross Country and Hiking Trails are the perfect outlet. Whether you set up camp in a hidden spot or commit to a hike, I promise you won’t be disappointed. With a peaceful stream, beautiful leaves on the trees and endless paths that overlook Beyer-Small and Andy Kerr Stadium, the trails pull you just far enough out of reality to take a deep breath.
Lastly, I couldn’t speak of the trails without mentioning the flower field. When we are far enough into the spring that the flowers start to bloom, don’t forget to check out the endless rows of beautiful yellow flowers in the back of the trails. I would provide you with directions on how to get there, except I’m not entirely sure myself. I stumbled upon it first semester and have yet to find my way back there. I’ll wish you luck on your endeavor, if you choose to make the journey, but unfortunately I have little to offer you beyond that. Regardless, Colgate’s trails are not to be overlooked in your years here as a student. I encourage you to grab a friend, a book, a sandwich or some workout clothes (and definitely bug spray!) and head on back past the Chapel House for a breath of fresh air.