BY ALEX STEINGRABER
The Monroe County Parks Department has a stellar line-up of parks that offer guests plenty of amenities, fresh air, and natural fun. Oh, and it’s all free. Think of our parks as mini-vacations that you can treat yourself to any day of the week, and of course you can bring your friends and family to help you explore and enjoy these natural settings. This is a list of the more than a dozen parks in Monroe County Parks Department’s arsenal, and a brief description of what each has to offer.
Note that all county parks are open daily 7 a.m.-11 p.m. for the summer (April 1 through October). Parks have a strict “carry in, carry out” policy regarding trash. All visitors with pets must clean up after them, and keep them on a leash unless the park offers specific off-leash areas.
For more information about each park, campfire rules, or to reserve a campsite or lodge (fees apply, based on the shelter or lodge you are reserving) call 753-7275, or visit the Park Department website at monroecounty.gov/parks. If you are planning to use a lodge or shelter in a specific park, make sure to call ahead to see if someone else has already reserved it.
Abraham Lincoln Park
Formally Irondequoit Bay Park East, Abraham Lincoln Park is an undeveloped park set in a 182-acre shoreline area east of Irondequoit Bay; it can be accessed via Empire Boulevard. Right now, the shore-side park offers six different hiking trails that span through tall grasses and forests (our photographer advises that you watch out for the prevalent poison ivy). There is a master plan — currently in phase one — that to add improvements to the park near the main entrance off of Empire. These plans include a state-of-the art playground (already constructed) and a nature play area that will feature fallen trees and small hills that children can use to develop different skills. All of the future plans can be found on the park’s website.
Black Creek Park
Black Creek Park (3835 Union St., North Chili) is a mostly undeveloped 1,505-acre park that includes five hiking trails that meander through a bog, marshes, wetlands, and over rolling, tree-covered terrain. If getting lost in tranquil settings isn’t your thing, the park also offers other amenities, such as baseball and soccer fields, a playground, and a shelter and two lodges that are equipped with barbecue pits and picnic tables. Also bordering a bend of Black Creek is a boat launch that can be used for kayaks and canoes.
Churchville Park (33 Buffalo Road, Churchville) covers 742 acres. Within close proximity to the park entrance are three baseball fields, two soccer fields, and a tennis court. The park is also equipped with sites for pickle-ball (similar to tennis, but played with a hard paddle and a wiffle ball) and disc golf. Deeper into the park, and surrounded by a flowing stream, you’ll find an 18-hole golf course and a driving range. The course fee is $8.50 (nine holes) or $10 (18 holes) weekdays; add another dollar to the price on weekends. The park offers five lodges and six open shelters that are equipped with barbecue pits and picnic tables. These are in close proximity to two playgrounds, a kayak/canoe launch area, and fishing locations along Black Creek.
Durand Eastman Park
Swimming, hiking, and golf: activities you might expect more from a high-end beach resort instead of a free public park. If it helps, think of Durand Eastman Park (located south of Lakeshore Boulevard) as a 977-acre high-end resort created by nature. Three hiking trails loop around three lakes and take you in, out, and over tree-covered woodland slopes. Once you’ve tackled the trails, check out the park’s more than 5,000 feet of waterfront access, where you can enjoy a swim in Lake Ontario. You can also bring your own kayak or canoe — there are no rentals available at the park — and go for a leisurely paddle. (For water conditions and beach closings, call the Monroe County Beach Hotline at 753-5887.) The park also has eight open shelters that are equipped with barbecue pits and picnic tables, as well as four different playgrounds.
If high-class amenities are more your style, swing it out at the Durand Eastman Golf Course. With 18 challenging holes, practice by yourself or invite friends to a game in the lake air. The fees for this course are $12 for nine holes, and $16 for 18 weekdays, and a dollar more on weekends. Just east of Durand Eastman, at the end of Sea Breeze Drive, is Irondequoit Bay Marine Park. There boaters can launch watercraft for a nominal fee.
Located in the Irondequoit Creek flood plain, off of Blossom Road between I-590 and Panorama Trail, Ellison Park is 447 acres of flowing streams and creeks, enclosed marshes, and steep tree-covered slopes. In addition to six nature trails, six lodges/picnic areas, five baseball fields, and a kayaking/canoeing launch area, the park also has a professional-level disc-golf course, located off of the Landing Road parking area. The course features 18 tees, each with its own challenges and obstacles that will keep even high-level disc-golf players on their toes. For more sports action, you can use the tennis courts located off of Tennis Court Drive. A newly constructed dog park is expected to open around or after Memorial Day, but note that access for you and your dog requires registering ahead of time (for $24-$25) via the Monroe County Parks Department, located in Highland Park.
Genesee Valley Park
Frederick Law Olmsted, one of the masters of landscape architecture — he designed New York City’s Central Park and Rochester’s Highland Park — originally brought to life this 800-acre spread along the east bank of the Genesee River. This park has seven baseball fields and two 18-hole golf courses (golf fees run $12-$17), so you shouldn’t have trouble feeding your inner sports junkie. There are seven open shelters with barbecue pits, as well as playgrounds. A unique feature located on the north side of the River Road entrance is a field designed for the English/Indian sport cricket. If you are one for the water, there are two kayak/canoe launches located on the west portion of the Genesee River and south of the Elmwood Avenue entrance, and another located on the east portion of the river right under the I-390 overpass. Also located in the same area as the kayak launch is a public swimming pool for those blistering hot city days. (There is a nominal fee for the swimming pool.) For leisurely walks or bike rides the park does have a hiking trial and two other trail ways; one is located on the west bank of the river and is known as the Genesee Valley Greenway, and the other is located on the east bank and is known as the Genesee Riverway Trail. Both trails connect together via the Canalway Trail.
Greece Canal Park
This 577-acre park, located at 241 Elmgrove Road in Greece, is positioned along the historic Erie Canal. The park’s four trails, plus access to the Erie Canal trail, will give you hours of walking or bike-riding enjoyment. It is also one of the few county parks with an on-site dog park (again, dogs must be preregistered for $24-$25 with the County Parks Office in Highland Park). Baseball and soccer fields, tennis courts, and playgrounds will give you plenty to do in the summer months. You can also load up your kayak/canoe and make a day out of exploring the historical Erie Canal — there is a dock available at the south end of the park.
Another Frederick Law Olmsted design, Highland Park (171 Reservoir Ave.) is a 150-acre arboretum, home to a variety of plant life, some of it unusual to our area. Stop off at the Lamberton Conservatory, which houses a plethora of native and foreign plant life. From lush leafy plants to desert cacti, this conservatory is an enclosed 1800-square-foot marvel. Continue through the park’s winding walkways and you will pass more than 20 different species of lilacs along Highland Avenue, as well as the pansy bed, with a design that changes annually. The nearby Highland Park Bowl is an outdoor amphitheater used for summertime concerts, Shakespeare in the Park, and free outdoor movies. The park is also home to several memorials, including the Greater Rochester Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which honors the more than 28,000 Vietnam Veterans from our region, including the 280 men who died in the conflict.
Irondequoit Bay Park West
A lush forest setting and undeveloped trails are the defining characteristics of this 147-acre park. If you like nature and only nature, then this park is for you. Located on the west portion of Irondequoit Bay and accessible via Orchard Park Boulevard off of Empire Boulevard, this park’s half-mile of bay shore can be used for fishing, kayaking, and canoeing. Note that the park now allows mountain biking, so be alert for freewheeling bikers.
Lehigh Valley Park
Instead of a quiet day out with the friends and family, you might be in the mood to go for a long run or an intense bike ride. Lehigh Valley Park is for you. A 15-mile trail park, Lehigh Valley cuts from east to west (or west to east, depending on where you start), and offers the sights and sounds of nature. You can access the park via the towns of Rush or Mendon.
Mendon Ponds Park
The largest park in the Monroe County parks system, Mendon Ponds includes 2,500 acres marked by large, rolling, tree-lined hills, steep depressions, abundant flora and fauna, and of course, those titular ponds. The park can be accessed by four entrances; two via Clover Street and two via Mendon Center Road, all by heading south on both roads in the town of Mendon. The park includes 10 different hiking and walking trails, each unique in difficulty and setting. Seven open lodges and five closed lodges are available for hosting to barbecues and picnics. Head over to the beach and boating area and take advantage of the state-of-the art playground, or launch your kayak, canoe, or row boats on Hundred Acre Pond. Or, if you’re a land lover, there are observation points around each of the five ponds. Camping is allowed in certain parts of the park, but to do so you must call the parks office at 753-7275 and reserve a spot; fees are based on the size of your party. Horses are also allowed in the park and have designated trails on which to ride. Before you leave be sure to check out Sharon’s Sensory Garden and nature center, where visitors can view and read plant labels, touch and smell plants and flowers, or just sit in the picnic area and relax.
This 973-acre park in Ogden, bisected by Salmon Creek, includes both an animal farm and a model-airplane field. Located off Loop Road, and to the north, is a large clearing that is dedicated to model-airplane flying. Not the kits you used to build, and which now hang from fishing line, collecting dust. I am talking about fuel-drinking flying machines that are controlled by people on the ground with remote controls. Meanwhile, Springdale Farm has a variety of animals to pet, feed, and watch, along with a dairy barn. Stop by the greenhouse and purchase a plant; all proceeds go to the Heritage Christian Services and leave you with a souvenir of the day’s adventure. The park also includes a playground, baseball field, two soccer fields, and five different hiking trails are all located close to inner park roads.
Oatka Creek Park
This 461-acre trail park offers the pleasures of hiking through forests and grassland. Located at 9797 Union St. in Scottsville, Oatka is home to nine hiking and walking trails, each ranging in difficulty and length. After you hike one or all of the trails, sit by the creek for a little R&R. The park also has an enclosed lodge that is available for picnics and barbecues, an open fields that can be used to kick a ball around or throw a frisbee.
Ontario Beach Park
If you long for vacations on sandy beaches, you don’t have to travel far. Ontario Beach Park (4650 Lake Ave.) is a 39-acre waterfront park with some unusual amenities. With parking along and off of Lake Avenue, it’s easy to lug grilling supplies over to one of the beach park’s seven open pavilions equipped with grills. There’s a boardwalk along the waterfront, bocce ball and beach volleyball courts, a gazebo, and even an old-time carousel (rides are just $1). Take advantage of the pier located at the east end of the park for a scenic walk, or to watch the sailboats go in and out of the harbor. Swimming is available during the summer, but be sure to call 753-5887 for water-quality reports. For the motor boaters looking to access the water, a boat launch is available for use off of North River Road via Lake Avenue (for fees and more information, call 753-7275). The Port of Rochester shares a parking lot, and is home to a variety of businesses, including several restaurants. The area is also home to the Roger Robach Community Center, which houses showers and lockers for swimmers, and on the second floor has a banquet hall that hosts ballroom dancing on select days. Every Wednesday during the summer (this year June 6-August 29) the park hosts the free Concerts By the Shore series 7-9 p.m.
Powder Mills Park
This 380-acre park full of wetlands and forest-filled scenic trails is accessible via Park Road, off of State Route 96 and Woolston Road, off of Fishers Road in Pittsford. As you descend down the main entrance’s roadway you may notice a unique operation for this county park: a fish hatchery. Opened in 1933, the Fish Hatchery at Powder Mills Park, is a free self-guided operation that provides the opportunity to view a variety of fish in different stages of development. More than 20,000 fish from several different species — including trout, perch, and chinook salmon — are among its residents. Note that the hatchery has limited hours; for more information call 586-1670. In addition to the hatchery, the park features four shelters and six lodges, seven hiking trails, a playground, and a sand-filled volleyball court.
Seneca Park (2222 St. Paul St.) is another Frederick Law Olmsted design. The 297-acre park north of downtown is laid out like a serpent along the east bank of the Genesee River, and offers a variety of activities. Three connecting trails along the river bank make for excellent running, or for moseying and watching the river flow. Also take advantage of the four open shelters for picnicking. Located close to the parking areas are two playgrounds, and for a day of competition, there is a baseball field on the north portion of the park. Note that Seneca Park is also home to the Seneca Park Zoo. For more information on that attraction visit senecaparkzoo.org.
If you are looking for the bare bones of nature — woodland creatures, dirt, leaves, and the smell of the earth and the neighboring bay — then the 82 acres that make up Tryon Park may pique your interests. Located at the end of Tryon Road off of Winton Road North, Tryon Park is at the top of a glacial depression that was formed more than 1 million years ago, and which now overlooks the serpentine creeks and streams that flow into the Irondequoit Bay. Once you park and get your bearings you will notice that there are no trail heads and no trails — none that are named, anyway. Walk, run, or bike to make your own path down the park’s steep back and up again. If you find you are in the mood for a little relaxation, there are a few fishing spots at the shore of a wandering creek.
Webster Park, located off of Holt and Lake roads, is a 550-acre plot that offers both rolling hills and deep woods to the south and access to Lake Ontario to the north. It is also one of only two county parks that allows mountain biking on its premises. The park is bisected by Mill Creek, which flows into the breakers of Lake Ontario. The park offers more than just leisurely walks. Two baseball fields and a tennis court are located opposite of the main entrance off of Holt Road. Fishing, kayaking, and canoeing are accessible via the lake access off of Lake Road. The park also offers up five different trails for hiking, running, or geocaching. For the big family flings, five enclosed lodges are available to rent, or you can reserve the White House lodge for those really big events. Eight shelters/picnic areas, equipped with grills, are also at the disposal of park goers, and there is a playground for kids. If you plan to stay more than the day, less than a mile west down Lake Road you will find campgrounds. Call 872-5326 for more information.