The 206-acre Hinchcliff Family Preserve peers over the eastern shore of Skaneateles Lake offering impressive vistas, diverse habitats, and a unique window onto the human history and changing natural landscape of the property.
The Hinchcliff Family Preserve is a key part of a growing greenbelt of preserved land around the southern end of Skaneateles Lake. Land protection here and throughout the watershed is vitally important because the lake serves as the source of drinking water for the city of Syracuse and several other communities. See our Regional Conservation Agenda for more about the southern end of Skaneateles Lake.
The Hinchcliff Family Preserve consists of two sections. The largest extends from Spafford Landing to just north of Glen Haven on the east side of Skaneateles Lake. There, a 1.4-mile trail loop passes mostly through northern hardwood forest at various stages of succession. Watch and listen here for Wood Thrushes, Scarlet Tanagers, and other breeding songbirds in spring and summer. The trail also winds past mixed hemlock-hardwood forest, as well as several ephemeral and perennial streams, gullies, and waterfalls.
Grassy clearings offer habitat for sparrows and other open-country birds, as well as sweeping views of the wooded slope and the lake. Along the way, you will also see remnants of former habitation and work at the site — the foundation of an old dairy barn, a 1937 Chevrolet army truck possibly used by the Civilian Conservation Corps, and a grand stone fireplace and chimney that once served as the centerpiece of the Wickwire family home.
The other piece of the preserve is a 120-foot-wide corridor extending eastward from Route 41, where it connects to the Ripley Hill Nature Preserve, a property acquired by the Central New York Land Trust with help from the Finger Lakes Land Trust. In 2019, staff and volunteers from both organizations completed a one-mile hiking trail connecting the two preserves. Visitors to the Hinchcliff Family Preserve can hike up Covey Rd., carefully cross State Rte. 41, and extend their trek along a trail with a beautiful view of Skaneateles Lake.
The land that now forms the Hinchcliff Family Preserve was formerly part of a farm operated by the Burns family, who continue to own and farm neighboring land. In 1938, about 64 percent of the land within the current preserve boundary was in active agricultural use, while only 36 percent was forested. At that time, the farm included a full dairy operation, including cultivation of corn and hay to feed the cows. Now, over 83 percent of the preserve is forested, while only 17 percent is open fields.
The purchase and protection of the land have been made possible through broad support from the community, including a leadership gift from the Hinchcliff family, and by a grant from the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Since acquiring the property in 2013, the Land Trust has added the trail, a parking area, scenic overlooks with benches, and an interpretive kiosk to the site.