The Genesee Valley Greenway
Bicycling End to End
By Tim Bayer
Note: The following was compiled from the notes I made while on a 3 day mountain bike trip from North Cuba, NY to Webster, NY. The dates of the trip were October 15, 16, and 17, 1998. The fall foliage colors were at 95 percent peak during the 3 days of this journey.
It was a cold and stormy night. I turned up my collar for protection against the rain, but there seemed to be no escape from the cold, damp air that chilled to the bone. It was not a pleasant night for man or beast. But, I am a private investigator. And I had a job to do.
.....Whoops. Wrong story.
The truth is; it was a damp, overcast, 50 degree morning and we were in Cuba. Not Fidel's Cuba - Cuba, New York where the people speak English and give you American change for your American currency. Actually, to be more specific, we were just off of Rt. 17 in North Cuba. Cuba is not that big of a place, but it does have a McDonalds. North Cuba is not that fortunate. What North Cuba does have is Jackson Hill Rd. and the starting point for our bicycle ride of the Greenway trail.
My brother Mark, and I were going to be the first to trace the 90+ miles of the Greenway trail route on mountain bikes. I had brought my video camera and would be documenting the trip on tape.
We had just spent the first 2 hours and 100+ miles of this morning driving from Webster (outside of Rochester, N.Y.) to Cuba. We were prepared to hop on mountain bikes and ride off into the weeds for a 3-day trip. A mountain bike with fat tires is required for this journey because we would be riding over dirt, stone, pavement, mud, rocks, and railroad bridges covering the 110 miles of the scenic route back to Webster.
Heading North on the Greenway trail from our starting location in North Cuba, the trail was a reasonably smooth, dirt and stone path. Later in the day, the stones of the old Conrail line would not be so endearing. There are no McDonalds on the Greenway trail. But, after an hour of riding, we came upon a patch of wild, red raspberries (the raspberries became our morning snack). The Southern 40 miles of the Greenway trail is a work in progress. This means that most of the trail is maintained and can be ridden on a mountain bike. As we arrived at Hyde Flats road in Black Creek, we came upon part of the trail that had not been maintained. The trail was overgrown with weeds, so we were forced to take Hyde Flats road into town.
Black Creek is not actually a town. Black Creek is a hamlet, which means that it is slightly smaller than North Cuba and slightly larger than a desktop computer. I'm not sure what the criteria are for a "hamlet". Perhaps the only reason it is a hamlet is because on the map that I have, the words Black Creek are printed in bold letters.
We rode from Hyde Flats road to Tibbets Hill road where, after a brief search, we were able to find the Greenway trail again. This section of the Greenway trail has been transformed into a nice smooth dirt road for 3 miles. The smooth Greenway trail stops at Rt. 305. From this point, and for the next few miles, the riding became difficult. Because the bridges are out just North of Rt. 305 on the Greenway trail, we had to follow the old Conrail line rail bed. This rail bed consists entirely of golf-ball sized stones that are not bicycle friendly. The constantly shifting stones make steering the bicycle difficult and rear wheel traction becomes marginal. While riding on the stones, the bicycle tends to wander and stager slightly from side to side. It was annoying. I stayed annoyed for the entire three-mile stretch we rode on the old Conrail line.
Eventually we came to Gleason Hill road and bid good riddance to the Conrail bed of stones. At Gleason Hill road the Greenway trail is again bicycle friendly. The smooth, single-track dirt path seemed like pavement after the Conrail experience. On this section of the Greenway, we came upon the old canal warehouse. Built in the late 1800s, this is an interesting looking old building that has not been used in years.
Between Belfast and Oramel the trail is pretty nice. The trail ends abruptly at Crawford Creek just outside of Oramel. Since I had left my snorkel and flippers at home, the decision of whether to splash through the creek versus riding on smooth, paved Rt. 19 to Caneadea was a no-brainer.
The sun had popped out so we stopped for a while to soak up the sunshine at the Caneadea Deli. The Caneadea Deli is right across from the small building that contains the Caneadea town hall and the volunteer fire department. Small town people tend to be friendly folks. One gentleman asked how we were doing today and we wound up talking with him for about ten minutes. I like small towns.
Heading out of Caneadea on Rt. 19, we missed a turn at Cemetery road and ended up riding almost all the way to Houghton before discovering our mistake.
We stayed at the Inn at Houghton Creek for the night. The only restaurant in Houghton is the Pizza Barn, which is one block from the Inn at Houghton Creek. You may have guessed this, but the Pizza Barn does not serve breakfast. So, first thing the following morning we had to ride to Fillmore for breakfast.
Fog. Lots of it.
Bridges are out on the Greenway between Houghton and Fillmore, so we had to ride on Rt. 19 to Fillmore where we stopped for breakfast. As we finished breakfast, a gentleman stopped at our table and asked where we were headed. We told him we were riding along the Greenway trail and we chatted for a short while. I shall reiterate; I like small towns and the people in them.
It was a cold morning for bicycling (temperature in the high 40s) and a layer of fog limited visibility as we headed out from breakfast. Between Fillmore and Portageville, much of the Greenway trail is either: overgrown, plowed under by farmers or the bridges are out. Hence, we traveled on the roads quite a bit this morning. We rode on Rt. 19A to West River road, and then to Minard road. While traveling on West River Rd, we detoured slightly and rode down the riverbank to the Genesee River. The scene was stunning as steam was rising from the river in the cool morning air. On Minard road, the bridge at Wiscoy Creek is closed to automobile traffic so we had to carry our bikes over the barriers on each side of the bridge. As we got off of the bridge we saw two deer standing in the middle of a partially fogged farmer's field. There was a dream-like feel to the scene before us - the two deer standing in the field were partially obscured by slow drifting pockets of fog. I'm not sure the video camera footage can accurately relay the beauty of the scene. I hope so. I stowed the camera again and we followed Minard road to the intersection of Rt. 19A.
We were able to pick up the trail again on Rt. 19A at the bridge that crosses the Genesee River on Bailey road. We rode on the trail from Bailey road into Portageville. By this time (a little before noon) the fog had burned off and we rode under blue sky and sunshine. The temperature was rising into the high 50s and the riding was quite comfortable. The Greenway trail continues through Portageville into Letcworth Park. We crossed the Genesee River at the bridge on Rt. 436 in Portageville. We had some difficulty finding the trail on the other side of the 436 bridge. I knew that the Greenway trail ran right next to the East side of the river, and we noticed a small parking area and an overgrown path next to the Northwest edge of the bridge. The trail was very narrow with steep inclines. We would have to push/carry our bikes because we could not ride on the rugged footpath.
While stomping through this narrow, steep footpath we saw two "Road Closed" signs in the woods. This looked rather odd to see these road signs on a single track, very overgrown path. On the other end of the path, we found a dirt road and began riding again. We made the mistake of staying to the right at the first intersection we encountered. The right turn caused us to end up at the high bridge train track. We had to retrace our tracks and take the other fork toward the Genesee. This time we found the Greenway trail and continued North along the edge of the Genesee River.
(Hmmm. How best to describe this next section...."Cool". Nope. "Interesting". Yes it was interesting, but the word "interesting" lacks magnitude. "Spectacular" - Yep, that's it.)
That is an accurate way to describe this two-mile stretch of the Greenway in Letchworth Park. We rode under the railroad bridge, and right next to the horseshoe shaped Upper Falls. In the sunshine, the spray from the falls creates a series of rainbows. Even without the mist-induced rainbows, the scene before us was painted with the entire spectrum of colors. The river water was splashing white down the dark gray, rocky cascade of Upper Falls. Dark green, light green, gold, yellow, orange, maroon, red and bright red were everywhere in the autumn foliage on the top edges of the gorge walls. Shades of gray from the 500 foot vertical shale walls and stone floor of the valley opposed the brilliant blue of the clear sky. It was awesome.
With the exception of the "Slide Area", the Greenway trail in Letchworth is wide and smooth. Near Middle Falls, and across the river from the Glen Iris Inn, the "Slide Area" has disrupted the Greenway rail bed. This is a very unstable and dangerous section of land. If you wonder off the path towards the gorge, you can easily get into trouble with lethal results. I would highly recommend staying on the footpath and well away from the edge of the gorge while passing through the "Slide Area". We had to carry/push our bikes through this section of the trail.
North of the "Slide Area", there is an overlook that provides a good view up the gorge towards Middle Falls. From this vantage point, it is possible to look up the gorge and see Middle Falls, Upper Falls and the railroad bridge.
Near the Parade Grounds picnic area at a canyon wall overlook, we stopped to eat the lunch we had packed. Heading North from the Parade Grounds picnic area, the Greenway tail is wide and smooth through Letchworth Park and very nice to ride upon.
We became lost again as we left the Letchworth park boundary. The first dirt road we crossed was a road inside the park. We proceeded straight through this intersection. We knew that the trail eventually becomes a dirt road named Williams Rd. The second dirt road we encountered was actually Williams Rd. However, there are no road signs. We proceeded straight ahead and thereby missed the left turn for Williams Rd. and ended up in the swamp. Not actually in the swamp. The brakes on our bikes work very well, thank you. But the trail comes to a dead end next to a swamp. We had to retrace our tracks and guess at which way we should travel. We guessed correctly and after riding a few minutes found ourselves at the intersection of Williams Rd. and Short Track. We took out the maps again and saw that the Greenway trailhead had to be within a few feet of our location. We spotted the Greenway Trail signs just South of the Williams Rd. and Short Track intersection. This section of the trail passes just to the North of Oakland.
The trail was wide and smooth for quite a ways past Oakland and Nunda. We crossed Rt. 408 and then bumped into the putting green on the Triple Creek Golf Course. A man cutting the green directed us to the left, around the green to the other side and the continuing Greenway. The Greenway ran smooth again and then apparently dead-ends at a paved road. We looked at the maps, and since there were no road signs, we presumed we were at Dudly Rd. We rode on the road towards Tuscarora. (We later discovered that we were actually on Creek Rd. The Greenway trail does continue across Creek Road to Dudley road, but the trail on the East side of Creek Road is well hidden behind a barn.)
The Greenway trail has been washed out and is basically non-existent through the Keshequa Gorge, so we had to follow the public roads (Creek Rd., to Baren Rd. to Scipio/Main St. in Tuscarora.) to Tuscarora. This section of scenic roadway provides a wide panoramic view of the valley to the East.
Passing through Tuscarora, Main St. becomes Dutch St.. We rode Dutch St. to Moyer Rd. toward Sonyea. Outside of Sonyea on Moyer Rd., we rode past the Groveland Correctional Facility. There are signs labeled, "Camp Groveland", but there is little doubt that it is a low security prison. Moyer Rd. meets Ridge Rd. and Ridge Rd. goes to Rt. 36. At the intersection of Ridge Rd. and Rt. 36, we were able to locate the Greenway trail again after some searching. A short bike ride from there we found the Greenway Motel, which is on Rt. 36 just South of Mount Morris. The Greenway Motel was our stopping place for day 2.
Two more people joined our ride, Bill Dempsey and my other brother, Bryan. This brought the ride roster to Bayer, Bayer, Dempsey and Bayer. Sort of sounds like the name of a law firm. Anyway, the four of us started at about 8:00am from the Greenway Motel and rode on the Greenway to Mount Morris. Just off the Greenway on Rt. 408 is a McDonalds where we stopped for breakfast.
After breakfast, we rode the Greenway through town as far as we could. We had to get off the Greenway on to Sickles St. then ride to Rt. 36. We crossed the Genesee River on Rt. 36 and then turned right onto River Road to Cuylerville. In Cuylerville, we turned onto Rt. 39 (also called Rt. 20A). On the North side of Rt. 39 in Cuylerville the ride-able section of the Greenway trail starts again.
From Cuylerville to Piffard the trail was smooth and wide. We were able to easily cross the creek where the bridge is out just North of Cuylerville. From Piffard heading North, the trail is very nice and easy to find. From around Mount Morris to points North, the Greenway trail is well maintained and the trailhead for each section of the trail has Greenway sign markers. The only problem we had was just before Rt. 5. The trail stops in a gravel pit and was not easy to find again. We hunted a bit and found it, on the other side of a dirt parking lot. The trail is a bit overgrown, but can be ridden. This short section of the trail stops abruptly at Rt. 5. We had to climb the embankment and over the guard rails on Rt. 5 to get to the other side of the road.
From Rt. 5 to Scottsville the trail is wide, smooth and well maintained. There are no breaks in this 8 mile stretch of the trail to Scottsville.
When we came to Rt. 253 in Scottsville, we got off the trail and stopped for lunch. After lunch, we got back on the Greenway trail. We had a little difficulty when we came to Rt. 383 just before crossing under the Thruway (Rt. 90). The trial appears to parallel the road of Rt. 383. However, the trail actually stops, crosses Rt. 383, and starts again on the other side. We had to carry our bikes over the guardrails and ride down the embankment on other side. The start of the trail is very obvious, as it is very wide and well maintained. We easily found the trail again and continued riding under the bridge for Rt. 90.
After passing under Rt. 90, the Greenway trail is extremely straight and flat. From just North of Scottsville heading North, the Greenway trail is so flat and straight that the trail looks like a tunnel through the trees and the tunnel seems to continue all the way to the horizon. It is a pretty cool sight.
The next problem we had was when we got close to the Monroe County Airport. When we got near the airport, the trail essentially disappears in an old rail yard. We rode along the edge of the tracks and past a scrap yard/garbage dump. We continued riding and ended up in a parking lot next to Rt. 383. From there, we headed out to Rt. 383. After a little searching, we found the very last stretch of the Greenway path. This section is paved and runs from Rt. 383 to the fire training facility. From there we went back to Rt. 383 and started riding North towards the City of Rochester.
When we arrived at Genesee Valley Park, we hopped on the paved path next to the river and rode from Genesee Valley Park to downtown Rochester. This is a very nice ride along the river providing a nice view of the Rochester skyline. Once downtown, we rode to Upper Falls, shot some video footage of Upper Falls and then headed down Main St. back to Webster. We arrived in Webster about 4:00 pm.
I was amused by the stark contrast of the last part of the ride through the city compared to the previous 3-day trip. Before we got to Letchworth, we literally saw more red foxes (1) than people (0) on the Greenway trial. And, even when riding on some of the public roads, we seldom saw vehicles. Now, in the city, we were inundated with cars, traffic, people and noise.
In case you are curious about the distances; According to the odometer on my bicycle:
- Day 1: 20 miles (North Cuba to Houghton)
- Day 2: 40 miles (Houghton to Mount Morris)
- Day 3: 50 miles (40 miles from Mt. Morris to Rochester; 10 miles from Rochester to Webster).
Tips for navigating the Greenway trail on Bicycle:
- A mountain bike with fat tires is very advisable. The thinner tires of a "commuter" or "hybrid" bicycle may be suitable for many of the Northern sections of the trail, but the thin tires of a hybrid bicycle could make the riding difficult in some places. For the Southern Greenway trail (South of Letchworth State Park) fat tires are necessary.
- Bring plenty of water and food. The places where you can stop for food and water along the Greenway trail are few and far between. Two of the three days we rode on the Greenway, we ate lunch on the trail because there were no places on or close to the trail to stop for food.
- North of Mount Morris, the Greenway trail (with a couple of exceptions) is smooth, well maintained, well marked and easy to follow.
- If you decide to ride on the Greenway trail South of Mount Morris, you will need some good, detailed maps. Without a map that shows streets, street names and has the Greenway trail highlighted, you will probably have a lot of difficulty finding and staying on the trail.
- If you go through the "Slide Area" in Letchworth Park on the Greenway, stay on the trail and away from the edge of the gorge. If you venture off the trail toward the gorge in the "Slide Area", the loose footing and very steep bank could give you a lesson in gravity that you will never forget - if you are fortunate enough to survive the 200+ foot fall.