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New book walks the reader through 25 of the region's 'Secret Places'

Book cover  of "Secret Places of Western New York: 25 Scenic Hikes"
Secret Places of WNY.com
Co-authors Jennifer Hillman and Bill McKeever say their book provides trail information for nature walkers.

Like so many elements of life, the pandemic changed the approach of co-authors (and wife and husband) Jennifer Hillman and Bill McKeever as they worked on their book "Secret Places in Western New York: 25 Scenic Hikes." They had been hiking throughout the region for years, but a special mission began to build in their writing as the world began to shut down.

"Going out and connecting with nature became increasingly important to the two of us. And we began seeing how important that was to society as a whole," Hillman said.

"It was just really important to go outside, unplug from technology and reconnect with nature. And I would say with Earth Day approaching, that is an inspiration that we want to give to other people."

Here is an extended conversation with co-authors Jennifer Hillman And Bill McKeever about "25 Scenic Hikes."
Hillman and McKeever offer more details on their book "Secret Places in Western New York: 25 Scenic Hikes."

The book offers the important basics for anyone looking for a walk into nature, like driving directions and GPS coordinates, but the co-authors also try to impart special stories unique to location. As an example, they cite the hike entitled, "Five Mile Meadow and Last Landing at Stella Niagara." The trail leads the walker to a spot where the forceful current of the Niagara River eases. It is here, where early explorers would portage their canoes and make the trek around the falls to Lake Erie. Hillman, who grew up near the location, also relates a story told by her mother.

"So, there's this tiny little chapel right next to the water at Stella Niagara but it's claimed to be the tiniest church in Western New York. And there was a very large flood that took place in 1955," Hillman recalled. Houses, farms and buildings endured severe damage.

"The only building that survived was the tiny miracle chapel."

The book also has a third author, the late Bruce Kershner. He died in 2007 at the age of 56.

"He was an old growth forest researcher and expert along the entire northeastern United States," said Hillman about Kershner, whose work with old growth forests also provided much of the background for his own book published in 1994, "Secret Places: Scenic Treasures of Western New York and Southern Ontario."

"And it became just like a cult following."

McKeever says in Kershner's memory, throughout this week leading up to Earth Day, five dollars from each web sale of ""Secret Places in Western New York: 25 Scenic Hikes" will go toward a "summer campership at a summer nature camp" at Beaver Meadow Nature Center.

The hikes are listed easy, moderate and difficult, with "easy" indicating it is available for "wheeled access." The trails, the authors promise, never get dull.

"The seasonality of them really creates a new experience each time you go," Hillman said of the trails that she and McKeever have been exploring for 30 years.

"Every trip even in the same season, you're going to make new discoveries," McKeever said.

"Your eyes get more and more open. And you see things you didn't see on your last trip."

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Jay joined Buffalo Toronto Public Media in 2008 and has been local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" ever since. In June, 2022, he was named one of the co-hosts of WBFO's "Buffalo, What's Next."

A graduate of St. Mary's of the Lake School, St. Francis High School and Buffalo State College, Jay has worked most of his professional career in Buffalo. Outside of public media, he continues in longstanding roles as the public address announcer for the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League and as play-by-play voice of Canisius College basketball.