Natalie’s Finger Lakes Adventure

Natalie and her son stand on the causeway at the south-end of Otisco Lake

I have been fortunate to have lived all of my life in the Finger Lakes Region. Home to pristine freshwater lakes, breathtaking waterfalls, streams and creeks, magnificent hillsides and vistas, boundless wildlife, culture, and much, much more, I believe this region is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

When appointed as executive director of the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium (FLM&A) in March 2015, I saw the appointment as an incredible gift. Yes, the gift was wrapped with what seemed to be impenetrable paper, lots of tape and knotted bows, but I knew that if I could get through the tough exterior, once opened, the gift had the power to bring discovery, adventure, knowledge and understanding to individuals of a timeless creation I adore – the Finger Lakes.

Over the next year, ceaseless tasks kept me focused on achieving a series of smaller, but substantial, goals for the FLM&A. I found myself in need of a refresher – something that would rekindle the “why” in accepting the gift in 2015. It was time for an adventure. So, along with my husband, son and two springer spaniels, I took off on a 490-mile, four-day trek by truck, foot and water, as we immersed ourselves in the charm and distinctive characteristics of each of the 11 Finger Lakes.

Throughout those four days, I disconnected and found myself completely captivated and inspired by the region. In brief, the journey included:

  • Walking across a Finger Lake – thanks to an abandoned roadway now turned into a causeway at the south end of Otisco Lake.
  • Finding what felt like every dead-end road possible around Skaneateles while stumbling upon spectacular views, hidden forests and charming homes tucked in the steep ravines and hillsides.
  • Discovering an astounding waterfall, using only GPS coordinates, just south of Owasco Lake.
  • Hiking the rim trail around Taughannock Falls with a 35-pound Kelty backpack (holding my son and extra water) while enjoying, from that vantage point, first-time glimpses of mighty Cayuga Lake.
  • Watching a spectacular sunset along Seneca – the second longest and deepest of the 11 wonders.
  • Spending two separate evenings kayaking with friends and family on the serene waters of Keuka and Canandaigua.
  • Enjoying a stellar, rainy hike above Honeoye.
  • Journeying along Rob’s Trail – an intense descent and ascent to the forever wild Canadice.
  • Celebrating a birthday with family along the northern shores of Hemlock, and finishing the adventure with a drive around (and toe dip into) Conesus.

In retrospect, what sane person would try to see and do all there is within the Finger Lakes in just four days? It’s impossible and we didn’t come close! There is too much in these 9,000 not-so-square miles to simply make a long weekend of it. It would take a lifetime to experience, understand and know every nook and cranny of this region. But my adventure was invigorating and inspiring and I returned feeling renewed, reminded of the importance of our mission and work at the FLM&A.

The gift that the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium will offer to residents and visitors is that it will serve as the basecamp of the Finger Lakes, as the place where one begins his or her journey and exploration of the region. The FLM&A will provide that first taste of the many (note I say many, not all) things this region is known for, while also encouraging and enabling further discovery. It will showcase momentous stories that have shaped and defined the distinct cultural and natural history of the expansive region, through immersive and interactive experiences.

By strategically selecting smaller, feasible pieces of the overall initiative and focusing on completing those one at a time, the FLM&A is able to open components of the project while living its mission – now! This approach has proven to be very effective and the plan is to continue this method as the organization works towards completing the entire project in the years to come.

In this high-tech world of information galore, accessible anywhere and everywhere, you may ask: Why create a “place” when everything can be found at your fingertips? Let me ask you this – When was the last time you told a story with passion or excitement about something you discovered through an Internet search, rather than something you experienced live and in the flesh? I realize that not everyone can experience all there is out there and that technology is fascinating and necessary, but why settle for a quick search when your life can be transformed through learning, experiencing and ascertaining something that you never have before. The FLM&A will be just that. A place to go to that will certainly change over time, but will always portray the essence of the Finger Lakes through immersion, education and encouraging discovery.

Over the next year, the FLM&A staff and volunteers will begin an intensive data collection process to gather exhibit content. Connecting with each lake and its surrounding communities is an essential task that the FLM&A must undertake to effectively portray the appropriate stories and messaging before we enter into the next phase of exhibit design. If you are interested in assisting the FLM&A in collecting this information, or know of a person or organization we should consider contacting, please send an e-mail to

As a lover, inhabitant, visitor, or however you might associate yourself to the region, I know you share my passion – passion for a region that is second to none and deserves recognition for all time. My hope is that I’ve conveyed to you not just the “why” for the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium, or what drives my passion in bringing it to fruition, but rather truly inspired you to want to learn more about the world that exists outside of yourself.

LOGOEnsure the Museum’s Success

If you would like to donate, please visit Cash and material donations are tax-deductible. See the website for more details.


by Natalie Payne, Executive Director, Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium


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