The mound ants and timber rattle snakes were nestled in against the brisk autumn winds, so twelve hikers, plus three dogs, had the woods to themselves. Three vehicles transported the Springwater Trails hikers to the Steege Hill Nature Preserve, just east of Corning. Thanks to everyone for heeding the advice to car pool.
The steward of the preserve, Bob Corneau, was there to greet us all and offer his services as guide. As we strolled the woods, he painted a portrait of how devastated the forest had been 40 years ago and how the land had been rescued from illegal logging practices, via a wealthy donor and the Finger Lakes Land Trust. Bob has been a volunteer steward on this preserve, mowing, clearing the trails, and monitoring the wildlife for 14 years. He shared fascinating stories and revealed secrets of the forest that the casual hiker would never notice. We were so very fortunate to be his students for our two hour tour on Steege Hill.
Our journey began with a steep climb from the parking area up to the top of the hill to access the trails. We set out in one group on the easiest loop to allow us all to learn about the history of the preserve from our host. The trail is one of the logging roads that wind through the hillside. Eroded tracks of bulldozers and numerous tree stumps evidence the destruction of the past. Several varieties of hardwoods were identified, as well a few fungi, thanks to Gene and Georgia. A small pond was a highlight, especially for Newton. Bob told us of a tornado that had cut across the area recently. We observed a huge chestnut oak, uprooted by the storm.
Eventually our Climbers set out to experience some of the more challenging terrain, hiking down the hillside, overlooking the Chemung River, then trudging back up to meet the Naturalist group. It was all down hill from there, a noticeable chill in the air as the sun dipped below the trees.
Good food and excellent service awaited us at Tags Restaurant. Everyone was starving, so this was a welcome conclusion to our afternoon excursion. The buzz at dinner was that folks were anxious to return to Steege Hill. I encourage anyone to visit this preserve on their own. The trails are well marked. The hospitality is outstanding.