Kid-Friendly Outdoor Spots!

Photo: Edie Jodz

Kid-Friendly Outdoor Spots in the Finger Lakes

When school is out, it’s time for family fun outdoors. If hiking, swimming, biking, paddling, or camping is your thing, the Finger Lakes region has plenty of options for getting your kids outside. From state parks to nature centers and more, there is something for everyone. Here are a few of our favorite spots:

Photo: Tim Starmer

Catherine Valley Trail

Looking to take the kids for a walk or bike ride that doesn’t include climbing steep hills? The Catharine Valley Trail is contiguous from downtown Watkins Glen to the hamlet of Pine Valley. It’s a great natural corridor that utilizes compact stone dust paths that are an absolute pleasure to walk or bike. Birdwatching opportunities await at the nearby Queen Catharine Marsh, accessible from the trail. When complete, the route will be roughly 12 miles long and will connect the communities of Watkins Glen, Montour Falls, Millport, Pine Valley and Horseheads.

Photo: Lauren McLoughlin

Cumming Nature Center

Acting as the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s “living museum,” this 900-acre preserve does an exceptional job at just that. Separated into five thematically different loops, the excellent walking trails are full of historical and artful exhibits as well as informational placards. The trails here are well-marked, flat, easy, and explore an array of environs ranging from a thirty five-acre beaver pond, sections of scrub land, meandering wooded streams, open marshes, and deep forests.

Photo: Rick Lightbody

Ellis Hollow Nature Preserve

Need a break from the hassles of everyday life? A walk through the fern-carpeted forests of the Ellis Hollow Preserve could be just the thing. Only a 15-minute drive from downtown Ithaca, the preserve’s streams drain into Cascadilla Creek and offer the perfect opportunity for younger children to explore their shallow waters. The trail system here is just under two miles, making it an ideal location for those looking for a short hike.

Photo: Chris Ray

Green Lakes State Park

With nearly 20 miles of trails, old-growth forests, two pristine lakes, boat rentals, 137 camp sites, a sandy swimming beach, and even golf courses (traditional and disc versions), there are numerous ways to get outside and enjoy Green Lakes State Park. Summer is when the vast majority of visitors frequent the park, but it remains open year round and has equally stunning scenery and outdoor activities in other seasons.

Photo: Steve Knapp

Keuka Outlet Trail

Late in the twentieth century, recreation advocates blazed the way in repurposing this former tow path and rail-bed into one of the best multiuse trails in the region. The trail follows a generally downhill course from the outlet of Keuka Lake in Penn Yan to the inlet along Seneca Lake in Dresden. A winding stream and two impressive waterfalls accompany hikers, bikers and even equestrians along the 6.8 mile route. The most notable waterfall is Seneca Mill Falls located at about the midpoint of the trail near the pavilion at the Lion Bruce Hansen Memorial Park, where many people stop to view the falls and picnic.

Photo: Lime Hollow Nature Center

Lime Hollow Nature Center

Twelve miles of trails, open dawn to dusk year round, weave through meadow, forest, and scrub land, often neighboring or encircling the numerous ponds and varied wetlands found throughout the 430-acre property. A quarter mile trail, the Trail for All, is wheelchair accessible and a trail-ready wheelchair is available at the visitor center along McClean Road if needed. The center also acts as an information hub for budding naturalists through summer camps, forest preschool, and year round school programs.

Photo: Tim Starmer

Sampson State Park 

On the eastern shore of Seneca Lake in the town of Romulus lies Sampson State Park, the site of a former Air Force and Navy base. Today, there is a museum on-site dedicated to its history, but those looking for an outdoor adventure have plenty of options. Camping, a sandy beach with swimming, hiking along the shore of the lake, biking, and paddling are sure to please every member of the family.

Photo: Tanglewood Nature Center

Tanglewood Nature Center

This museum and nature center features a variety of wildlife exhibits, youth education programs, and summer camps. Hikers will find multiple trail loops of varying difficulty and length that allow for leisurely strolls through meadows or more vigorous excursions through woodland. An additional 50 acres and more trails are available at Personius Woods located on West Hill Road, where the family dog is welcome on-leash.

Photo: Nigel Kent

Taughannock Falls State Park

The waterfall that is this park’s namesake is one of the tallest waterfalls in New York State. A mile-long trail that leads to the falls is level and easily accessed, making it an excellent trip for all members of the family, from toddlers to grandparents and everyone in between. The lakeside portion of the park is home to a swimming beach, picnic areas, a playground, and boat slips.

Photo: Nigel Kent

Wesley Hill Preserve

Put down the devices and immerse your family in nature at the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Wesley Hill Preserve. Diverse stands of mature forest, a wide array of wildflowers, and sweeping views of the hills surrounding Honeoye Lake’s southern end make this site truly special. Over five miles of hiking trails, a pond, and excellent examples of the area’s geologic history provide the perfect setting for nature discovery.

This list was compiled as a general guide for families wishing to get outdoors. Visitors should check the web site for each individual park, nature center, etc., for specific details on closings and other restrictions due to Covid-19.

Other places to explore…

Baltimore Woods Nature Center

Hemlock-Canadice State Forest

Shindagin Hollow State Forest

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Best Mountain Biking Spots in the FLX!

Photo: Edie Jodz

Best Mountain Biking Spots in the Finger Lakes

Whether you are a seasoned mountain biker or tackling the trails on two-wheels for the first time, there is a spot in the Finger Lakes for you. Area parks offer everything from technical, single-track to wide, stone-dust rail trails if you know where to look. For more information, be sure to reach out to local mountain bike groups like Cycle-CNY, CNY Dirt, and the Finger Lakes Cycling Club who volunteer to maintain area trails and host events.

*Note: please follow CDC social distancing guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Enjoy the trails either solo or with people you live with, and maintain a minimum six-foot distance between yourself and other recreationists.

Photo: Nigel Kent

Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area

Bikers here will find that the majority of trails follow old forest roads, but single track paths also round-out the network of interconnected and parallel loops. Trips of varying length and difficulty can be easily accomplished after a quick study of the trail map before heading out. What makes it enjoyable for bike ride—a deep woodland feel with broad stable trails that include lots of lengthy lines-of-sight—also makes for an ideal cross-country skiing destination in the winter.

Photo: Tim Starmer

Cayuga- Seneca Canal Trail

If rail trails are more your style, look no further than the Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail which follows an old railroad bed beside the canal. The western end can be accessed by parking at Seneca Lake State Park or at the Bishop Nature Preserve, owned by the Finger Lakes Land Trust. The preserve has a large gravel parking area off West River Road and a newly constructed path that connects directly to the trail. Once on the canal trail, bikers can enjoy an out-and-back style ride along a broad, level, stone-dust trail. Free of obstructions, the path allows you to take in the sights, sounds, and smells of the pastoral landscape.

Photo: Steve Gelb

Shindagin Hollow State Forest

This state forest is a Finger Lakes favorite for mountain bikers—with over 5,266 acres and roughly fifteen miles of trails geared specifically for cyclists. The miles of dedicated mountain bike trails are classified as technical single-track, vary in difficulty, and can be combined to make extensive trips. Generally speaking, the blue trails are considered more difficult than the red and yellow trails but their proximity means it’s easy to mix and match. Note that the red and yellow trails dry out faster than the blue trails and riding wet trails only degrades the system and all the hard work that has gone into creating the trails.

Photo: Rob Howard

Highland Forest

The extensive network of well-marked trails—over twenty miles of hiking trails and many additional miles of mountain biking trails—intersects numerous wooded streams and rolling terrain through a variety of deciduous and coniferous forests. The two types of trails are separate but crisscross each other frequently, making trail intersections more a common occurrence than a landmark. There are so many route options within the two interwoven networks that long, difficult treks as well as short interludes can be enjoyed by all levels of cyclists. Cycling surfaces vary from country roads to forest riding trails and include three levels of difficulty, providing a wide variety of options and experiences.

Photo: Nigel Kent

Ontario County Park at Gannett Hill

For a great ride with our without your kids, try the multiuse trail system at Gannett Hill. Trails are laid out in different loops that occasionally connect. Each trail is well marked, has its own color, and also provides an indication of trail difficulty so you can put together a route that suites both your skill and energy level!  When you are done with your ride, head over to the overlook for an amazing view of the Bristol Valley sprawling across the western horizon.

Photo: Tim Starmer

Morgan Hill State Forest

The trails here have been gaining popularity with the Shindagin mountain biking crowd due to its proximity to Ithaca and Syracuse. To help improve the experience, volunteers have been working hard to add miles of trails in recent years. Riders find this state forest is in a prime location and offers fun and scenic riding with good camping spots to boot!

Other places to explore…

Oakley Corners State Forest

Hammond Hill State Forest

Bear Swamp State Forest 

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Wild Places for Everyone

Photo: Brian Maley

Wild Places for Everyone: A Message on Racism from the Finger Lakes Land Trust

The Finger Lakes Land Trust believes that safe, easy access to quiet trails and open spaces is a right. We condemn racism and support the Black Lives Matter movement.

 

POSTED JUNE 4, 2020

Watching the horrifying events across the country over the past month shows us that for many Black Americans, there is no such thing as safe access to nature. That for Black people in this country, watching birds, jogging, sleeping—everyday activities and human rights—are fraught with potential danger.

The Land Trust is working hard to ensure that our network of nature preserves and trails are safe, so that people from all communities will feel welcome. Our mission remains:  To conserve forever the lands and waters of the Finger Lakes region, ensuring scenic vistas, local foods, clean waters, and wild places for EVERYONE.

We can do better.

We recognize that we are beginners in this work and commit to amplify the voices and experiences of Black people, Indigenous people, and all people of color; to learn from groups working to diversify the conservation movement; and to work with partners to better serve the diverse communities of the Finger Lakes region.

“…scenic vistas, local foods, clean waters, and wild places for everyone.”

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Best Trail Running Spots in the FLX!

Photo: Joel Cisne

Best Trail Running Spots in the Finger Lakes Region

Are you ready to take your running from the roads to the trails? Or perhaps you are already a trail runner looking for more of a challenge? Fortunately, the Finger Lakes region offers plenty of workout options for trail runners of all kinds. Check out our list of favorite spots, from easy sloping double-track trails to technical single-track routes with beautiful views.

*Note: please follow CDC social distancing guidelines to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Enjoy the trails either solo or with people you live with, and maintain a minimum six-foot distance between yourself and other recreationists.

Photo: Brian Maley

Hammond Hill State Forest

Hammond Hill is a popular destination for all sorts of adventuring, especially trail running. Runners love the versatility that Hammond Hill offers. With over 20 miles of trails to explore, this forest is the perfect location for runners looking for a quick jog after work or a long run on the weekend. Technicality varies here, offering options for single-track trails that require some maneuvering around rocks and roots or wide seasonal roads that let you take your eyes off the ground for a moment to enjoy the view.

Photo: Tim Starmer

Catharine Valley Trail

The Catharine Valley Trail is the perfect place for the seasoned road runner to get a feel for running on trails. As a natural corridor that follows the old Chemung Barge Canal tow path, the trail runs from Watkins Glen to the hamlet of Pine Valley at a very modest grade. You can run long or short distances, but keep in mind that the Catharine Valley Trail is an out-and-back route. The low grade and wide, crushed stone path also make the trail a great option for runners with small children in strollers.

Photo: Vinnie Collins

Steege Hill Nature Preserve

Nestled between Corning and Big Flats, the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Steege Hill Nature Preserve is a perfect destination for Southern Tier runners. With a trail network covering more than 6 miles and offering several looped route options, Steege Hill is ideal for trail runners of all levels. Do you yearn to see some wildlife while exploring the trails? Steege Hill is home to many different species of animals, so keep your eyes out!

Photo: Nigel Kent

High Tor Wildlife Management Area (WMA)

Located at the south end of Canandaigua Lake, High Tor WMA really has it all. With over 20 miles of trails to explore, High Tor WMA features ponds, waterfalls, rivers, gorges, forests, and open fields, so you will never get bored on a long run. If you need to cool off, there are plenty of creek walk options to enjoy before continuing your run. If you love the Finger Lakes Trail (FLT), then you’ll also love High Tor WMA, as it features a part of the Bristol Hills Trail, a branch of the FLT.

Photo: Steve Knapp

Keuka Outlet Trail

The Keuka Outlet Trail, often referred to as simply the Outlet Trail, follows a generally downhill course from Keuka Lake in Penn Yan to the inlet along Seneca Lake in Dresden. As a rail trail, this is another great option for beginners or even seasoned trail runners looking for a place to shake out their legs while avoiding the roads. From point to point, the Outlet Trail extends nearly 7 miles, offering runners excellent short and long run options as an out-and-back route. Please be aware that equestrians frequent the Outlet Trail, so make sure your trail etiquette knowledge is up to speed!

Photo: Tom Reimers

Danby State Forest

If you’re looking for a great location for technical elevation training, then Danby State Forest is the place for you. The popular Abbott Loop features 8 miles of trails that will get your heart rate up as you climb to the stunning lookout at Thatcher’s Pinnacles and your adrenaline pumping as you maneuver your way back down. With multiple spur trails, loops, and a seasonal road, every runner can find their right distance. Have trekking poles and want the chance to use them? Danby State Forest is an optimal place to try them out.

Other places to explore…

Finger Lakes National Forest

Highland Forest

See the map!

COVID-19 Update About Park & Trail Closings

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COVID-19 Update

Photo: Nikhil Nagane

COVID-19 Update About Park and Trail Closings Around the Finger Lakes Region

Please check before visiting, and protect yourself and others so that we all may continue to enjoy nature’s benefits.

 

Updated April 16, 2020

Dear Finger Lakers,

Gofingerlakes.org, a project of the Finger Lakes Land Trust, was created to inspire people to get outdoors and explore the natural beauty of our region.  As your guide to the best spots for outdoor recreation across our 6,000-square-mile area, we are pleased to offer this free service – especially now when a hike in nature can be a particularly potent form of solace.

To keep you and your family safe during the COVID-19 crisis, we recommend that you check with the public agency or organization that administers any Go Finger Lakes location before you visit.  Decisions to close parks and trails may be made in the interest of public health.  Please continue to enjoy the outdoors close to home and be sure to practice social distancing guidelines defined by the CDC.

Photo: Nigel Kent

Web Sites

You can read the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s COVID-19 response.  You might also find useful or emergent information about Go Finger Lakes locations on these web sites:

State

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation
New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

County

Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail
Chemung River Friends
Ontario County
Onondaga County Parks
Town of Dryden
Friends of the Outlet
Cayuga County
Seneca Meadows

National

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
United States Department of Agriculture

Go Finger Lakes Locations

Here is the complete list of Go Finger Lakes locations which include a direct link to the administrator for authoritative information.

State Forests, Parks, and More

Bear Swamp State Forest
Birdseye Hollow State Forest
Black Diamond Trail
Buttermilk Falls State Park
Cascadilla Gorge Trail
Catharine Valley Trail
Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail
Chemung River
Clark Reservation State Park
Conesus Inlet Wildlife Area
Connecticut Hill Wildlife Area
Danby State Forest
Erwin Wildlife Area
Fillmore Glen State Park
Finger Lakes National Forest
Gannett Hill Park
Green Lakes State Park
Grimes Glen Park
Hammond Hill State Forest
Harriet Hollister Spencer Recreation Area
Hemlock-Canadice State Forest
High Tor Wildlife Area
Highland Forest
Howland Island
Jim Schug Trail
Keuka Outlet Trail
Labrador Hollow Unique Area
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge
Morgan Hill State Forest
Oakley Corners State Forest
Owasco Flats
Pratt’s Falls Park
Robert Treman State Park
Sampson State Park
Seneca Meadows Wetland Preserve
Shindagin Hollow State Forest
Sugar Hill State Forest
Taughannock Falls State Park
Texas Hollow State Forest
Watkins Glen State Park

Nature Centers

Baltimore Woods Nature Center
Cayuga Nature Center
Cornell Botanic Gardens
Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Cumming Nature Center
Lime Hollow Nature Center
Montezuma Audubon Center
Tanglewood Nature Center

Finger Lakes Land Trust Preserves

Bahar Preserve & Carpenter Falls
Bock-Harvey Forest Preserve
Ellis Hollow Nature Preserve
Hinchcliff Family Preserve
Lick Brook Gorge
Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve
Roy H. Park Preserve
Staghorn Cliffs
Steege Hill Nature Preserve
Wesley Hill Nature Preserve

From natural history to a natural future… help us save land forever.

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Dog-Friendly FLX Hikes

Dog-Friendly Hikes in the Finger Lakes Region

Dogs make great hiking companions and can bring tremendous joy to your outdoor adventures, but not all trails are dog-friendly. Fortunately, the Finger Lakes region offers plenty of places to get outside with your canine friends. Here are a few of our favorites, from locations with firm leash policies to places where your furry friends have a bit more freedom. Whether on or off leash, please be sure your dog is under your control at all times.

*Note: please follow CDC social distancing guidelines with dogs as well as people to prevent the spread of COIVD-19. Keep six feet between yourself, other people, and their pets when passing on the trail.

Photo: Noel Bastien

Wesley Hill Nature Preserve

The Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Wesley Hill Preserve has a 5.6-mile trail system which winds past several gullies, diverse stands of mature forest, and a pond. Perfect for exploring, the preserve is home to the immense Briggs Gully and features sweeping views of the hills surrounding Honeoye Lake’s southern end. Dogs must be under their owner’s control at all times.

Photo: Tim Starmer

Morgan Hill State Forest

Morgan Hill is a popular spot for Syracuse and Cortland-area hikers looking for some solitude. Dogs are welcome off-leash to explore over 22 miles of marked foot trails and public forest access roads. The trails at Morgan Hill cross seasonal streams, pass through a mixture of deciduous and conifer forests, and extend to the North Country Trail—a 4,600-mile trail that traverses seven states and connects North Dakota to New York.

Photo: Monika Wood

Erwin Wildlife Management Area

Five miles west of Corning, the Erwin Wildlife Management Area features over 2,490 acres and more than ten miles of trails. Dogs are free to roam deep gullies with hemlock-shaded streams, deciduous forests, and several small ponds. Similar to state forests, wildlife management areas do not require dogs to be on a leash as long as they are under their owner’s control.

Photo: Tim Starmer

Sampson State Park

Full of military history from World War II and the Korean War, what really shines at Sampson State Park for outdoor enthusiasts is the three and half mile long Lake Trail, much of which follows the shore of Seneca Lake. Here, the access road between the village of Willard and the state park has been designated as a trail and follows within feet of the extraordinarily deep lake. Dogs must be kept on a leash at all times.

Photo: Steve Knapp

Keuka Outlet Trail

The Keuka Lake Outlet Trail follows a generally downhill course from the outlet of Keuka Lake in Penn Yan to the inlet along Seneca Lake in Dresden.  Along sections of the trail are the remains of old mill buildings and locks, lush woodlands, and two impressive waterfalls.  A winding stream accompanies hikers, runners, bikers and even equestrians along the 6.8-mile route. Dogs should be kept on a leash and under their owner’s control at all times.

Photo: Tom Reimers

Danby State Forest

A favorite spot for Ithaca-area hikers, Danby State Forest has 7,337 acres and over 19 miles of trails including two lean-tos and a section of the Finger Lakes Trail. The forest’s popular 8-mile Abbott Loop features a stunning lookout at Thatcher’s Pinnacles, where you’ll find sweeping views of the Cayuga Inlet Valley and the Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Lindsay-Parsons Biodiversity Preserve. Dogs are free to explore this state forest off-leash.

Photo: Joel Cisne

A reminder to recreation enthusiasts that many parks, forests, and nature preserves allow hunting and trapping in designated periods. Each location profile on Go Finger Lakes includes a link to the managing organization – whether it be the Finger Lakes Land Trust, a New York State agency, or a nature center – and visitors should consult that agency for hunting information before each outing. See our hunting safety guidelines.

Other places to explore…

Cayuga-Seneca Canal Trail

Bear Swamp State Forest

See the map for more locations!

Want to know more about animals and plants of the Finger Lakes?

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Top FLX Snowshoe Destinations!

Photo: Lois Darlington

Top Snowshoe Destinations in the Finger Lakes Region

When the snow starts falling, it’s the perfect time to step into a pair of snowshoes and explore the Finger Lakes. Snowshoes are lightweight, easy to use and provide a fun way to get outdoors in winter. Regardless of your skill level, there is no shortage of places to go in the Finger Lakes region. Here are a few of our top snowshoe destinations.

Photo: Karl Hanafin

Cumming Nature Center

Don’t own a pair of snowshoes? Not a problem! Cumming Nature Center in Naples rents them for $5 and has a 3-mile loop just for snowshoeing. The trails here are perfect for beginners or those looking for a leisurely pace, and are patrolled by the Genesee Valley Nordic Ski Patrol. Acting as the Rochester Museum & Science Center’s “living museum,” the center is perfect for family-friendly fun.

Photo: FLLT

Connecticut Hill Wildlife Management Area

Looking for a challenge? Explore the hilly terrain and peaceful solitude of New York State’s largest wildlife management area, encompassing 11,645 acres. For a shorter trek, take the 2.6 mile-long Bob Cameron Loop which lies within a deep, mostly hardwood forest and crosses several seasonal streams. For a long excursion, the 5.7 mile-long Van Lone Loop shares a picturesque section of the Finger Lakes Trail which follows Cayuta Creek then climbs beside a wooded stream and follows forest roads to the end.

Photo: Chris Ray

Green Lakes State Park

While the trails at many state parks are often closed in winter for safety reasons, Green Lakes is an exception. The park features an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones, where visitors can snowshoe and enjoy wide-open views. For a more challenging experience, a 13-mile trail system on the western edge of Round Lake weaves through open fields and old growth forests, a rare circumstance in the northeast.

Photo: Danielle Kisloski

Roy H. Park Preserve

Just a short drive from Ithaca, this 241-acre preserve, which features portions of an extensive forest, rolling meadows, and wetlands, is an important connector in a larger array of some 8,000 acres of protected lands. From the north entrance, cross the boardwalk and snowshoe your way into more than 20 miles of multi-use trails at Hammond Hill State Forest. An easy meandering one-mile trail that begins from the south entrance of the preserve leads you through a meadow that encircles a beautiful evergreen plantation.

Photo: Betsy Darlington

Oakley Corners State Forest

Located in the Southern Tier just north of Owego, Oakley Corners features a 13-mile multi-use trail system. All trails are color-coded and have a skill level designation: short, gentle trails for beginners, and steeper, longer trails for intermediate and advanced snowshoers. The network of trails here were built by the Triple Cities Ski Club through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Adopt-A-Natural Resource program and are another great example of how public and private partnerships can make natural resources accessible.

Another location to rent snowshoes…

Lime Hollow Nature Center

Other places to explore…

Finger Lakes National Forest

Highland Forest

See the map!

Top 8 Cross Country Ski Spots in the Finger Lakes

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Top Waterfalls

Photo: Nigel Kent

Top Finger Lakes Waterfalls – Secret Spots and Famous Falls

Waterfalling in the region’s iconic gorges is a quintessential Finger Lakes experience, right up there with wine tasting and lazy summers on the water (see the best paddling spots!).  Visitors flock to famous spots like Taughannock Falls, with a vertical drop that beats Niagara Falls, and the breathtaking cascades at Watkins Glen State Park.  Our well-traveled staff here at the Finger Lakes Land Trust helped us list our favorite waterfalls including famous spots and lesser-known gems.  Put these Finger Lakes waterfalls on your summer to-do list:

Photo: Chris Ray

Lick Brook Gorge

During the last ice age, glaciers thousands of feet thick blanketed much of northern North America, sculpting the beautiful topography of the Finger Lakes region. The effects of these glaciers can be seen in the multiple waterfalls that splash down along Lick Brook on its journey to Cayuga Lake, including one that is nearly 140 feet tall. The Finger Lakes Land Trust’s Lick Brook Gorge preserve hosts a popular stretch of the Finger Lakes Trail that runs along the gorge. Ambitious hikers can continue along the trail to Buttermilk Falls State Park to the east and Robert H. Treman State Park to the west.

Photo: Chris Ray

Tinker Falls and Labrador Hollow Unique Area

The universally accessible, quarter-mile path to Tinker Falls is arguably the most popular destination in Labrador Hollow. Tinker Falls is a stunning example of a “hanging” falls. Over time, the crumbly shale beneath the crest of the waterfall and behind it washes away leaving an undercut capstone, a deep crevice behind, and an impressive waterfall. The cavern behind Tinker Falls is 100 feet wide, 30 feet deep and 30 feet high. Walking behind it is possible if you are brave and agile enough to climb the steep, stone staircase set into the crumbly shale.

Photo: Tom Reimers

Buttermilk Falls State Park

Located on the southern edge of Ithaca, Buttermilk Falls is a wildly popular spot for tourists and local residents, especially during the height of summer.  Upon entering the park, newcomers quickly see why.  Across a verdant lawn is a foaming and frothy waterfall with a deep pool and dammed swimming area below. The park’s namesake falls, Buttermilk Falls, tumbles down striated gorge rock in two distinct drops.  The first, nearly 90 feet in height, lies beside the trail that ascends quickly away from the swimming area.  The second is visible just above the first from a handsomely built stone-lookout.

Photo: Nigel Kent

Taughannock Falls State Park

Ithaca is most certainly a city of gorges, but the gorge at Taughannock Falls, in nearby Trumansburg, is the biggest of them all.  It is perhaps more accurately described as a canyon.  The waterfall at the end of the lower portion of the gorge is the tallest waterfall in New York State.  In fact, it is the tallest, single-drop waterfall east of the Rockies.  For comparison, Taughannock Falls is 215 feet high while Niagara Falls is 167 feet high.  The mile-long trail within the canyon is nearly level and easily accessed, making it an excellent trip for all members of the family, from toddlers to grandparents and everyone in between.

Photo: Brian Maley

Bahar Nature Preserve and Carpenter Falls

Within the folds of farmland next to Skaneateles Lake, lies a beautiful forest surrounding Bear Swamp Creek. From the top of the hill, hikers are rewarded with a startling view of Carpenter Falls. Here the water drops nearly 90 feet into a deep ravine. Explore the trail leading further down the Bear Creek Swamp gorge to see several other waterfalls cascading all the way to the lake. In 2008, the Finger Lakes Land Trust gave 36 acres to New York State, creating the Carpenter Falls Unique Area. The remaining conserved acres downstream are open to the public as the Land Trust’s Bahar Nature Preserve.

Photo: Chris Ray

Robert H. Treman

While other gorge parks hit you with some of their most dramatic views right from the start, at Robert H. Treman, also known as Enfield Glen, you have to work just a little bit harder to get to the wow factor. Mind you it is not much work, as the initial part of the gorge trail is relatively flat and meandering for a mile and three quarters.  But as you begin to hear thundering falls and see the route out of the gorge, it’s easy to see why “wow” might not be sufficient to describe the scene. The 115-foot Lucifer Falls is clearly central, and the handsome stonework winding up along the sheer cliff is equally remarkable.

Photo: Nigel Kent

Watkins Glen State Park

There is no place more iconic of the Finger Lakes waterfall and gorge experience than Watkins Glen State Park.  Stunning waterfalls, dramatic flumes, and picturesque potholes combine to make a gorgeous waterscape.  The scene is further enhanced by handsome stone staircases, arched bridges, and winding tunnels that weave up and through the scenic gorge.  The trail through the gorge is an awe-inspiring confluence of water’s persistent and powerful stone sculpting and a thoughtful merger of human craftsmanship.  Simply put, the gorge is a can’t-miss trail for waterfall lovers and anyone seeking a true Finger Lakes experience.

Photo: Brian Maley

Grimes Glen Park

Formed by gushing meltwaters at the end of the last ice age, Grimes Glen is typical of many Finger Lakes gorges that still carry runoff from uplands down into the ice-carved valleys below.  Two stunning 60-foot falls are accessible today by wandering upstream about a ½ mile from the parking area.  Waterfall sightseers should expect to get their feet wet, since the gorge narrows upstream to a point where there is no bank to speak of, forcing hikers into the rocky streambed.  For much of the summer and fall, except after torrential rains, the creekbed is easily navigable, but during spring runoff the flow comes on strong and turbulent.  The Finger Lakes Land Trust holds an easement on the property, and so has a responsibility to look out for the future of this remarkable gorge.

Photo: Nigel Kent

Fillmore Glen State Park

The first falls, sometimes called Cowsheds Falls, are universally accessible while the other parts of the gorge are only reached after a brief but steep climb.  After the initial climb, the trail through the gorge is relatively flat and easily negotiated.  Further along the gorge are several stunning smaller cascades and waterfalls that culminate with the tallest falls, Dalibarda Falls, followed shortly after by Upper and Lower Pinnacle Falls.  These last pair of waterfalls lies in a visually striking square-cut section of the gorge near the terminus of the gorge trail.  Late spring, early summer, and/or after periods of heavy rain are the best time to see the waterfalls in their most torrential states.  However, autumn is also a notably beautiful time to visit, either when the leaves are emblazoned with contrasting colors or just after fallen leaves reveal parts of the gorge previously hidden from view by the dense understory.

Letchworth State Park

The impressive gorge at Letchworth State Park is so broad and deep that it’s heralded by many as the “Grand Canyon of the East.”  The mighty Genesee River roars through the gorge descending in three major waterfalls tucked between steep cliffs.  With over 60 miles of hiking trails and extraordinary waterfall viewing, this park is a must-see.  The adventurous can take it all in from above; hot air balloons frequently fly over the gorge in the summer.

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Fisher

Photo: Bill Banaszewski

Animals and Plants of the Finger Lakes

The Ever So Adaptable Fisher

When former Land Trust President Tom Reimers found evidence of bears on his property in the town of Danby, he set up a motion-sensing camera to confirm his suspicions.

The camera hasn’t succeeded in photographing any bears yet, but last summer it captured a picture of a fisher (Martes pennanti).  The photo shows a large, dark animal, something like a cross between an otter and a large cat, strolling nonchalantly across the forest floor.

Fishers, sometimes called “fisher cats,” may look vaguely feline, but in fact they are mustelids – long, sinuous, fierce members of the weasel family.  Thanks to its varied habitat, upstate New York is unusually rich in mustelid species: otters swim in the waterways; mink hunt at the water’s edge; weasels live in the uplands and hedgerows; martens are adapted to deep snow at higher elevations; fishers inhabit old-growth coniferous forests.

Photo: Bill Banaszewski
Photo: Bill Banaszewski

That, at any rate, was the received wisdom about fishers, but it turns out to be only partially correct.  Like so many other North American animals, fishers almost went extinct in the nineteenth century as the forests were clearcut and the animals themselves were indiscriminately trapped for their dense, glossy fur. When it was all over, the only fishers left in the state were in the Adirondacks.  Adirondack fishers were live-trapped and released into the Catskills in the late 1970s, where they flourished.  Because the animals were only found in undisturbed wilderness, biologists wrongly assumed that they could only survive in old-growth forests.

This misconception persisted until fisher sightings began trickling in from all over the state, from Albany to western New York.  DEC wildlife biologist Lance Clark saw his first fisher in the mid-90s in Bear Swamp State Forest in Cayuga County; a roadkilled animal turned up in Onondaga County at about the same time.  Beginning in 2007, naturalist Linda Spielman has found fisher tracks in Tioga and Tompkins Counties.

Fishers, it turns out, are a lot more adaptable than anyone had expected.  As largely arboreal predators, they will not live in treeless areas, but they do not seem to be bothered by most human activities and have made themselves at home in many areas throughout the northeast.  In fact, so-called “edge habitats”– areas at the junctions between distinctly different habitats, especially forest and field – are particularly attractive to fishers because they are home to high populations of the small mammals that are their primary prey.  Fishers aren’t picky, however: they will eat amphibians and reptiles, birds, eggs, insects, carrion, and even berries and acorns.

They are also one of the few animals that dare to prey on porcupines.  A fisher will repeatedly attack the porcupine’s face until it weakens and can be flipped over for a kill.  In some cases, they can force porcupines to fall out of a tree and then attack their stunned prey on the ground.

As marginal farmland reverted to woodland in recent decades, most of upstate New York turned into potential fisher territory.  Fishers were reintroduced into Pennsylvania in 1994 and, combined with populations from West Virginia, are now dispersing into western New York.  Animals from both the Adirondacks and the Catskills are colonizing central New York, including the Finger Lakes forests.

In fact, fishers are in the process of reclaiming many parts of their former range.  When they were eradicated in Vermont, porcupine populations skyrocketed; the forests didn’t get a break from those voracious bark-eaters until Maine fishers were imported to control them.  Vermont fishers then moved into New Hampshire and Massachusetts, and have recently even been spotted just outside of Boston.

There have been many sightings of “black panthers” in upstate New York.  Panthers, or cougars, were long ago extirpated from the state and, in any case, are never black.  If you see a “black panther,” it is most likely a fisher.  At approximately three feet long, the animal may look formidable, but even a very large specimen rarely weighs more than fifteen pounds.  Unlike cougars, these animals are no danger to human beings, but forest-dwelling owners of free-ranging cats and poultry would be wise to take appropriate precautions.

Angie Berchielli, a trapper and naturalist who assisted in the efforts to restore fishers to the Catskills and Pennsylvania, is excited by the growing fisher population.  “It is truly one of the greatest success stories [showing] what very good management of a species by the DEC can do.  They are now available for all of us, whether we are trappers, photographers, or people who just like to watch wildlife.”

The NYS DEC is collecting information about fishers.  Please report any sightings to fwwildlf@gw.dec.state.ny.us.

This story by Jacqueline Stuhmiller first appeared in our newsletter, The Land Steward, as part of the Closer Look series about plants and animals of the Finger Lakes region.

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Wood Frog

Photo: Lang Elliott

Animals and Plants of the Finger Lakes

Lazarus of the Amphibian World

Winter is a hard time, particularly for those animals that cannot regulate their body temperatures.

It is perhaps hardest for amphibians, whose moist skins make them susceptible to freezing.  Many aquatic frogs, such as the bullfrog and leopard frog, lie dormant all winter below the ice, breathing through their skins.  Terrestrial animals are exposed to far more extreme temperatures.  Those that can’t avoid freezing temperatures have two ways of making it through the winter: freeze resistance and freeze tolerance.

Photo: Lang Elliott
Photo: Lang Elliott

Freeze-resistant animals rely on a phenomenon known as supercooling.  Despite what we’ve all learned, water doesn’t necessarily freeze at 0 °C.  A small volume of very pure and still water can stay liquid to −42 °C; however, the moment this supercooled water contacts an ice crystal, it will freeze solid almost instantly.  Smaller animals, including some insects and reptiles, use supercooling to weather brief and relatively mild freezing episodes.  Most amphibians cannot use this technique, however, because their skins are highly permeable to water and ice.

The wood frog (Rana sylvatica) is one of a handful of North American frogs that is freeze-tolerant.  If you search very carefully under the leaf-fall on the upland forest floor, you’re likely to find one of these little black-masked fellows sitting motionlessly, perfectly camouflaged, limbs neatly tucked into its body in order to reduce water loss.  It will remain there all winter, freezing and thawing along with the soil itself, until spring finally frees it from its state of suspended animation.

Frostbite occurs when ice crystals form within tissues and slice like knives through delicate cell structures, causing irreparable damage.  In order for the wood frog to survive winter, it must ensure that the water in its cells does not turn to ice.  When the frog first begins to freeze, it saturates its body with glucose. Water that contains dissolved solutes (such as salts or sugars) freezes at a lower temperature than does pure water, which is why icebergs float in the ocean.  In the same way, glucose acts as a cryoprotectant, a sort of “antifreeze” that lowers the freezing point of the frog.  This little animal is remarkably tough, but it is not invincible: it cannot survive if more than about 65 percent of the water in its body freezes.

Photo: Lang Elliot
Photo: Lang Elliot

As the frog cools further, ice forms in the blood and lymph vessels and the gut, where it can do no damage.  The more water that is locked up in ice, the greater the concentration of solutes in the blood and lymph, and the more water that is drawn out from the cells.  (Something similar happens when you rub a piece of meat with salt in order to draw out the juices.)  The cells shrink but do not collapse because they contain glucose, which reduces water outflow.  The tiny amount of water in each dehydrated cell then supercools so that the cell contents remain liquid even when the temperature drops considerably below freezing.

Wood frogs also accumulate the chemical urea in their tissues when they are subjected to dry conditions, such as those of late fall and early winter.  Urea minimizes the amount of water that is lost through the skin.  It seems to be an even more effective cryoprotectant than glucose and also has a depressant effect on the frog’s metabolism.  Both glucose and urea seem to stabilize cell structures and protect them from being damaged by freezing, although no one yet knows how this works.

When the temperature warms, the frog begins to defrost in the opposite direction that it froze: that is, from the inside out.  It is in the center of the frog that blood last circulated and the glucose concentration is highest, and therefore where the melting point is lowest.  The heart, which had been encased in ice, begins beating again; the shrunken vital organs and muscles rehydrate and resume functioning after a few hours.  If it is spring, and not just a brief thaw (and the frogs seem to know which is which), they will mate just a few days later.  Their resurrection is perfectly timed: the warmer weather brings rain to fill the vernal pools in which they will lay their eggs.

This story by Jacqueline Stuhmiller first appeared in our newsletter, The Land Steward, as part of the Closer Look series about plants and animals of the Finger Lakes region.

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Take a closer look! Sign Up