Archive for January, 2011

Sonyea State Forest: Hidden and Historic

Sonyea State Park

Snowy Entrance Road into Sonyea State Park

Sonyea State Park is a treasure tucked away so tight that it’s really tough to find your way in. It took me 2 attempts to locate it because of bad map info for both my GPS and Google. It is close to the Sonyea (near Mount Morris) exit on 390 — fooling me into thinking that it was very accessible

Sonyea State Park

Google Map on the left, park map on the right

I used a combination of my maps app on my Droid — innacurate — plus Google directions — WRONG — and finally just looked at the park map and a gps and ignoring the inconsistencies, bungled my way close to the entrance, BUT the road is not serviced December to April so I got to ski my way in!

There are NO signs for the park at the head of Union Corners Road, nor at the Park entrance. In fact no there is no signage anywhere except the round state park signs on the trees.

Sonyea State Park

Old Road, perhaps built by the Shakers, then used by Craig Colony

The forest shares a common boundary with Groveland Correctional Facility (I drove illegally onto the grounds following Google driving directions). The image above shows the trail connecting the Facility wit the State Park.

The current size of Sonyea State Park is about 931 acres. Prior to acquisition by the DEC, this area had been administered by the NYS Department of Mental Hygiene as a epileptic colony and state mental hospital. Many remnants of the Craig Colony remain on the state forest. (The Craig Colony opened its doors to the first neurologically impaired resident of the State of New York in 1896. It was closed in 1988.)

Sonyea State Park

200 ft cliff walls rise from the creek bed

The park has 2 areas: up and down, with a significant ridge of vertical cliff  separating the upper access road and the lower creek that winds though. There are huge cliffs of sedimentary rock that curve along the creeks edge, creating dramatic views — like a curved amphitheater. I took a gradual winding trail down to the creek edge and then was able to follow a nice raised path (railroad bed) along the edge of the Keshequa Creek

Sonyea State Park

View from the railroad bed trail south

Factoid: sedimentary rock blankets the basement over three-quarters of the earth’s continental area, and The northeastern United States has undergone more violent tectonic events over a longer period of time than any other region of the country — that means we get to see the most interesting stuff — like 200 foot high sheer rock walls!

Sonyea State Park

One of the falls on Keshequa Creek

It turns out that the path I skied along the creek is actually the remains of a major branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad. This helped explained a couple tightly walled passages where the rock must have been blasted away.

I noticed several other transverse raised ridges (like mine) — 4-8 ft above the height of the ground, that fanned from the rock walls, spreading to the river. Could these be eskers? Like the path I was on, they were long raised, and relatively straight, fanning out from the eastern cliff walls.

How come no one has ever heard of this cool park? It just happens to be close to Letchworth, which is quite a bit more impressive. I felt lucky to get a private tour of the park.

Entrance road to Sonyea

Union Corners Road is the ONLY public road access into Sunyea

View of Sonyea State Park from across the Creek

Canal Bed and Park as viewed from across the creek

Here is what looks like evidence of a canal once passing through here. This shot is taken from the other side of the creek from the park (on a much nicer day ) while making my first attempt.

Here are the BIG questions I wanted to know:  What does Sonyea mean, and why did they put an epileptic institute here?

I found those answers on the website of the Groveland Correctional Institute. Way to go New York State!

“At the crossroads of what were once well-traveled Native American trade routes, the area is just beyond the icy reach of lake effect weather: the climate here is generally mild and pleasing. As a result, Sonyea (in the language of the Seneca Nation, “The Valley of the Eternal Sun”) was settled thousands of years ago. The area has been continuously inhabited, it is thought, since the Ice Age.”

This land was originally purchased by Shakers. When their numbers dwindled they sold the land and buildings to the state, with the provision that the land be used for charitable purposes.  “In 1874, the state Commissioner in Lunacy noted that the state mental asylums contained 436 dependent epileptics, and that many more were inhumanely confined in county poorhouses and jails. His calls for a separate institution for epileptics, who were neither lazy nor crazy nor criminal, went unheeded for two decades. … Upon the establishment of the epileptic colony, initially, males and females were housed on opposite sides of the gorge running through the property. The gorge’s sheer 200 ft high cliffs made a natural boundary.

Today it remains: hidden and historic. Take the time to discover it for yourself.

Sunny Woods = Sunyea

Sunny Day — Sunnyea

January 29, 2011 at 11:56 am 11 comments

A Finger Lakes Stroll Through Seneca Falls

The Ludvico Sculpture trail has a name more auspicious than it is. But it is perfect for the downtown of Seneca Falls. It can be used for hiking biking, X-country skiing, or dog walking. What I liked about the trail the most was the great view it provided of the downtown area via the canal that runs right through town.

Continue Reading January 22, 2011 at 3:03 pm 1 comment

Make Friends at Creekside Books and Coffee, Skaneateles, NY

A cup of coffee and a good book is one of life’s simple pleasures. Creekside Books and Coffee has both under one roof and a relaxed attitude about browsing. It is located on the corner of Kelly and Fennel Streets in Skaneateles , across from the local grocery.

Continue Reading January 15, 2011 at 9:00 am 1 comment

Seneca Meadows: Turning trash into treasure.

Just north of Seneca Falls is the Seneca Meadows Wetland Preserve, a habitat for waterfowl, and all kinds of wildlife as well as 7 miles of well-groomed trails, suitable for hiking, biking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Trails are open to the public from dawn to dusk, year round

Continue Reading January 8, 2011 at 7:00 am 3 comments

A Finger Lakes Winter: 1932

Skaneateles 1926

Winter in the Finger lakes early 1900s

Winter came down to our home one night
Quietly pirouetting in on silvery-toed slippers of snow,
And we, we were children once again.

~Bill Morgan, Jr.

“I envied kids with summer birthdays. A birthday in the middle of the winter restricted activity, plus the gifts that accompanied winter birthdays were knit mittens, socks, hats and scarves. Hands and feet were often cold during the winter, as wool mittens were useful for making snowballs then became soggy and freezing. Feet were encased in cloth, four-buckle Arctics, which were neither warm nor waterproof.

Skaneateles winter of 1932

Harold and Lester playing in the snow

Skaneateles 1932

Typical Finger Lakes Winter

Snow and ice created many diversions for boys; we spent a disproportionate amount of time clearing a space on which to skate. The lake at our end always froze over. In the village hockey was played, iceboats and various types of races were possible. What I remember best is when after several bitterly cold and windless nights, the lake froze a few inches and was a clear green crystal, which made for beautiful skating, particularly when the wind blew us.

Skating in Skaneateles

Heading out with Gladys

Sliding downhill was also exciting. Nothing was more fascinating than to pack down the snow on a hill until it became an icy surface with nothing to slow down the sleds. One would run with his sled, belly flop and go. It never occurred to us that steering and control were offset by the thrill of hurtling down a hill at breakneck speed. Trying to steer through the narrow gate at Grandma Hoag’s was a challenge as there were cement posts situated so that there was about an inch of clearance for the sled.”

Wisdom from 50+ years in the future:  Lester’s 5 children suffered broken legs, broken collar bones, concussions, and returned home bruised and bloody, after being schooled in these same sledding techniques!

“The art of digging snow caves and tunnels was a rewarding effort as the snow banks were huge and the west wind piled the snow high in the nearby fields, giving us an unlimited supply. When a big storm forced the closing of school for a few days, we had plenty of time. We would dig on our hands and knees, hacking out a tunnel, and eventually enlarging an area in order to create a room.

Automobiles were still unreliable during the winter months. Getting out of the driveway to the street was a constant winter challenge. Our drive sloped away from the street (towards the lake) and there were no regular plows available nor snow tires, so the snow would be compacted and turn to ice. Sometimes Dad would have to put on chains, a dirty, difficult task. Other times we would put ashes under the rear wheels and push. More often than not, we would shovel for long periods so Dad could back out, turn around and get stuck again.

The trolley car was the predominant and sometimes only means of transportation in the 1920’s. My Father usually put his car up on blocks during the winter and took the trolley to work. The single trolley ran on electrical wire overhead and was operated by a conductor or motorman. The trolley helped take us to school when the roads were impassable.”

Excerpts for this post are taken from the autobiography of Lester Hoag Leonard, my Dad. He was born February 2, 1917, and grew up on the eastern side of Skaneateles Lake. He loved winter and cold. He taught me to love skating, skiing and ferociously fast sledding — but not shoveling.

January 1, 2011 at 7:47 pm 1 comment


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