SCHENECTADY COUNTY -- Schenectady County is full of natural wonders worth visiting, even though it is geographically the second-smallest county in the state.
There are dramatic sandstone gorges with spectacular waterfalls, deep forests and stocked fishing streams.
The Niskayuna-based Environmental Clearing House of New York, known as ECOS, would like more people to get out and have a look at spots around the county that are protected by the county, state or private conservation organizations, like The Nature Conservancy.
"Our mission is to get people out and about in the woods doing healthy activities and getting outside having fun," said Art Clayman, ECOS' vice president for programs.
ECOS recently launched the Seven Preserve Challenge walks, under which people can earn a patch by visiting six nature preserves in Schenectady County, as well as the Bozenkill Preserve in Altamont in Albany County.
The qualifying preserves are the Plotterkill Preserve in Rotterdam, Christman Preserve and Schenectady County Forest Preserve in Duanesburg, the Indiankill and Sanders preserves in Glenville, the Lisha Kill Preserve in Niskayuna, and the Bozenkill Preserve in Altamont. Those who complete hikes in all seven will qualify for the patch.
The local challenge follows a trend of such programs aimed at boosting outdoor activity. Others challenge people to visit a range of mountaintops or complete specific trails.
In eastern New York, the granddaddy of such challenges is undertaken by a group of people called the Adirondack 46ers -- those who have climbed 46 Adirondack mountains collectively referred to as the High Peaks. That group has been around since 1925 and, at the end of 2017, had nearly 11,000 members.
In recent years, the Adirondack Mountain Club has launched the Fire Tower Challenge, under which hikers are encouraged to visit the 25 Adirondack mountains with historic fire towers on them, along with the five fire towers in the Catskills. In the Saranac Lake region, there's the Saranac Six climbs of six local mountains, and in Warren County, the town of Chester has launched the Chester Challenge, which includes mountains and trails around that town.
The seven preserves in the challenge all offer easy to moderate hikes (and no rule says you have to keep going if you get tired.)
Clayman, who has visited most but not all of the preserves, said the hikes are intended for those who may not be fitness buffs or aggressive hikers.
"They're places where you can just walk around," he said.
The Plotterkill Preserve, probably the county's best-known nature destination, is a 632-acre plot in Rotterdam that features forest and the Plotterkill Gorge, with three waterfalls as the stream drops from highlands to the Mohawk River. The largest waterfall is 60 feet high.
The 100-acre Indiankill Preserve off Maple Avenue in Glenville features 2.6 miles of trail that run along the Indiankill, with slopes to climb and fishing opportunities in the stream. Both the Plotterkill and Indiankill preserves are owned by Schenectady County.
The Sanders Preserve in West Glenville, owned by the town of Glenville, includes nearly 370 acres and 4.1 miles of trail, including streams and small waterfalls.
The 140-acre Lishakill Preserve on Rosendale Road in Niskayuna, which is owned by The Nature Conservancy, includes old-growth forest rarely found so close to developed areas.
The Christman Preserve on the Schoharie Turnpike in Duanesburg, also owned by the Nature Conservancy, features 97 acres with hiking trails and a 30-foot waterfall on the Bozenkill, where it cuts through a sandstone gorge. Clayman said that preserve is his personal favorite.
The Schenectady County Forest is a 102-acre county-owned preserve on Lake Road in Duanesburg.
The Bozenkill Preserve on Westfall Road in Altamont includes 214 acres along the Bozenkill, managed by the Mohawk-Hudson Land Conservancy. It includes a 2.5-mile hiking trail.
The challenge was initiated this summer, but more promotion of the challenge is planned.
"We're going to do a flier, put it up in government buildings, get as much exposure as we can. You don't need to be a 46er or anything like that to do it," Clayman said.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Schenectady County is the smallest county, geographically, in New York State. In fact, Rockland County is the smallest.