Rich and Sue Freeman, the husband and wife team behind the popular Take a Hike, Take a Bike and Take a Paddle series of books (among several others) are, in many ways, responsible for thousands of people realizing and enjoying Upstate New York’s vast wealth of trails and waterways. Their 2002 waterfall guidebook, 200 Waterfalls in Central & Western New York, a must-have for the local landscape photographer, is the inspiration for many to lug their camera along on hikes, and it certainly graces the backpacks of many NYFalls.com members when they go out shooting. Although their books are not specifically targeted toward the photographer, they serve as companions and checklists for aspiring nature photographers looking to explore and capture our local landscape. They are an invaluable series of guides for families, providing a wealth of activities year-round.
Footprint Press, founded and run solely by the Freemans, publishes several guidebooks to various aspects of the region, and their New York Outdoors Blog provides a daily feed of local happenings and interesting topics, ripe for discussion. How they have time to run an offshoot business selling book stands (DisplayStands4You) is puzzling, but they do it, with the same creativity and down-to-earth charm that makes their books such a pleasure to read.
NYFalls.com had an opportunity to talk with the Freemans about their books, waterfalls, and NY outdoors. We also provided links to their books so you can check them out yourself and begin exploring.
You work as a husband and wife team and are the sole employees of your publishing house, Footprint Press. How did you meet?
We met in Snoopy Land … actually a bit before Snoopy Land. We had a mutual friend who loved organizing outings and parties for a large group of single people. She was a magical matchmaker, but performed her magic by providing opportunities for people to meet, not by specifically matching people up. She scheduled a weekend ski trip to Greek Peak which began with car pooling. Rich and I had something in common the moment I read his license plate frame which said “I’d rather be hang gliding.” I had tried hang gliding (and failed miserably).
I had skied a lot but Rich had never tried it. So, he rented equipment and we headed to the bunny hill called “Snoopy Land” for his private lesson. I taught him the basics of skiing. Eventually he asked if we could go inside for a break. He took his boots off and his toes were red and throbbing. Come to find out, he had gotten boots that were too small and wound up losing the nails on a few toes. It was the typical start to a relationship!
You have written and published 14 books on NY outdoors; how did you first get the idea to publish information on trails in NY? Why did you create Footprint Press?
We were both managers at Eastman Kodak Company as it faced the death of the film business. We each went through rounds of laying off employees for many years and wondering if we would be next to lose our jobs. It was gut wrenching. One evening, while lying in bed reading, Rich came across an article about the Appalachian Trail and said, “wouldn’t it be fun to hike the AT?” I looked at him with incredulity. I had backpacked a lot, but Rich had only been on one trip where we hiked hut to hut in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. I said, “sure, I’d love that, but let’s read some more about it,” fully expecting him to get turned off. A dozen books later he was still game, so we decided there was no time like the present to begin. We each asked our bosses for leaves of absence, planning to begin in the spring of 1996.
We spent a year preparing and planning, then one month before our departure date, Rich’s boss reneged on his leave of absence. We decided we could survive on my salary, so Rich walked away from Kodak. On April Fool’s Day, 1996 we set foot on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia and began walking north.
Five months later, a month before the end of the trail, I called into work and found that Johnson & Johnson (who had bought my division of Kodak a few years earlier) had laid off all former Kodak managers at my level and above while I was gone. The fine print in my leave of absence meant that I was jobless also.
After spending six months on the trail, Rich & I both found ourselves homeless and jobless. The only thing we could agree on was that neither of us wanted to go job hunting. We traveled the eastern seacoast thinking we might relocate but ended up back in Rochester. Our bodies were suffering from stopping hiking cold turkey, so we decided to produce a guidebook to the hiking trails around Rochester. That would keep us active each day for months. We had been founding members of Victor Hiking Trails and knew that groups like this were building trails across private and public property around Rochester. They were well kept secrets whose time had come for greater awareness. And so, Footprint Press was born.
Your first book, Take A Hike! Family Walks in the Rochester (NY) Area was published in 1997, and played an integral role in introducing families and casual hikers to many parks and trails in the Rochester Region. What were the challenges you faced compiling your first book?
When we decided to produce the first Take A Hike guidebook we didn’t know anything about writing, map making, or publishing. Rich’s background was in photography and customer service. I had worked in blood banking, industrial engineering, project management, marketing and systems development. We would leverage the basic skills from these experiences and apply them in a new direction.
GPS wasn’t available. Satellite signals were scrambled for national security reasons. So, as we hiked, we measured miles using a pedometer and hand sketched maps using pencil, paper and a compass. That was Rich’s job. I took copious notes so I could describe each hike in detail. Back at home, Rich would sketch his map, I’d write the route description and we’d compare the two. Often this resulted in a trip (and sometimes two) back to the trail to re-hike and verify the “real” situation so that the map and description would agree.
This process kept our bodies from seizing up. Meanwhile, we researched just how you produce a book. The internet was barely in existence, so we relied on book research and the valued input from people such as Emerson Klees and Derek Doeffinger who had been down this road before. I learned how to use QuarkXpress to lay out the book on my Mac SE computer and Rich researched ways to turn his sketch maps into electronic form. For this first book, we used the services of Genesee Transportation Council and their mainframe computer GIS program to generate electronic maps. We also needed to know how a book gets on the bookstore shelves, so we took part-time jobs working at Barnes & Noble for the holiday season.
You just released a third edition of, Take A Hike! Family Walks in the Rochester (NY) Area. What has changed in this new version?
Rochester is a special place. It has a large contingent of people who value the outdoors, believe in volunteering, and want to build better communities. It’s evident by the numerous volunteer trail groups who are negotiating with private landowners and working with government agencies to build vast networks of trails. It began in the 1970s with Perinton’s Cresent Trail group and continues even stronger today. The result is that each year, more trails are available.
We suffered one trail loss. With the demolition of Midtown Plaza, we lost the indoor walking trail called Rochester City Skyway.
Technology has provided another change. GPS is now available to accurately track trails and locate trailheads. From our second book on, Rich also became proficient at using Adobe Illustrator to draw the maps for our guidebooks. Because we can produce them ourselves, all of our guidebooks are loaded with maps.
You have authored guides covering the Western NY and the Finger Lakes regions. The waterfall guide touches upon Central NY. Do you have any plans for hiking/biking/paddling guides to other regions of NY, or perhaps other states?
No, our book publishing days are winding down. We continue to research and update existing books that sell well, but we won’t be expanding to cover new geography or new adventures. Other authors are doing a nice job covering Central, Eastern and Northern New York.
Your book series covers a great number of trails and waterways. How much would you say is still out there in the region, waiting to be covered in a new guide?
We chose to form Footprint Press and publish our own guidebooks for a very specific reason – to maintain total control. As a user of guidebooks, I never liked the ones by major publishers that covered a huge geography. I can see from a publisher’s perspective why they would prefer large geographies. But, as a user I found that each guidebook only offered me one or two places close enough to enjoy. So our guidebooks are different. We cover a small geography and cover it in detail, trying to locate every potential trail or waterway or waterfall within that small geography. Of course, we miss a few, and additional trails get built each year. But, if you buy a Footprint Press guidebook you can be assured it is comprehensive. We don’t publish the “25 Hikes” or “50 Hikes” series. If a region has 67 trails, we publish 67 trails. Each of our guidebooks is different. By doing this, we have pretty thoroughly covered outdoor recreation in Central & Western NY.
There are gaps of course. We were approached to do a book on spelunking but we thought the market was too small to justify the time & effort. Today with e-publishing, a book on spelunking in Western NY may make perfect sense – hopefully someone will go for it!
Your 2002 book, 200 Waterfalls in Central and Western New York – A Finders’ Guide has been the inspiration and hiking companion for many aspiring photographers on NYFalls.com. What was the inspiration for creating this guide?
We hiked, biked and cross-country skied all over Central & Western New York doing research for our various guidebooks. Repeatedly we came across waterfalls tucked in out of the way places. No matter whether it was spring, summer, fall or winter, the waterfalls always made us stop and gawk in wonder. They were beautiful and unexpected – natural treats that filled us with wonder and appreciation for the beauty of nature. It got us thinking – wouldn’t others enjoy this natural beauty? We began our research with the working title of 100 Waterfalls but quickly blasted past 100 and even past 200. Once we started looking, we were amazed at how many waterfalls we found.
Any plans for a second edition?
No, as we mentioned, we’re phasing out of writing and publishing. Besides, others such as Russell Dunn, have done a fine job covering waterfalls in other parts of NY State.
Any plans to create a waterfall guide for another region of NY?
In essence, 200 Waterfalls is in its 7th edition. We have reprinted it 7 times and each time we reprint, we make revisions. Sometimes we’ve had to drop waterfalls at the request of the landowners, sometimes we provide revised access to a waterfall, and sometimes we add new waterfalls that have become public property. Nothing is stagnant. Just as trails keep changing, so does access to waterfalls. We sincerely appreciate when users of our guidebooks email us to let us know of changes that have occurred.
Where there any waterfall treasures that you wanted to include, but just couldn’t due to time, space or other factors?
Time and space aren’t limitations for us. The waterfall treasures we had to leave out of “200 Waterfalls” are ones that reside on private property where the landowners don’t welcome visitation. We don’t want anyone to get arrested for trespassing because of our guidebook. Unfortunately, there are lots of these private waterfalls and many of them are absolutely spectacular. Still we’re left with over 200 gems that are publicly accessible.
What is your most favorite New York waterfall and why?
Sue: I enjoy solitude in nature and getting to feel, smell and hear nature around me. That means, my favorite waterfall is one I can creekwalk in on a hot summer day, then swim in the plunge pool or lay in the crevasses made by rushing water and feel the cool water pour over my skin as I gaze skyward to watch passing clouds. I fondly remember doing this in Keshequa Creek, making Keshequa Creek Falls my favorite waterfall even though on the scale of impressive waterfalls it ranks as puny.
Rich: My favorite is Tinkers Falls because you get to see it from both in front of and behind the falls. Very cool!
Of all the hikes possible in western NY, which one would you say is the most enjoyable?
Sue: I like rewards. I bicycle to ice cream shops and like to hike to waterfalls. I enjoyed following Six Mile Creek in Ithaca, passing reservoirs, enjoying vistas from a high vantage point, and ending with the sight of Potter’s Falls tucked in the woods.
Rich: Each day when we were researching the hiking books, we would hike 6 to 10 trails. After each of them I’d come back and say “this” was my favorite one. Sorry, but you can’t pin me down with this question.
Your 2005 book Cobblestone Quest: Road Tours of New York’s Historic Buildings takes a detour from traditional outdoor activities for a bit of historical sightseeing. Explain the inspiration for this book and the draw of cobblestone buildings in NY.
We were running out of “outdoors” topics to cover in Central & Western NY, and just like passing the waterfalls and having an ah-ha moment, we kept passing gorgeous artistic cobblestone buildings as we drove the back roads in search of trails and waterfalls. They piqued our interest. In all our guidebooks we included historical tidbits but for this one we dove head first into history. Cobblestone Quest teaches the history of why and how cobblestone buildings came to be in this area and leads you to see the best that remain. The tours can be done by bicycle as well as by car, so it stays solidly inside our “outdoor recreation” theme.
Some feel that certain locations (waterfalls, forest, ruins, etc) are better off being unpublicized. The dilemma many of us as authors face is that we enjoy and appreciate pristine and peaceful locations and want to share them. But by doing so we risk ruining the aspects that we enjoy about them. How do you feel about this trade-off?
Being loved by too many people is a real problem. There is a contingent of the population who don’t respect the natural world and they can spoil it for the rest of us. But, the flip side is that if people stay inside and play video games or watch TV, they aren’t aware of the beauty of the natural world and don’t help to protect it. We look at our role as helping to educate people about the natural world and getting them involved in healthy endeavors. We were giving one of our many slide presentations (before the age of digital photography) and a woman approached us after the show to ask for an autograph. This wouldn’t have been unusual except what she wanted autographed was a photo scrapbook. It was the record of hikes she and a small group of friends had taken on every trail we detailed in Take A Hike! Family Walks in the Rochester (NY) Area. She thanked us for writing the book and said it provided the inspiration she and her friends needed to begin a hiking exercise regime and that in doing so they had discovered many wonderful places they never knew existed in their own home town. That’s why we write the guidebooks – to share our love of the outdoors & inspire others to find that joy.
What is the strangest thing you have ever seen on an excursion in NY?
Twice we saw waterfalls stop and immediately turn dry. The first time was at Montville Falls in Moravia. We entered Mill Creek and walked upstream, then headed right into Dresserville Creek. There before us stood Montville Falls gushing water in a torrent over the rock face. I was taking notes for the guidebook while Rich set up his tripod, preparing to take a photo. Before he could take the picture the water ceased flowing. We stood in the creek, surrounded by an eerie silence, looking at each other with quizzical expressions. We packed up, hiked back down the creek, then drove around to the upstream area. There we found a power plant which had diverted the water flow. The second time we were at Palmyra-Macedon Aqueduct Falls. This time we got our photo and had turned to walk away when silence befell the air. We looked back to see a dry waterfall. This time water had been diverted as a boat locked through Lock 29 on the Erie Canal.
What does NY have to offer, as far as outdoors, over other states/regions?
New York (other than New York City) is a beautiful place. As I mentioned earlier, we looked into relocating before starting Footprint Press and couldn’t find a place that offered more. We proved it by spending 8 years writing and publishing a constant succession of guidebooks. If you enjoy the outdoors there’s a wealth of opportunities in NY State.
How important do you feel the state’s parks, green-space and waterways are and what are our governments and citizens currently doing right/wrong about them?
With our population explosion, humans are encroaching on more and more land and pushing wildlife into extinction. It’s more critical every year that wild, natural places get saved to ensure a balance of nature and to provide humans a place to commune with nature. The threat to close NY’s state parks this year was an abomination. As a society we spend too much on making war and not enough on ensuring the ongoing existence of the human race and the natural world we depend upon.
You have since relocated to Florida. How do you keep in touch with the NY outdoors scene? Does life in Florida mean we will not see any more of your guidebooks for our region?
We have long tentacles into NY State. A network of friends and family keep us abreast of what’s going on. I (Sue) write a daily blog called New York Outdoors which is a clearing house of information about having fun outdoors in NY State. Each time we head north to visit we set aside time to check out areas that may have changed so we can update the books. Emails from users are essential – they point us toward where to spend our limited time.
How have the reactions been to your books? Do you have many fans? Do you get any criticisms?
We started Footprint Press and our first Take A Hike guidebook as a means to keep hiking and as a stopgap while we considered what to do next with our lives. The reaction to that primitive first book was so overwhelmingly positive and it sold so well, that we decided to keep going. It was user feedback that turned us into authors and publishers. Of course sales success requires constant marketing efforts. Just putting out a good guidebook doesn’t mean anyone will buy it. It’s a lot of hard work.
After covering hiking, bicycling, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, bird watching, backpacking, and exploring waterfalls, users of our books kept asking for paddling guidebooks. We had canoed and kayaked a bit but we didn’t own boats and weren’t experts at it. But, pressure from our fans convinced us there was a demand. We bought used kayaks from Pack, Paddle, Ski and proceeded to explore every navigable (and some not so navigable, but that’s another story) waterway in Central & Western New York. We applied the same analytic process to developing our Take a Paddle guidebooks and they have been a success.
We listened to users over the years and applied their criticism. We corrected errors (and believe me, every guidebook ever published includes errors), and made updates with each printing. The segment at the end of each write up for date and notes resulted from user comments. We encourage feedback and use it when provided. But mostly what we receive are rave reviews of people who are happy to have discovered our books. They make us smile.
Footprint Press publishes guides on a wide range of subjects in NY, from Cobblestone buildings to bird-watching.
Interviewing / Presentation