We are fortunate to have access to thousands of acres of public land in the Finger Lakes Region. Aside from the many state parks and historic sites that are managed by the state Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, we are also blessed with dozens of state forests and wildlife management areas, which are administered by the Department of Environmental Conservation. Sprinkled throughout the region, these areas are open to the public free of charge, and offer outdoor activities that range from fishing, hiking, hunting, kayaking, and snowshoeing to wilderness camping in some places. Many of my wildlife photographs are taken in state forests and wildlife management areas.
One of the most prominent state forests is also one of our newest. The DEC’s purchase of the city of Rochester’s watersheds surrounding Hemlock and Canadice lakes in 2008 added nearly 7,000 acres to the region’s state forest inventory and guaranteed that the land surrounding the two pristine lakes, which had served as the drinking water supply for the city and much of Monroe County for over 130 years, would continue to remain wild and undeveloped.
It’s hard to believe today that both lakes were once ringed with cottages and summer homes but—if you look closely—a walk along their shorelines will reveal remnant foundations and other subtle signs of previous occupancy. In the 1880s, Hemlock Lake was a recreational hotspot—even more so than Conesus Lake was at the time. Its shores were lined with eighty cottages and summer homes, and several resort hotels. A railroad ferried tourists the thirty miles between Rochester and Hemlock Park at the north end of the lake, and a steam-driven tour boat cruised its seven-mile length. But after Rochester acquired the shoreline properties, everything was removed.
Of the eleven Finger Lakes, Canadice is the smallest at three miles long and the highest in elevation at 1,100 feet. Hemlock is 200 feet lower. Both lakes are nearly 100 feet deep. They are the only Finger Lakes to exist in a wild state. The watersheds have been designated an Important Bird Area by the National Audubon Society and host songbirds, waterfowl, and birds of prey including bald eagles. The uplands are home to black bears, coyotes, red and gray foxes, whitetail deer, ruffed grouse and wild turkeys and hunting for them is allowed during their respective seasons. Both lakes offer good fishing for brown trout, lake trout, rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, largemouth bass, pickerel and panfish. Rare and delicate plant life can be found in a number of isolated locations throughout the watershed area and there is an old-growth forest isolated in a deep canyon on the west side of Hemlock Lake.
But the lakes themselves are most popular among canoeists and kayakers. As soon as the ice goes out, the hardiest of paddlers show up. You’ll also see anglers trolling for trout or casting for bass in the shallows. And if you hike along some of the upland trails, you might even spot one of my photo blinds.