Syracuse Online


Dr. J. on Running

Highland Forest

Wake up Wednesday to a nice run in the woods

Published June 11, 2001 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

Where will you be Wednesday morning? On a couch watching television? At a desk writing a report? In a factory earning your daily bread through the sweat of your face? On the trails of Highland Forest glorifying the Creation?

In a tradition which dates back to the days when teachers taught three seasons and played during the summer, a group of diehard harriers gather to run the trails at Highland Forest every Wednesday morning, from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Highland Forest owes its existence to the great depression. As family farms went under the oppressive weight of taxation, and Onondaga County seized the land in its southeastern corner, a visionary sought to protect the hills by planting a million trees. The geometric symmetry of that plating remains evident, as a mix of sexagenarian evergreens and hardwood trees transformed the mountain into glorious terrain.

On a given Wednesday, anywhere from two to fifty runners gather in the parking lot of Highland Forest. There is no start line, no starter, no gun, no clock, no set distance, no set course, and no finish line. We just start running around 8:30am, or 8:40am, follow the main hiking trail clockwise for the first couple of miles, and cut back whenever we feel like it. The total length of the main trail is about 8 to 10 miles.

Retirees and college types populate the early season crowd. High school runners join us in July to prepare for cross-country season. Runners of all abilities, from toddlers to seniors and shufflers to champions, share the trails. We can always expect camaraderie, spirited discussion and lots of mud.

Sometimes, natives welcome us to their woods. Turkeys, quail, coyote, deer, raccoons, skunk, and even the occasional wild cat, inhabit the woods.

At the end of the run, we partake in home-mixed lemonade and fresh bagels, courtesy of the Syracuse Chargers Track Club. Often, carrot cake replaces the bagels to celebrate a birthday. Runners like birthdays - they move us into new age groups.

Occasionally, a lost novice or a fallen comrade, requires organizing a search party. What better way to digest cake than an easy two-miler into the woods? Our record remains intact. To date, we have never lost a runner. We came close one year, when a disoriented group of high schoolers quenched their thirst from a shallow stream, then lived to tell their story.

So, when you wake up on Wednesday and hear the rain on your windows, why don't you take the morning off and join us at Highland Forest? Oh, by the way, bring a dollar for parking.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. Dr.J. created, webcasting live Every Lap of Every Race. He receives email at

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