by ERNST LAMOTHE JR., Democrat & Chronicle, link to original post
For Norma Platt, what good is fresh air if you can’t take a long walk to breathe it in and enjoy a precious habitat of nature while listening to various birds chirping? There’s always been something about the great outdoors that lured her in. And she spends her weeks helping others in the Rochester area enjoy the many walking and biking trails.
Platt is the habitat preservation chairwoman for the Friends of Webster Trails. The organization, which builds and maintains acres of trails, advocates for the preservation of the town’s natural character and open space. Platt said Webster trails contribute to community health by providing people of all ages with a free, attractive, safe and accessible place for exercising outdoors.
The trails allow cycling, walking, running, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing in a natural environment away from the noise, fumes and dangers of roadways.
“I guess the way I see life is that it’s frustrating that we don’t have world peace by now, but because I can’t do anything to change that, I figured fixing and enhancing our environment was just a small piece that I could do to improve a small part of the world,” said Platt, of Webster, a 10-year member of the organization. “When we make a new trail using our rakes and shovels, clearing out brush and putting pipes for draining, it makes me feel good that people can just go out and enjoy it all.”
Aside from her leadership role, she participates in Trail Work Days each month to clean and enhance the current land, arranges special habitat preservation projects and is a wealth of knowledge about native plant species.
When she discusses the town’s trails, there is passion in her voice as she reels off the advantages of preserving and protecting the walkways. She preaches the importance of open space and also turns into a spokeswoman to anyone willing to hear about maintaining and promoting recreational trails. “It’s all about preserving the Earth for future generations. We have to care about keeping neighborhoods and our environment healthy,” said Platt.
Even when the weather isn’t particularly cooperative, she takes a stroll along Whiting Road Nature Preserve or the Bird Sanctuary Trail.
However, one of her favorite things is taking a jaunt in 163-acre Gosnell Big Woods Preserve and its big field, bounded by private properties on Lake Road to the north, Baker Road on the west, Vosburg Road on the south and woods on the east. There are oak, hickory and hemlock trees that are as much as 350 years old. The property has been well-maintained as workers keep the path free of debris.
“I consider myself very lucky to live in Webster and be surrounded by so many trails and people who care about preservation. It’s very easy to take it all for granted,” said Platt, who walks several times a week along the trails. “When you see these unlogged virgin territories with big trees and hills you can walk for miles and miles all around Webster, stretch your legs and just be in awe. It’s hard to find as many trails in other areas as you will find in Webster.”
Jeff Darling, trails committee chairman for the Friends of Webster Trails, describes Platt as an unsung hero whose efforts are appreciated by many. He has worked with her on different projects and trail clean-up days for the past four years.
“What makes Norma really amazing is her tireless work not just building trails, but preserving the habitat that we all get to enjoy,” said Darling, 38, of Webster. “She goes out there and works hard year after year and we have some really good-looking mature forests.”
Darling has always been a big fan of hiking and snowshoeing, and once he showed up for the first meeting, he was hooked and became a member of the board. With the outdoors being his second home, he views organizations like the Friends of Webster Trails as essential because citizens can’t simply rely on municipalities to do the work.
Darling said the jobs of residents must be to build up and maintain public areas and that the organization is always looking for volunteers who want to make their community a better place.
He hopes more people come to the twice-a- month trail work days that will begin in a few months, along with the organization’s initiative to create and maintain a new 80-acre trail at Lake and Phillips roads. “We are lucky that we have a town that supports green space and has purchased 1,000 acres of green space in the past decade,” said Darling, who uses the trails several times a week. “It really is a counterbalance to suburban sprawl. Yes, we need commercial and residential space, but we can’t ignore open space while we are going forward. We’re lucky that each Webster resident has a relatively short distance to walk, run or bike on a trail.”
In her spare time, Platt also uses the trail for watching birds. As part of the Rochester Birding Association, she gathers with friends who either walk or ride their bikes and sometimes discover non-native species in the area. The outdoors has simply become part of her existence, which she appreciates more with each day. “Like they always said, ‘if you don’t use it, you lose it,’ ” said Platt. “The outdoors is all around us to embrace so we might as well do it. How can it not just give you pleasure?”
The Webster Trails and many other Rochester area trails are included in the guidebook “Take A Hike – Family Walks in the Rochester, NY Area” by Footprint Press.