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Best Of Rochester: Recreation

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CRITICS' PICKS
By Katie Epner, Johanna Lester, Rebecca Rafferty, and Abby Quatro


Best ROI: Monroe County Library Systems Card

At first I thought this article would be a witty reminder that libraries still have a place in the TikTok age, but after doing my research I’m wondering why the hell I haven’t taken advantage of more of this stuff. Let’s dive right in… You’ve probably had your library card since you were seven. That 14-digit code has been with you since before you could be trusted with scissors. So I’ll give you a pass if the following comes as a shock.
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Did you know that with that tattered tag on your keychain, you can borrow an air fryer? A metal detector? Electric guitar, sewing machine, GoPros, snowshoes and classic Nintendo? Why not impress your friends with a bubble machine, anatomical models, walkie-talkies, pasta maker or inflatable T-Rex costume? Expand your horizons with a telescope, microscope, birdwatching kit, cake pan collection, CPR dummies and dulcimers. And of course, you can always curl up with an EBook, EReader, vinyl record, cassette tape or DVD (writer plea: rediscover commentary tracks!).

The Very Important Places (V.I.P.) pass offers admission discounts to over a dozen museums and attractions, including RPO, RMSC, GEM, GCVM. Embarrassed when you have no cash to pay the Rangers in those quaint little toll booths at the entrance to a State Park? The library even loans the Empire Pass, waiving entry and day use fees at over 200 parks across the state.
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MCLS’s events calendar is like the lineup at a music festival: it feels impossible to see everything but dammit, you’re going to try. There’s classes in cooking, gardening, knitting, crocheting, painting, book-binding, ukulele, meditation and cyanotype printmaking. Grow your mortal toolkit with training in CPR and Naloxone. And take advantage of the resources on small businesses, grant writing, financial literacy, Medicaid, fraud protection, digital literacy, reentry after incarceration and job seeking.

A personal favorite of mine are the digital archives, where I’ve spent hours vicariously strolling Main Street in the 20’s and shopping at Sibley’s in the 60’s. Maybe someday I’ll borrow a VR headset from the Henrietta branch and take my adventures up a notch. If you’re feeling down with the SAD this winter, I promise that a trip to the library will bring you some light in these ostensibly dark times. (Or, you could borrow a light therapy lamp from the Webster branch.)

Note: This was written for the Monroe County Library System as a whole. All of these amenities are spread throughout the system’s 31 branches and even OWWL (Ontario, Wayne, Wyoming and Livingston counties). Readers can explore the website for more details, but are encouraged to come in and talk to a librarian themselves. — KATIE EPNER

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Most idyllic spot* for a run/walk/bike ride: Turning Point Park
*that also features turtles, swans, and ducks
Am I about to blow up my preferred “under the radar” nature spot? In the spirit of the new year and for you, dear readers: yes. Located in Charlotte, Turning Point Park is, for my money (it’s free! It’s nature!) the best place to spend a Saturday morning walking with a friend (or a dog pal—or a friend’s dog pal) or to embark on an early evening run or bike ride. (I’ve also heard tell of a canoe and kayak launch located along the way.)
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Park at Boxart Street and from there, head along the boardwalk and trail toward the Genesee Marina or take the trail that heads toward Lake Avenue and connects to the Genesee Riverway Trail. If you take the bridge over the Genesee River Turning Basin, you’re bound to encounter turtles sunning themselves on a giant log; ducks fighting for space on said log when not making their way down the river; swans keeping to themselves, in typical fashion; and a host of other wildlife that flies and/or swims. It makes sense that when the organizers of the Rochester Marathon revamped the route a handful of years ago, the new path incorporated a section of Turning Point Park. It’s lush, well-kept, and a great reminder that you can find your “somewhere that’s green” if you look hard enough. (Or read the right magazine.) —JOHANNA LESTER




Most rewarding journey to the bathroom: Acme
Acme is a relic. This isn’t news. It’s a notorious last-stop-of-the-night bar known for its wild card energy and late night slice game. (I can personally attest to the fact that the saltine cracker crust and cup + char ‘ronis really hit the spot around 2 a.m.) Bless the tolerant bartenders and bouncers for dealing with all of us townies at our whiskey-soaked worst.
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The bathroom, however, is where the true charm lies. Not for the faint of heart, you begin your journey with a drippy descent downstairs. Maybe your legs are a little wobbly after that last drink or maybe you’re entering a dungeon never to see the light of day again. Rounding the corner, you blink in the sudden fluorescents, and realize that you’ve made it to your destination. Walls and stalls are layered with years of bar scum and graffiti left by the loving patrons of bar nights’ past. If you’re lucky, you might even find a stall with a toilet seat or a door still on its hinges.

Will this give some the ick? Almost certainly. But it just has so much classic dive bar character that it makes me smile every time. Unchanging and unflinching, bars like these remain for a reason. And let’s be honest, it’s never stopped me from smashing pizza (and a side of blue cheese) into my face after the fact. —ABBY QUATRO


Best place to make a new friend: Central Rock Gym
There comes a point in most of our lives when we look around and realize a), I think I’d like some new friends and b), making friends is hard. But before I launch into that, let me remind the reader that in order to make a friend you need to be a friend, and friends are typically nice, positive, supportive and interesting. Friends are also empathetic and responsive to social cues. Attempts outside this credence are not guaranteed.
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Climber ready? Climb on! The first thing I noticed when I joined CRG back in 2020 was how striking it was to be surrounded by a hundred other people around my age, gathering around an activity that wasn’t debaucherous. Better yet, when the endorphins start pumping, it can feel like a real party (especially when “Jungle” plays overhead).

The climbing gym feels like one of the few remaining places where you can approach someone you don’t know, strike up a conversation (or be struck), exchange some words, then Spiderman yourself up a wall, jump (or fall) <12 feet down, and either stay or move on to a new part of the wall. It’s kind of like what I imagine a party in the 60s would have been like — without the drugs, sex, or bell bottoms.

I’m obviously an extrovert, and if I sound like the devil incarnate to you and you’ve sworn off ever considering climbing simply to avoid people like me, don’t worry. As easy as it is to meet someone new, it’s also easy to do your own thing, AirPod Transparency mode or not. There’s daily yoga, a fitness room, climbing leagues, and events like beer tastings and movie screenings. Plus, climbing is for everyone. It’s like a puzzle and exercise mixed into one, and you’re likely to make a few friends along the way. — KATIE EPNER


Most convincing argument for E.T: Adam Frank’s “The Little Book of Aliens”
The national buzz about alien lifeforms got a boost in its usual fringe-y frequency last year when Congress held hearings on UAPs (unidentified aerial phenomena, formerly referred to as UFOs). For some, the whistleblower testimony gave legitimacy to the claims that we’ve been visited by extraterrestrials — and that there has been government coverup on the matter.
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That news didn’t excite astrophysicist and University of Rochester professor Adam Frank, though he is heavily involved in the search for extraterrestrial life. Frank doesn’t think we’ve been visited by aliens, but he calls himself an “alien optimist” — he believes that intelligent life in the universe probably isn’t unique to Earth. And he explains his ideas clearly and conversationally in his “The Little Book of Aliens,” which was published in October.

When considering the mysteries of the night sky, there’s a lot to cover. And Frank’s book packs a ton into just under 200 pages, starting with the history of humanity’s conceptions about aliens, and going on to discuss mathematical equations that predict the likelihood of extraterrestrial life, conspiracy theories, and aliens in pop culture. He then delves into the ways scientists previously (barely) searched the cosmos for signs of life, before discussing how those approaches have changed, and why he thinks we’re close to proving we are, in fact, not alone in the universe. To Frank, the truth is out there, not here.

Though brief and easy to absorb, the book has gravity. In 2019, Frank became the Principal Investigator on NASA’s first grant to study ‘technosignatures’ — signs of advanced civilizations on other worlds, such as the presence of pollutants like CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons, remember those?) and solar system artifacts (like satellites) that, if present, can be detected from Earth using sensitive instruments.

Frank’s book also explores the ‘what ifs’ that come with the final frontier’s territory: What if alien life has nothing in common with life as we know it? What if we discover intelligent life, and figure out how to make contact — should we? —REBECCA RAFFERTY


Best cultural crash course: “Original People’s Podcast (Ongwehonwe)”
A handful of local Indigenous-led institutions, including Ganondagan State Historic Site and the Seneca Art & Culture Center, offer year-round programming that includes history, art exhibits, performances, recreation, and lectures. They remind us that while the regional Indigenous nations have a deep and rich history, they aren’t just a thing of the past, but a living set of cultures.
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For those who want to know even more, there’s the nuanced “Original People’s Podcast (Ongwehonwe),” presented since January 2022 by Ganondagan’s Cultural Liaison, Ainsley Jemison. The pod, which is available on all streaming platforms, is wide-ranging in its subject matter, offering storytelling and interviews with other local and non-local Indigenous people.

Through dozens of episodes, Jemison has spotlighted knowledge holders, artists, activists, athletes, entrepreneurs, and educators. Guests have included pianist and conductor Timothy Long (Muscogee Creek/Choctaw), who is associate professor and Music Director of Opera at the Eastman School of Music, reflecting on family and his journey in music, filmmaker Katsitsionni “Joonie” Fox (Akwesasne Mohawk) discussing her art and that of other Indigenous filmmakers, painter and tattoo artist Mackenzie Gents Cheama (Zuni) chatting about tattoos and cultural taboos, and the occasional non-Indigenous guest, such as former basketball player, social activist, and writer Etan Thomas in discussion about similarities in the Black and Indigenous experiences in America.

There’s no hard and fast regularity to which the podcasts are posted, and they range from 17 minutes to about two hours in length, depending on what is being discussed and how long the subject chooses to discuss it. The pod is a highly accessible way to learn more about the diversity of Indigenous cultures and the enduring issues — from misconceptions to existential threats — that Indigenous people face. Best of all, the stories shine through an Indigenous lens, voiced directly by contemporary First People themselves. —REBECCA RAFFERTY

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