Past and Present on the Keuka Outlet Trail

09/04/2018
Story and photo by Gabrielle L. Wheeler

Biking, hiking, running, playing, fishing. These are all ways in which my children and I have utilized the Keuka Outlet Trail. An easy trail with a low grade, the trail meanders seven miles from Penn Yan to Dresden, Keuka to Seneca Lake.

“The trail connects us to the natural history of the Finger Lakes Region, and it connects us to ourselves and each other,” says Gwen Chamberlain, president of the Friends of the Outlet, the organization which owns the Keuka Outlet Preservation Area. While the Village of Penn Yan owns and maintains the 1.3 miles of paved trail that runs through Penn Yan, the Friends of the Outlet maintain the remaining 5.7 miles, by mowing, removing fallen limbs, trail maintenance and obtaining monetarily funding for improvements.

After a short hike down this scenic trail, it is immediately apparent that it has seen much history. Indeed, over the course of 200 years, the Outlet Creek powered as many as forty mills and was a locally important site of manufacturing. Today, many of the remains of old mills and mill ponds are still visible, with the trail traveling the towpath of the Crooked Lake Canal where the Fall Brook Railroad was eventually laid. Dating back to 1796, the Birkett Mills still operates on Main Street in Penn Yan. Boasting being the oldest continually operating buckwheat mill in the country, the Birkett Mills has also held the world record for making the largest pancake, the griddle of which still stands outside the mill today.

The Keuka Outlet Trail is also tied to Jemima Wilkinson, who led the religious group The Society of Universal Friends. Wilkinson was born female yet dressed and preached like a man, an unusual occurrence in the late 1700’s.

For present times, Chamberlain says of the trail, “Hiking and bicycling are the most popular ways people enjoy the trail through most of the year. People also ride horseback, cross country ski, and snowshoe. It’s a great place to find a quiet spot to enjoy a peaceful picnic, birdwatch, learn about local history, enjoy wildflowers and the hardwoods that shade the trail, and to just sit and soak in the quiet.”

Throughout the year, the Friends of the Outlet host activities on the trail. Upcoming events include two separate mindfulness walks led by yoga instructors. The walks are planned for September 16, and October 21.

For more information regarding the Friends of Keuka Outlet or the Keuka Outlet Trail, visit keuakoutlettrail.org; @keukaoutlettrail on Twitter; or like their Facebook page, Keuka Outlet Trail. For more information regarding Jemima Wilkinson, please visit the Yates County History Center at 107 Chapel Street in Penn Yan.


Gabrielle Wheeler is a freelance writer from the heart of the Finger Lakes Region. On her parenting blog, aplaceforlittlesproutstogrow.com, she writes about tending to the whole child and parent. She also works in a local health center as an interpreter/patient navigator.