We have been very fortunate in our town and surrounding communities to have accumulated over 500 acres of natural beauty for individuals to use and enjoy. These properties are widely scattered around our town. I will begin with an area that I am most proud of.
Since the early 1900s it was known as the “Federal Farm” along Old Seneca Turnpike, next to our Transfer Station and down to Gully Road. I like to call it the last wilderness area in the Town of Skaneateles. It had become known as the “Federal Farm” because the U.S. government acquired it by filing a petition for condemnation and paying $10,000 to the Weeks family on July 9, 1936. The Department of Agriculture used it as an experimental station for several years. They studied different techniques and methods of farming in an effort to increase production.
By 1969 they were no longer using this property and declared it excess. Our attempt to secure this farm at that time was foiled by our neighbors to the east; however, we were able to purchase 70 acres for our Transfer Station for $22,000. The rest of the land lay idle for several years except that the U.S. Army used it as a helicopter landing site for a short period of time.
After my election as town supervisor in 1996, I continued to pursue acquisition of this property with the help of U.S. Congressman Jim Walsh and Senator Al D'Amato. On June 25, 2001, Walsh arranged to meet us at the farm so that he could deliver the deed in person.
During the winter of 2000-01, Seamus Haggerty cleared a huge amount of brush from around a small pond so that we could hold our first Town of Skaneateles Fishing Derby on July 21, 2001. For Seamus this was a project that would earn his Eagle Scout Award. I will be forever grateful to Seamus, and proud of him, for his work on this project because we were able to hold three fishing derbies on this pond.
Assemblyman Will Barclay assisted us with the funding necessary to join two small ponds, by widening and deepening both to give us the wonderful body of water that we now have. Barclay attended this year's derby and walked around the pond visiting with the participants. He even stopped to help one young boy retrieve his hook from a snag and stated that he has had lots of experience. Attendance continues to show that there is a lot of interest in a free fishing derby for children ages 4 through 15. This year we held our Sixth Annual Fishing Derby on July 15. Gary Snyder was in charge again this year, and he reports that we had 71 entrants and they caught 368 fish.
Last year, our two Rotary Clubs were looking for a nice project that they could construct for their Centennial Celebration. I mentioned that we could use a pavilion overlooking our pond. We are all very pleased with their finished product, which serves a dual purpose. Last year it protected many of us from the hot sun, and this year it enabled us to get set up and ready for the fishing derby during an early morning shower which ended just prior to the 9 a.m. start. When the whistle blew at noon to bring the derby to a close, a heavy shower settled in over the area. The pavilion was large enough for everyone to get under cover and stay dry until all of the trophies and prizes were awarded.
Last June 20, 35 ladies from the Skaneateles Garden Club held their monthly meeting in the pavilion and invited me to tell them how the town acquired the Skaneateles Conservation Area. After lunch, about a dozen joined with me for about a two-hour walking tour of a small portion of the property. At the end they asked if they could schedule more guided tours, as there is a lot more to be seen.
In 2002, with a grant from the NYS Department of Parks, we were able to purchase the former William Guppy farm (1830s) along Gully Road. This property is now all reestablished forest and has a small stream and a beautiful waterfall. Tim Rudl earned his Eagle Scout award by trimming a trail to the falls and, just recently, for his Eagle Award, Josiah Witter constructed a split rail fence and bench at the waterfall to help protect visitors from falling into the ravine. Unfortunately vandals have already destroyed it and thrown it into the ravine. A detective from the Onondaga County Sheriff's office has investigated the site with me and a report has been made. This project will be rebuilt, however.
Prior to his death, William G. Allyn arranged for funding to purchase material to reconstruct a set of steps to the top of the ravine leading to the falls. The timbers that were used came from the forest of one of our members, Bob Sykes, of Foster Road, and were cut to size on his own saw mill. Construction is being performed under the guidelines of the Youth Construction Initiative Program (YCIP). This is an on-the-job training opportunity for students from the Lafayette School System and is under the guidance of Ken Auyer, a technology instructor.
With financial assistance from Assemblyman Barclay, we were able to purchase a 6-acre parcel on the east side of Gully Road. This will allow us to open several new interesting trails and create many more Eagle Scout projects. Much of our work is performed by a small group of volunteers like, Bruce Famoly, who mows the grass around the fish pond and all of the grassy trails on his own time and often takes a vacation day to help complete a job on the property. I am sure that there are many users of the property who might be willing to volunteer a little of their time if they only knew how to offer their help. Anyone wishing to help us in any way may call me at 685-5515.
Bill Pavlus is former town supervisor for Skaneateles