PRI Taking Steps to Protect Old Growth Forest

Installation Starting on Fencing to Protect Old Growth Forest in Town of Ulysses

Construction will soon get underway on a deer-exclusion fence around Henry A. Smith Woods, a 32-acre plot of old-growth forest in Trumansburg. The owners and caretakers of the property, the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), are undertaking this project to preserve and protect the woods for future generations. The fence is part of a larger project that includes installation of trail head and way-finding signs to provide guidelines for visitors and educate them about Smith Woods. Smith Woods is a rare gem and important resource, and this project will help preserve this slice of natural history for the benefit of everyone who wishes to visit. The project has had wide support from the Trumansburg and Ulysses communities.

Located just outside the Village of Trumansburg, Henry A. Smith Woods is one of the largest remaining flat tracts of old growth forest in the Finger Lakes Region. This small but spectacular place, with its enormous trees, dense forest canopy, and never-plowed ground is a glimpse into the past. A walk through this small forested area may be the closest one can get in central New York to experiencing a landscape that European settlers first witnessed. Old-growth forests are important both ecologically and culturally, providing a unique habitat and embodying local history. Sadly, these forests have declined every year since European settlement of the continent. According to the Old Growth Forest Network, only 1% of original forests in the Northeast US remain. Most Americans will never get to see an old-growth forest.

Smith Woods was established as a forever public park and entrusted to the care of the citizens of Trumansburg in 1909, for the “preservation of the park in its natural state and for educational and recreational purposes.” Seeking another organization that could more effectively carry out the educational aspect of the grant, the trustees transferred ownership of Smith Woods to the Cayuga Nature Center in 2007. Smith Woods then came under the care of PRI when they merged with Cayuga Nature Center in 2012, and they have committed themselves to preserving the integrity of the forest in keeping with the original intent of the trust, for the enjoyment of the public and for educational purposes.

The biggest current threats to the forest are overgrazing by deer and trampling of sensitive plants and wildflowers by human visitors. This project aims to alleviate these problems by the construction of a deer-exclusion fence around the perimeter of Smith Woods – with two entrance gates (never locked) at the current trail heads, and addition of trail signage. The signage will include alerting people that they are entering a natural area, present guidelines for visitor behavior to help preserve the forest, and provide educational content about the significance of an old-growth forest. These measures will allow the flourishing of a more natural and increased biodiversity of flora and fauna that normally inhabit old-growth forests, so that future generations of visitors will be able to experience this native forest in its full complexity and beauty.

PRI published an accompanying book, “Smith Woods: The Environmental History of an Old Growth Forest Remnant in Central New York State,” in March of 2017. The book’s purpose is the increase awareness about Smith Woods and honor its history. The book was a collaboration of experts in geology, plant science, anthropology/archaeology, and ecology, and is available at Cayuga Nature Center and Museum of the Earth, as well as local bookstores and libraries.


About the Paleontological Research Institution

The Paleontological Research Institution (PRI) pursues and integrates education and research, and interprets the history and systems of the Earth and its life, to increase knowledge, educate society, and encourage wise stewardship of the Earth. PRI and its two public venues for education, the Museum of the Earth and the Cayuga Nature Center, are separate from, but formally affiliated with Cornell University, and interact closely with numerous University departments in research, teaching, and public outreach. Website: www.priweb.org