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This past fall, Cornell Cooperative Extension Onondaga launched a volunteer-based riparian buffer planting project in the Skaneateles watershed. This effort is result of a partnership among CCE Onondaga County, the city of Syracuse and Skaneateles Lake Watershed Agricultural Program with funds from the Onondaga County Soil and Water Conservation District to increase vegetated buffers in the Skaneateles Lake watershed and reduce non-point source pollution and nutrient loading to the lake. The purpose was protecting the water supply for the city of Syracuse, Jordan, Elbridge, and Skaneateles watershed residents.

During this two-day service-learning project, CCE educators worked with 20 watershed residents and volunteers to plant 200 native species of trees, shrubs, and perennials on shorefront property in the watershed. Participants learned hands-on how to build vegetated riparian buffers- including species selection and sourcing, site preparation, planting techniques and maintenance tips.

Volunteers were able to directly contribute to the protection of their water supply and watershed by adding bigger, better buffers while learning skills that they can take back to add a riparian buffer, filter strip, or other vegetated landscape to their own properties.

Non-point source pollution and nutrient loading from surface water runoff are major contributors to water quality issues like HABs in many Finger Lake communities. There are over 3,000 homes in the Skaneateles watershed. Water that flows over every lawn, garden, driveway, and surface in the watershed has an impact on lake water quality. Increasing riparian buffers, planting more vegetation with deeper and denser roots systems, and reducing fertilizer applications on our lawns can help make sure water leaving our properties is not threatening the health of the lake.

Taking into account soil composition, shade conditions, and other site considerations, the planting plan and species list was designed by a SUNY ESF Landscape Architect student, Ethan Appelgren, with support from extension educators. This partnership provided us with a high quality, well-researched site plan and and provided opportunity for the student to gain valuable field experience. Species planted included Red Maple, Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, Wild Quinine, Orange Coneflower, Eastern Bluestar and Christmas ferns. The added vegetation will reduce the nutrient and sediment loading that flows from the property into the lake by slowing surface water runoff and hold soils in place.

Thanks to the dedicated stewardship of the property owners, this site will serve as a demo-site for future programming.

Special thanks to the site’s owners, the SLA, TNC, and all our volunteers.

Shannon Fabiani


Shannon Fabiani is a water and ecology specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Onondaga County.

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