BUFFALO, N.Y. — If there is one positive to come out of the coronavirus pandemic, it's that stay-at-home orders encouraged a lot more people to explore the great outdoors.
"There's so many benefits to being outdoors, from the physical aspect of it, the mental aspect of it, especially through COVID here," said Mike Radomski, with the WNY Hiking Challenge. "A lot of people have said it's been a godsend to be able to go outside, and just unwind and clear their thoughts and increase their mental health through that process."
From hiking to climbing to kayaking, embracing the outdoors is a big part of Mike Radomski's life. Since 2019, he's been helping a rapidly growing number of people discover all our area has to offer with the WNY Hiking Challenge.
It challenges participants to hike 20 of 32 trails throughout Western New York's state, county and town parks.
"When you sign up for the challenge, you get a packet that has all the maps and landmarks," Radomski said. "We use the landmarks as proof that you did the trails. When you go to the trails, you'll follow a suggested route, which will take you right past that landmark, you snap a selfie, come back to the website, upload the selfie, and you get credit for the trail."
When you get 20 of them, you will get a patch and a sticker. But this is more than just an epic outdoor scavenger hunt, registration fees for the challenge that start at $20 for individuals also benefit conservation efforts.
"We use tons of trails of the Finger Lakes Trails conference, that's mostly a volunteer organization," Radomski said. "We thought we'd give back to them. We're also giving back to the Western New York Land Conservancy again, because they're creating this wildlife corridor from basically Allegany to the Niagara Gorge, to protect wildlife, so I thought that was also a worthy cause."
Radomski just donated $36,000 raised through the winter hiking challenge to the Beaver Meadow Audubon Center. He says more than 2,000 people signed up for the summer challenge that's going on now until November.
The IT professional says this passion project is becoming more and more like a full time job. What surprises him most, though, is how much sharing his knowledge and his love of the outdoors has matter to other people.
"The other part of it that's been really surprising to me that I wasn't really expecting is just the notes that I get from people saying how much they've either enjoyed the challenge or how much it's helped them through a hard time, or it turned them on to something new, they brought their family together," he said. "Honestly, that's probably one of the most gratifying parts of doing this and that's what keeps me going."
This challenge is built for all skill levels from beginners to seasoned hikers. There's also a great community as well where people can ask questions, share photos and connect with each other.
If you want to learn more about the challenge or sign up, you can do it anytime by clicking here.