by David Hill, Ithaca Journal, click here for original post & VIDEOS of building the trail as well as the completed trail
They call it the Emerald Necklace, a belt of green connecting 50,000 acres of public and preserved land in an arc around Ithaca, from the Finger Lakes National Forest near Trumansburg in the west to near the Dryden village limits in the east.
And on Friday, the Finger Lakes Land Trust held a grand opening for the first link of the dreamed-of greenbelt. The Ithaca-based nonprofit bought 169 acres along Irish Settlement Road, between Hammond Hill State Forest to the north and its own Roy H. Park Preserve to the south, in November 2010. The site also abuts the Cornell Plantations’ Slaterville 600 natural area. Together, the lands comprise 7,500 acres of publicly accessible and preserved wooded and open space.
There are bigger parts, such as the Connecticut Hill State Wildlife Management area in Newfield. But the site celebrated Friday is the first link the Land Trust has built. It was able to act quickly when the property came on the market because of donations from an array of individuals, businesses and organizations, Executive Director Andrew Zepp said at an informal ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Also speaking: Ken Lynch, regional director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, who said the land is an example of the kind of links the state is beginning to aim for; Tompkins County Legislature Chairwoman Martha Robertson, D-Dryden, whom Zepp thanked as an individual conservationist and in her role with the county, which provided grants through its open-space and tourism-promotion programs; and Mary Ann Sumner, supervisor of the Town of Dryden.
Robertson said such lands draw both tourists and permanent residents. “It’s so critical to everything about why we live here, why we choose this place,” Robertson said. “This is the legacy that you all have created today that generations from now will enjoy.”
This past winter, the Land Trust built a hiking trail linked to the 20-mile multi-use trail network in Hammond Hill.
The Land Trust also acquired land across Irish Settlement Road from the Park Preserve that it plans to deed to the state as an expansion of Yellow Barn State Forest, Zepp said, and it may one day be possible to hike across all of them into a preserve along Ellis Hollow Creek Road.
Linking preserves on the whole arc may prove a challenge, as valley development blocks the most direct connections, but the Land Trust will persevere, Zepp said. “That’s the scope of this project,” he said. “We’re in it for the long haul. This is just one of the links in the Emerald Necklace.”
Zepp also announced memorials at the site. The trail and boardwalk will be named “Howard’s Walk” after Howard Hartnett, an active conservationist who recently died. An educational kiosk at the entrance will be named in honor of Ed Thompson, an Ithaca native whose siblings James, Bill, Mark and Ellen Fowler contributed in his honor. The overlook will be named in honor of Matthew Ruppert, whose family has supported the Land Trust.
To hike other local trails, pick up a copy of the guidebook “Take A Hike – Family Walks in New York’s Finger Lakes Region.”