Finger Lakes Lake Getaways

lake getaways

The glacially-formed Finger Lakes, although never more than 3.5 miles wide at any point, are extraordinary. The 11 Finger Lakes are Otisco Lake, Skaneateles Lake, Owasco Lake, Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, Keuka Lake, Canandaigua Lake, Honeoye Lake, Canadice Lake, Hemlock Lake, and Conesus Lake.

The Iroquois Indians originally inhabited the area around the Finger Lakes National Forest. Information of their use of the area within the current Forest boundary is sketchy at best. It is thought that at least some hunting activity occurred.

In 1790, the area was divided into 600-acre military lots and distributed among Revolutionary War veterans as payment for their services. These early settlers cleared the land for production of hay and small grains such as buckwheat. As New York City grew, a strong market for these products developed, encouraging agriculture that is more intensive. The farmers prospered until the mid nineteenth century, when a series of unfortunate events occurred - the popularity of motorized transportation in urban centers (reducing the number of horses to be fed), gradual depletion of the soil resource, and competition from the Midwest.

Between 1890 and the Great Depression, over a million acres of farmland was abandoned in south central New York State. In the 1930's, it was recognized that farmers in many parts of the country could no longer make a living from their exhausted land. Environmental damage was occurring as they cultivated the land more and more intensively to make ends meet. Several pieces of legislation were passed, including the Emergency Relief Act of 1933, and the Bankhead-Jones Farm Tenant Act of 1937 to address these problems. One result was the formation of a government agency, the Resettlement Administration, to carry out the new laws. This agency directed the relocation of farmers to better and or other jobs, and the purchase of marginal farmland by the Federal government.

Between 1938 and 1941, over 100 farms were purchased in the area now in the National Forest. Because this was done on a willing-seller, willing-buyer basis, the resulting Federal ownership resembled a patchwork quilt. This was especially true in the Seneca County end of the Forest, where soils were more productive, and some families elected to stay. This ownership pattern still exists today.

The Soil Conservation Service initially managed the newly acquired Federal land, named the Hector Land Use Area (LUA). The emphasis was on stabilization of the soil by planting conifers, and development of a grazing program. Previously cultivated fields were converted to improved pastures to demonstrate how less intensive agriculture could still make productive use of the land.

In 1943, the Hector Cooperative Grazing Association was formed. This organization was issued a long-term lease to manage grazing on the LUA. They coordinated use of the pastures by as many as 120 individual livestock owners within a 100 mile radius of the LUA. By the 1950's, many of the original objectives of the Hector LUA had been met. Farmers had been resettled, the eroding soil stabilized, and alternative agriculture uses demonstrated. At the same time, the public was becoming interested in the concept of multiple uses of public land. Management and appropriate ownership of the Hector LUA was re-evaluated. The decision was made in 1954 to transfer administrative responsibilities to the U.S. Forest Service, which already had a fairly long history of multiple use management. Initially the Regional Office in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania carried this out. When this region was later consolidated within the Forest Service's Northeast Region, Hector became an administrative unit of the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont.

In 1982, the Federal land management agencies were directed to identify isolated parcels of federal land that could be sold without significantly affecting the resource base or public service. The intent was to dispose of lands that were inefficient to manage, and to generate revenue. The Hector Land Use Area was one parcel studied for possible disposal under this "Assets Management" program. When public meetings were held to evaluate this idea, there was strong local support for continued federal ownership. Local and regional citizens had come to depend on Hector for wood products, forage, recreation, and other benefits. Because of this public support, Congress enacted legislation to make it a permanent part of the National Forest System. The Hector Ranger District, Green Mountain National Forest, had been created. Local citizens asked the Forest Service to change the name to Hector Ranger District, Finger Lakes National Forest, so it would be less confusing to visitors, and promote local pride about the area. This change was made in October of 1985.

Although the Finger Lakes National Forest is still an administrative unit of the Green Mountain National Forest, they strive to be sensitive to local concerns and resource capabilities. The Finger Lakes National Forest provides thousands of recreation acres with few restrictions. The Forest offers over 25 miles of multi-use trails open to hikers, cross-country skiers, equestrians and snowmobilers. These miles include the 12-mile Interloken National Recreation Trail and two miles of the Finger Lakes Trail. Features along the paths include beautiful and spacious pastures, deep cool ravines and varied forest types.

Scenic driving through the Finger Lakes National Forest reveals a diverse and beautiful landscape. The ridge top topography and the open pastures provide many beautiful vistas. Forest roads are maintained for car travel in the summer. Travelers should check at the Forest Service Office for roads open in the winter.

Wildlife and nature observation is a major recreation feature of Finger Lakes National Forest. Wildflowers burst forth in spring followed by a lovely succession throughout the warm summer and fall days. Large and small game thrives in every woodland, pasture and pond. The area is well known for its varied species of raptors including the most commonly recorded northern harrier (also called the marsh hawk), the red-tailed hawk and the American kestrel. Raptors recorded during the summer include the northern harrier, sharp-shinned hawk, Cooper's hawk, northern goshawk, red-shouldered hawk, broad-winged hawk, red-tailed hawk, common barn owl, Eastern screech owl, great horned owl and the barred owl. Rare sightings include the long-eared owl and the short-eared owl. In winter, the rough-legged owl is known to migrate into the Forest.