Danby State Forest

Michigan Hollow Road
off Route 96B
Ithaca
NY 14850

Danby State Forest

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Trail system- Abbot Loop 7.5 miles.
Danby State Forest encompasses 7,337 acres of public open space in the towns of Danby, Candor and Spencer. It is one of two forests covered in the Rapid Water Unit Management Plan. Its large size and close proximity to the city of Ithaca and the Finger Lakes Region make Danby State Forest a great place to enjoy activities such as hunting, hiking, cross-country skiing, bird watching, picnicking and camping. Danby State Forest is a working State Forest that is sustainably managed to provide recreational services, diverse wildlife habitat, firewood and lumber.
The Danby State Forest is located on the Allegheny Plateau, which is made of sedimentary bedrock that formed some 350 million years ago when the region was covered by an ancient saltwater sea. Geologists believe that the plateau was created during a collision of the North American and African continents some 250 to 330 million years ago. The collision lifted the bedrock, which has since been shaped by continual weathering and the advance and retreat of continental ice sheets (glaciers). The glaciers created the 'U' shaped valleys of the region and the Finger Lakes.

Tompkins County was originally home to members of the Iroquois Confederation or Haudenosaunee, specifically the Cayuga Nation. The Haudenosaunee was established in circa 1570 under the influence of Hiawatha. It was a bond between five nations: the Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, Mohawk, and the Onondaga. In 1715, the Tuscarora nation was added making it a league of six nations. The Cayuga's, who were the main inhabitants of the Tompkins County area, did not use the land heavily. They had semi-permanent dwellings placed near freshwater sources which enabled them to hunt and transport game, as well as irrigate their crops without causing great stress to the land.

Early European settlers and Revolutionary War Veterans referred to the area as "Dark Forest" because the forest was so dense that only small traces of light penetrated through the forest canopy. However, the new settlers had many forest superstitions and they had little or no experience in producing forest goods. They therefore decided to clear the area almost entirely for use as farmland. The timber that was not used for carpentry was burned, becoming a valuable by-product known as potash. This process continued until almost the entire land was converted from dense forest to open fields.

As time progressed, it became apparent that the soils had major limitations for intensive crop production, including a seasonally high water table, low fertility, moderate to high acidity, and steep slopes. Early farmers quickly learned that the long harsh winters and thin, fine textured upland soils of the area would not support intensive agriculture. As such, many of the farmlands were abandoned as farmers sought deeper and more productive soils in the Midwest.

Originally part of the Watkins and Flint Purchase, the Danby State Forest lands were added to the state forest system from 1933 to 1997. The most significant acquisition took place in January of 1956 when about 6,200 acres were added to the State Forest from the federal government. Chiefly former farms, the federal lands were acquired as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal under what was then called the federal sub marginal land purchase program. In total, about 50 farms were acquired under the sub marginal land purchase program, with an average land parcel size of about 150 acres. The lands that comprise the Danby State Forest were once rural farming communities. Before federal and state ownership, four schoolhouses and five cemeteries were established on Danby State Forest lands. The 1860 Historical and Statistical Gazetteer of New York State lists grain, butter, apples and potatoes as the top agricultural and dairy products produced in the town of Danby.

Evidence of the Bald Hill farming community can be found today. Family cemeteries on the Danby State Forest include: the Fisher Settlement Cemetery (Ward/Theron Family), the Grant Farm Cemetery, the Green and Mettler Cemetery, the Larue Hill Farm Burying Ground (Bogert/McGowen Family) and the Ryant Family Burial Ground (also called the McFall Family Burial Ground). Burials in these cemeteries took place from as early as 1821 to as late as 1918. The Friends of Bald Hill, DEC Adopt-A-Natural Resource Partners, have extensively researched the rich history of Bald Hill. In the past several years, the group has located and mapped many of the former farm buildings, sawmill locations and school foundations on the State Forest.
The Danby State Forest has a history of forest fires. On November 10, 1931, a serious forest fire broke out and burned over 2,000 acres of the "wildest sections of Bald Hill." An article from the Ithaca Journal reports that over 200 volunteers, county workers and State Troopers battled the fire which burned mostly second growth timber. On November 12, 1931 an article in the Elmira Advertiser stated that "already the fire had licked up thousands of young pine and elm trees in one of the richest strips of tree country in the Southern Tier." Reports indicated that the fire may have started from careless hunters or from the railroad as it passed through West Danby at the base of Bald Hill.
From 1934 to 1967, Civilian Conservation Corp crew members and Camp MacCormick members planted about 1.1 million trees on the Danby State Forest. Most of the trees planted were softwoods such as eastern white pine, red pine, Japanese larch and Norway spruce. However, some hardwood trees were planted as well. In 1934, about 38,000 northern red oaks were planted.

More information on http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/64131.html

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