Like most North American rivers, the Genesee, in western New York, has a history of trail use on its banks. From animal path to hunters’ trail to railroad bed and more, the river banks have had a wealth of practical and recreational uses. On a cold winter afternoon I decided to revisit a favored section of the Genesee’s WAG Trail (the former Wellsville-Addison-Galeton Railroad bed) to check on animal tracks in the snow and to look for other signs of quiet January life.
Walking upstream toward the state line from the Hawk’s Road access, I immediately stumbled on a line of tracks. Without checking closely, I assumed I was following fox or coyote prints. With a view of the river where in warmer seasons I often cast for trout, I flushed several mallards that scrambled to lift above the shards of floating ice. The weak calls of a chickadee and a nuthatch told me to stop, look and listen. Those fresh tracks on the path were not cast by any dog-like creature. They were cat tracks– plenty larger than the ones left in the yard by Mustache, my domestic feline.
The bobcat’s print is rounder than coyote’s. Four toes do not show claw prints since a walking cat retracts its claws. The 1.5 inch tracks show a heel pad that is lobed, although my photos won’t reveal the fact. Some years ago I glimpsed a bobcat as it skittered across Hawk’s Road less than a mile from here. The day had gone dark after an evening of fishing the river, and I felt lucky to have caught a mere suggestion of the bobcat’s world.
The wooded cliff on my left side was the site of an illegal dump where inconsiderate fools had thrown their garbage from above. A few years earlier, my chapter of Trout Unlimited spent innumerable hours with ropes and mountain goat maneuvers cleaning up the nauseating mess that had accumulated for decades. Farther up the path was an ageless natural spring. And beyond that was a river pool and riffle, beautiful in April or October but pretty foreboding today. The shadows and an icy splash pretended there is no tomorrow.
The state-line marker was a sunlit tombstone for the railroad days. It had once served the trains that passed along this bank, rumbling out of one state while entering another. Just beyond it lay the river’s State-Line Pool, formed where Cryder Creek (New York trout water) empties into Pennsylvania’s Genesee. I had walked less than a mile of this two-state trail and known complete solitude here. For better or worse, a lot of the WAG Trail lies in disrepair now, but on a cold winter day the state-line section was a pleasant walk. Like anyone’s home river, the Genny offered a stroll into the depths of a season. Not exactly in the backyard, perhaps, but close enough to be effortless while your tracks merge with the prints of bobcat or coyote.