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Aug. 11, 2004

Public Lands Are Overlooked Treasures of Oswego County

By Doug Fuegel

OSWEGO COUNTY -- More than once while visiting other states in the lower 48, I have been asked, "how do you live in a state with nothing but blacktop and buildings?"

Little do they know! Across this beautiful state of ours are countless rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds, lush plains and green mountains, not to mention the priceless gem we call Lake Ontario. Intertwined among all this state's treasures are thousands of acres of public land -- wildlife management areas, state forests and state parks. In our own Oswego County we have not less than 15 state forests, seven wildlife management areas, four state parks, and one very nice county nature park. Each is unique in its own way and offers a multitude of outdoor activities to visitors. Winter, summer, spring and fall, these areas belong to the public and are there for our outdoor enjoyment. They are managed by our DEC, the NYS Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and our own Oswego County Division of Parks and Recreation.

"Oswego County has some of the finest public land in all of New York State, offering a multitude of free outdoor activity options for all seasons," said Christine Gray, director of the Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism. "There are countless opportunities for family activities like hiking, picnicking, and exploring our trails and forests."

Here are a few places to explore:

  • Camp Zerbe: Oswego County's own 364-acre rural woodland, located in the county's northern portion, has not less than three lakes for canoeists and kayakers to enjoy. The "kettlehole" lakes, as they are called, are holdovers from the Ice Age as melting glaciers formed the small lakes we enjoy today. The largest, Lake Lorraine, is just 24 acres, but for the kayaker offers some of the finest outdoor scenery and wildlife viewing anywhere in this state. The site has an interpretative nature center and pavilion for public use, self guided-hiking trails winding through the woods for great wildlife viewing or a peaceful walk. In winter the park is ideal for snowshoeing and cross county skiing. Hunting is prohibited. Camp Zerbe is located off State Route 104, approximately eight miles east of I-81 at exit 34. For more information, or to reserve the pavilion, call 315-349-3451 or visit the Oswego County Web site at www.oswegocounty.com/youth
  • Happy Valley: One of the largest of the DEC's wildlife management areas in this county is the 8,645-acre Happy Valley WMA. This beautiful area, like Camp Zerbe, is located east of I-81 at exit 34. Happy Valley is bounded on the north by NYS Route 104 and on the south by Oswego County Route 26. The acreage is a combination of upland, wetland, hiking trails and a few very nice ponds including St. Mary's and Whitney Pond. Both of these offer ideal canoeing and kayaking plus some excellent pan fishing. This WMA offers a multitude of activities for outdoor enthusiasts including hiking, birdwatching, snowshoeing, fishing, hunting, cross country skiing and trapping.
  • Littlejohn WMA: Littlejohn is a close second in size to Happy Valley, consisting of 8,020 acres of upland, wetland and trout streams. The area is covered with a variety of hardwoods and conifers and is laced with hiking trails. Users can observe countless species of bird depending on time of the year, snowshoe and cross country ski in the winter, fish the trout streams, and enjoy great hunting and trapping. Littlejohn is located in Oswego County's northern sector off I-81 exit 38, then east via County Route 15 to County Route 17. Good parking facilities are available.
  • Three Mile Bay/Big Bay WMA: Bordering Oneida Lake's northwest shoreline, the area contains more than 3,500 acres of wetlands, hiking trails and a boat access site. It is truly a multi-use public land that offers excellent bird watching opportunities, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, hunting, fishing and trapping. This pristine section of the county is located about six miles east of the village of Central Square and can be accessed from NYS Route 49.
  • Deer Creek Marsh WMA: Located just north of Port Ontario, this spot comprises nearly 1,200 acres of truly unique public land that can be accessed from a well-maintained parking lot off NYS Route 3 on Rainbow Shores Drive. The 1,200 acres stretching from Route 3 to the shores of Lake Ontario includes upland, wetlands, handicap access, boat access and a viewing tower. This public parcel is ideal for viewing bird life, especially shore birds, and is available for year-round enjoyment of many warm season adventures as hiking and birdwatching, hunting, fishing and trapping, as well as a wide range of winter activities.
  • Winona State Forest: Topping the list for total acreage in Oswego County is the Winona State Forest at an even 9,000 acres. Located in the northernmost section of the county, Winona is noted for its excellent trail system for both summer hikers and winter cross county skiers. And as with all our state forest system, hunting, fishing, trapping and camping is allowed.

Other state forests within Oswego County, too numerous to detail, account for more than 25,000 acres of public land. State forests within Oswego County, ranging in size from 500 acres to more than 2,000, include Altmar, Battle Hill, Chateaugay, Hall Island, Kasoag, Klondike, O'Hara, Orton Hollow, Salmon River, Sandy Creek, Stone Hill, Trout Brook, West Osceola, the newly-upgraded park at Salmon River Falls, and Salmon River Easement. Together these parcels of public land offer hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails, countless miles of hiking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing trails, excellent hunting opportunities for turkey, deer, grouse and other small game, peaceful camping opportunities and much more.

Details on these state forest properties, location, size and usage are available by contacting the DEC Regional Headquarters in Cortland at 607-753-3095 or visiting the DEC Web site at www.dec.state.ny.us. Also available at DEC's regional headquarters in Cortland are two free brochures designed to aid state forest users, "Tips for Using State Lands," and "Use of New York State Public Forest Lands."

For a free fishing and hunting guide, and information about accommodations and attractions in Oswego County, contact the Oswego County Department of Promotion and Tourism at 315-349-8322 or 1-800-248-4FUN, or visit the Web site at www.oswegocounty.com

Public wildlife management areas and our network of state forest preserves along with Oswego County public use lands have been acquired over many years and continue to grow in number. They are managed for our use and for the use of generations to come. To ensure that these lands remain rural, primitive and intact for future generations, certain rules apply that will guarantee their existence forever.

A few but certainly not a complete list are:

  • A camping permit generally is not required for state forests, but camping on WMAs is prohibited unless approved by a DEC regional supervisor. Check with the DEC at 607-753-3095 before you pitch your tent.
  • Off-road travel by any motorized vehicle is prohibited on both WMAs and state forests unless otherwise posted.
  • No littering is allowed. As the saying goes, "If you carry it in, carry it out."

These are our lands; only we can ensure by our careful use today that they will be there for our future generations tomorrow.

Doug Fuegel is the weekly outdoor writer for the Oswego County Weeklies, freelances for several outdoor publications and contributor to several area tourism guides. He is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of America, past president of the New York State Outdoor Writers Association, and member of the Lake Ontario Sportfishing Promotion Council. He recently retired from several years as a charter captain on eastern Lake Ontario. He resides in West Monroe with his wife Shirley and son Jeff. You can contact Doug at 315-668-9492 or email dfuegel@ix.netcom.com.

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