We've seen the "Ithaca is gorges" bumper stickers, and we agree: the waterfalls, the lake, and the state parks are beautiful and signature Ithaca landmarks. But what casual visitors might not notice are the Ithaca College Natural Lands, 560 acres located on and across campus and in the nearby town of Newfield. Students and faculty use the Natural Lands for everything from classroom instruction and outside field research projects to cross country practice. Realizing we had never fully explored the wooded paths in IC's own backyard, we took advantage of the sunny summer weather and wandered the trails.
Following the path behind Terraces led us to the start of the Naturals Lands on the South Hill. The "blue" and "gold" trails twist through the trees, past IC's observatory and the American Chestnut Reintroduction Area, which is part of a project to revitalize pure and hybrid forms of the chestnut crop. As we meandered through the woods, we could only imagine what the trails might look like layered with fall leaves or blanketed with snow.
Veering off the trail slightly brought us to a clearing atop the one of the highest points of the South Hill. If you thought the view from the Peggy Ryan Williams building was impressive, check this one out. Here, we found an unobstructed scenic of the College, the lake, and Cornell University — and possibly the quietest spot on campus.
The Natural Lands are the perfect spot for taking a walk, but students use them for much more. Though the woods were quiet the day we visited, we'd love to return and see some of the biology and environmental science students' research projects in action. While the Non-Timber Forest Products class uses the trees to make their own maple syrup, farms edible mushrooms, and raises bees to harvest homemade homemade honey, other students visit the Lands to observe the wide range of rare plant and animal species for independent fieldwork. We missed the wetlands and the the perched Swamp White Oak Swamp that afternoon, but with more searching next time, we'll find yet another site for student research.
In a few months, the leaves on the South Hill will change color and the stresses of the school year will pick up. With IC Natural Lands right on campus, a quiet, peaceful place to go for a run, clear your head, or explore the outdoors is just a few steps away.
Photos by Krystal Cannon