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WNY Winter Hiking Challenge provides distraction during COVID pandemic

Everyone's registration fees will go to charity. This time around, it's going to the Beaver Meadows Audubon Center.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In a year of COVID-19, it's even harder to find things to do in your free time. That's especially true during the winter, when it limits what you can do outside. 

Despite some colder air, many Buffalonians are making an effort to get out into the elements with something called the Western New York Winter Hiking Challenge.

Organizer Mike Radomski says the goal of the hike is to inspire people to get outside and enjoy nature, but it's even doing more than that in its second year.

It's giving Western New Yorkers something to look forward to and a little more hope.

"I was expecting this winter challenge to be smaller, and right now we've got about 1,000 hikers registered," Radomski said. "So it's amazing the turnout and a lot of comments coming back saying, 'I'm really glad you did this. It got me through some tough times with COVID. I never was a hiker before and now I love it, and I can't wait for the weekends to look forward to that weekend hike and enjoy it.' "

Radomski says it's one of the most rewarding parts about putting the hiking challenge together, aside from the fact everyone's registration fees will go to charity.

This time around, it's going to the Beaver Meadows Audubon Center.

Here's how it works.

You get a registration packet, map and description of 15 trails. Fourteen of them are in Western New York, and an optional one is in the Finger Lakes.

You must complete at least seven, then post a picture to the WNY Winter Hiking Challenge Group page or on Instagram. 

Then you get a patch, a sticker, the place you finished in, and, of course, bragging rights.

The challenge started December 21, but you have until March 20 to complete it.

Though it's helping people to go on an outdoor adventure and cope with a pandemic, the challenge is also helping businesses such as Gear for Adventure. 

Owner Kevin Beckwith says they always do well around this time of year but this one has been "exceptional."

"In September we had ordered enough snow shoes to cover the entirety of what we sold last year, and we were done with those in late November," Beckwith said.

"Sales are incredibly good right now I think mainly because people want to be out and away from other people so our sales are just doing fantastic. Socks and shoes and snowshoes are selling like crazy." 

He says they do continually try to restock their snowshoes.

If you're having trouble finding some, Beckwith says a lot of times you can just use micro spikes if the snow isn't super deep.

If you would like to register for the hiking challenge, click here.

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