The original Secret Places: Scenic Treasures of Western New York and Southern Ontario by Bruce Kershner was the inspiration for many of my outdoor adventures and the WNY Hiking Challenge. However, much of the information was nearly 30 years old and needed to be updated. Not to mention the book has been out of print for several years. If you followed some of the suggestions in Kershner’s book today, you might end up in a several hundred dollar fine for trespassing.
When I heard Jennifer and Bill were updating the content, I was both excited and nervous. The information needed to be updated, but I did not want to lose Kershner’s enduring language and hand drawn maps. The original book felt like a cooky professors field guide. It felt like Bruce was on the hike with you pointing out his favorite spots.
I learned about the project to update Secret Places about a year ago. And as a disclaimer, I assisted the authors on a few locations and proofread a couple of chapters. But this also opened up an opportunity to hike with Kershner’s daughter Libby and her family.
When you pick up the new Secret Places of Western New York by Jennifer Hillman and William McKeever, you can tell it is a high quality publication. Thumbing through the pages, you see full color descriptions and photographs. I am sad to say the pages are not water proof, a couple of my pages are now coffee stained. You also see some black and white, hand drawn maps taken from the original book and Kershner’s manuscripts, he was actually working on a second book before his passing.
The authors updated several of the original secret places and added seven new ones. The book is very user-friendly with each location laid out the same with icons designating the activities at each location along with GPS coordinates to the trailhead and links to the locations’ website. The icons are super helpful, but I found myself flipping back to the key to understand their meaning. I am sure with more use they will become second nature. Each secret place has a description of the unique features and history of the site. The guide describes each hike and gives tips for planning your visit, including some great spots for a snack.
Hillman and McKeever were careful to update each location for safety and new regulations while keeping some of the mystery of the secret place. They walk you through each hike with enough detail to entice you to hike it, but not too much detail to ruin your amazement. They also take great care to point out Kershner’s conservation work at each location and mix in some of his quotes and humor.
I was happy to see they kept in the chapter about Swallow Hollow and the Frog Orgy Experience and Kershner’s hand drawn maps of Little Rock City, Zoar Valley, and Chimney Bluffs. I was going to compare the locations in the original book to the updated version, but I will leave that up to the readers. I will say that some of the new secret places are among my favorite places in WNY to hike and explore.
Although Secret Places of Western New York will never replace Kershner’s book in my heart and the hearts of many Western New Yorkers, Jennifer and Bill did a wonderful job paying homage to Bruce’s legacy while creating their own legacy by inspiring a new generation to explore and get outside. Overall, this is a must have book for any outdoors enthusiast in the region. It is beautifully organized, contains great pictures to inspire adventure, and exudes the love the authors have for Bruce, the Kershner family, and the outdoors. Well done, Jennifer and Bill. On the OC rating scale, you get 5 out of 5 muddy boots.