New Otisco Lake Preserve Connects Community to Natural Beauty

Several cascading streams flow through a 36-acre preserve and into a lake below. A hiking trail passes through mature forest and descends steeply to the water’s edge. Along the lake’s shore, visitors will find a flat point flanked by rugged shale cliffs. This new nature preserve, found along Otisco Lake, might never have happened if it hadn’t been for the work of a nonprofit organization setting out to conserve Central New York’s natural beauty.

The Finger Lakes region is a Central New York treasure, yet limited access to its shoreline, which is mainly privately owned, leaves many local residents without the opportunity to enjoy it to the fullest extent. The Finger Lakes Land Trust (FLLT) is taking action to change this.

FLLT was able to acquire the land along Otisco Lake in 2015 due to a generous gift from an anonymous donor and broad support from the community.

“Wild shoreline is a rare, vanishing thing here,” explained Kelly Makosch, director of development and communications. “It’s our duty to protect this precious resource while also letting the public enjoy the lake in its natural condition.”

A dilapidated cabin and an unsafe stairwell stood in the way of the property becoming the accessible Otisco Lake Preserve – complete with new hiking trails – that it is today.

“We had our challenges, as it’s a steep property,” said Makosch, “The cabin had to be removed by barge, in fact.”

In addition to ensuring public access points, preserving the water quality of Otisco Lake was central to FLLT’s vision during the improvements. Given the steep nature of the shoreline, the group recognized that the shoreline must be kept wild and forested in order to prevent a significant amount of runoff water from trailing into the lake.

“The water quality of the Finger Lakes is in the forefront of many people’s minds right now,” explained Makosch. “Over the past few years, toxic algae has appeared in every single one.” Preventing excess runoff may not solve the algae issue, but it helps ensure that the situation will not get progressively worse.

When designing the property’s new trails, the uniqueness of the land demanded acute attention to detail. A team of volunteers assessed the natural resources and, with safety in mind, found the perfect locations for trails on the steep property.

A Central New York Community Foundation grant was used to install the parking lot, stairs and interpretive kiosks that enhance the visitor experience and make it easily accessible for area residents to enjoy. Visitors will find the educational kiosk at the trailhead, outlining preserve’s natural and geological history.

“Now, people can go for a hike and witness Otisco Lake’s natural beauty,” said Makosch. “We buildt the trails so people can enjoy the land without disrupting the habitat.”

This preserve provides prime habitat for Bald Eagles and a variety of water birds. Ruffed grouse are also frequent visitors to the hillsides.  Conserving this land protects Otisco Lake’s water quality and scenic character, and offers an important outdoor recreational opportunity with rare public access to the lake.

Makosch hopes that inviting visitors to the new preserve will bring attention to what land preservation means. Unlike state parks, FLLT’s trails are accessible free of charge and are open 365 days a year to the public. FLLT encourages visitors to check its website and review trail maps and potential weather advisories prior to exploring the trails, especially in the wintertime.

By ensuring that the wilderness of Otisco Lake remains intact, Central New York has gained a space where community members can reap the benefits of being in the great outdoors while also preserving the integrity of the land and its ecosystems. Through the stewardship of FLLT, environment and community are inextricably bound.

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