Along the picturesque west branch of Keuka Lake, lies a peaceful and biodiverse area awaiting exploration by boat. Paddling from the Finger Lakes Museum gives you the opportunity to pass through a forested stream channel, wetlands, and into the open waters of the lake beyond. Choose your own adventure, which can, of course, incorporate all three!
Nestled in the quiet hamlet of Branchport, sits the evolving Finger Lakes Museum (FLM), which offers public access to Keuka Lake via Sugar Creek. The FLM enjoys frontage on the creek, one of two major inlets to the lake. When you arrive at the main entrance, continue around the building and head to the Creekside Center, a reconstructed 18th-century barn. Beyond the barn, you will find a user-friendly watercraft dock and launch structure on the water. This dock is free for public use from dawn to dusk.
Paddle to the north on Sugar Creek and discover a forested wonderland. Depending on the water level, you may be able to travel a mile or more upstream, taking in the dense, uncultivated forest, and perhaps come across a Belted Kingfisher on the hunt. Great Blue Herons have also been seen along this route. Enjoy the variety of birdsong and look for beaver slides as you paddle. This area has a feel of the wilderness and you may have to navigate around a downed tree limb or duck under a low-hanging branch. The beauty of the paddle makes it well worth the effort!
Travel south from the launch and you will pass by the Branchport Fire Department, where you will see trees planted under the auspices of a DEC Trees for Tributaries grant. This planting is designed to enhance the shoreline, making it less susceptible to erosion, slowing the waters after floods, providing habitat, and mitigating temperature changes, all effects from upstream development. Continue under the 54A bridge, pass the DEC small craft launch and fishing platform on the right, and you will find yourself between two tracts of wetlands. To the left (east), is the FLM’s Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve. To the right (west), you will see iconic cattails wetlands that belong to the Izaak Walton League, one of the oldest conservation organizations in the country.
Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve: Thanks to a generous gift of land, the museum owns this 16-acre wetland adjacent to Crescent Beach at the north end of the west branch of Keuka Lake. The parcel has more than 1,400 feet of frontage on Sugar Creek, which is a navigable inlet to the lake. The parcel, which was named in honor of the donors’ father and grandmother, is deed-restricted for use as a wildlife preserve and will only be used for biological studies and educational programs by the museum. In addition to paddling by it on Sugar Creek, you can also hike the maintained trails and head down the boardwalk. At the end of the boardwalk is a beautiful octagon pavilion, constructed in a joint effort between the FLM Advanced Timber Frame Class and a high school class from the Wayland-Cohocton schools. Enjoy a picnic lunch, snack, and respite here, accessing the pavilion on foot from the hiking trail, or by boat, tying off at the small craft dock in the lake.
If your adventure takes you out on the lake, hug the shoreline to the north and paddle alongside Crescent Beach. The water is quite shallow here, and conducive to a refreshing dip. Continue paddling south to get to the Keuka Lake State Park. There you will find a swimming area, hiking trails, and rest facilities.