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Ridgewalk 2023: Global event still a local treasure after three decades

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Gwyn and Rich Shear still bringing out the best in Allegany County

By Andrew Harris, photos by Rich Shear

Riding around the “Shear Farm” with owner and co-founder of the Ridgewalk and Run on his 1999 John Deere Gator is a sublime experience. Over the years I’ve had the joy to do so many times but during the annual Ridgewalk and Run event, the ride is much different. It is kind off like riding along with Mick Jagger at a Rolling Stones concert, ha.

When those on the Ridgewalk trail see Rich coming, faces light up and wave like fans of a rock star. After you pass, whispers of “oh that was him!!” or “do you know who that was?” can be heard. I’m always somewhat surprised that nobody asks for an autograph.

Like any artist, Rich’s smile gets wide as he is hit with gratitude. This is his canvas, his art in motion, a labor of love that he and his wife Gwyn are very proud of.

Dave Mason telling Willie Nelson stories

We spent an hour on the trails today, listened to local crooner Dave Mason play music at one of the highest elevations in Allegany County, and continued with a new annual traditon, Free Gong Hits.

Yes your read that right, Free Gong Hits. Over the last few Ridgewalks you may have come across a random 40 inch gong on the trail, you might have even hit that gong! If so, you created your own sonic energy, branded yourself with good fortune, and hopefully had a unique experience. Only .01% of the planet have hit a gong in the middle of the forest, a little known fact.

During the hour or so on the trail this year, we met dozens of walkers/runners, and even the lightening rod himself, columnist Bob Lonsberry ran by so fast we couldn’t say hi!!

Lots of locals make this an annual tradition but what was very interesting was the international participation. The first voices I encountered near the finish line were French speaking. An entire family, explained that they spend every autumn in the United States doing all sorts of events like this.

Out on the trail it was fun to meet several folks who didn’t speak English and you can tell when people are awestruck by something newly experienced. Many had never experienced the glory of autumn on Alma Hill. One young lady who has walked many a Ridgewalk put it this way:

“I was walking down a little hill, with a meadow at the bottom before I started back uphill. When I got to the meadow the sun broke through the clouds and the entire area lit up and just glowed. The colors were so vibrant and everything glistened with sunshine. It was one of the most beautiful moments possible, just being at that spot, at the perfect time.”

On the way off the hill Rich explained that every year, about one-third of Ridgewalk participants are brand new to the event. While that speaks to the sixty-six point six percent who come every year, it also means that this event is a powerful tool for introducing the world to Allegany County.

Jones Memorial Hospital/UR Medicine are now the official caretakers of the event, Gwyn and Rich have taken a more “emeritus” role. Our local hospital is part of Western New York’s premier healthcare network, University of Rochester, with a international community behind them. This is a powerful combination.

With Jones Memorial as the stewards of this event, the perfect opportunity for bringing more diversity to Allegany County exisits. Showing the world that we have culture, natural beauty, strong community, and a top-notch healthcare facility is no small accomplishment. These are the reasons that major investments happen, and the reason why people relocate to places with “greener pastures.”

The global business world was turned sideways by Covid-19. Suddenly millions can work from home and decide where they want to live regardless of where they work.

Putting on an event like the Ridgewalk is how we attract the new companies, workforce, and families to Allegany County.

Congrats to the team at Jones Memorial and the Shear family for keeping this event going strong.

ICYMI: Rich’s recent interview on the NDVision podcast:

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