In the 19th century, Ithaca had the sobriquet “Forest City”. It’s easy to see why. Back then most of the surrounding countryside was agricultural and almost entirely denuded of trees. Even now, in the early 21st century, if one walks through the city in summer, it is remarkably like walking through a forest.
Treman Triangle (intersection of East Court and Linn streets)
This is an adorable little triangular park where Cascadilla Creek flows into downtown Ithaca.
When the Cascadilla Gorge Trail was open (before some sort of winter damage closed it), one could walk from downtown Ithaca up to Collegetown and Cornell University on an ethereally beautiful trail of waterfalls and stone steps and bridges running through the forest. At the present time, the trail has been repaired up to a little stone bridge under Stewart Avenue, so you can still walk partway up the trail.
This is such a hyper-Ithaca place: the smell of wet stone and moss and green forest, the soothing, contemplative sound of water rushing over numerous mini-waterfalls. There’s cute little wooden bridges, and green moss and ferns and wildflowers growing on the sheered-off face of the gorge.
The patterns in the ancient shale and siltstone in the water—(New York State was the bottom of a shallow sea almost half a billion years ago)—look like they were designed by Japanese architects.
There’s a beautiful little clover-covered lawn to lounge on under shady pines before the trail even begins … and there is an especially beautiful little falls at the base of the trail where it feeds into the park.
And a charming recent touch is an area where someone has constructed a multitude of stacked stone sculptures in the creek (looking like a tabletop miniature of one of those fabulous ancient Southeast Asian cities like Cambodia’s Angkor).
The stone steps up the trail have a Lord of the Rings feel … there are cute little ducks paddling in the stream hunting for dinner…and the summer light pours like honey through the green trees to sparkle and glitter on the water …
This is Ithaca at its inimitable best.
This is a charming little canal that runs through the city. It looks like it should be in France or something.
Cascadilla Avenue is bounded to the east by North Aurora Street near the Namgyal Monastery and Institute of Buddhist Studies, and bounded to the west by the Gimme! Coffee café and the cool modern architecture of the Resistance Salon. (And the canal continues along the beautiful little triangle of Thompson Park, then along Willow Avenue to Conley Park and the Sciencenter, and finally off into Cayuga Lake.)
There are little Ithaca-issue stone bridges with ornate, Gaslight Era streetlamps, dark, rich foliage down near the water, and walkways on either side of the canal.
When I used to live in this area, I found this a really nice contemplative mini-walk in the city—on summer afternoons or moonlit summer nights, or when out running errands and taking care of business.
There are houses along the canal, with porches festooned with flowers, a piano, wind chimes, an explosion of driftwood. There are Buddhist prayer flags fluttering from a second floor porch, gardens, a little red boutique barn-garage.
There is a riot of multi-colored flowers: tall yellow-and-brown sunflowers, red-violet roses, purple irises, orange, black-spotted tiger lilies, white Queen Anne’s Lace, and yellow-orange-red coneflowers.
There are duckies in the canal, weird, pyramidal insect traps in the water (from some Cornell grad student’s project), and pots of flowers along the canal …
What could be better?
Collegetown Cascadilla Mini-Loop
I came up with this one, rather than my editor. I live in Collegetown on the edge of the Cornell University campus and this one is in my neighborhood.
This is a little forest path running along Cascadilla Creek. It starts on Oak Ave, the entrance right across from Collegetown Bagels, and it makes a loop and comes out on Hollister Drive at the College Ave Stone Arch Bridge. (Curiously, the north side of the trail runs along the Ward Center for Nuclear Studies, but no radiation suit is required.)
The entranceway features a little circular area of stone sitting benches, and, at the apex of the loop, there is a charming little neo-Japanese curved wooden bridge over a collection of small singing waterfalls…
It is a well-maintained trail of small, round, East Coast lake stone and ornate, black-chained fences along the gorge …
Six Mile Creek
Mulholland Wildflower Preserve & Six Mile Creek Natural Area
(Intersection of Giles and Water Streets)
I write this sitting on a flat, moss-covered rock along Six Mile Creek, an ethereally beautiful mini-waterfall flowing down the face of the gorge out of the forest across the water from me.
I lived in Ithaca when I was young, and have been back for a decade, but I had no idea this area existed.
There is a whole network of trails here, running along Six Mile Creek. (And, if you go far enough, you will discover the Reservoir Overlook, and the Richard Fischer Memorial Bluebird Boxes.)
The trails are well-maintained, and the land is relatively flat for Ithaca, so these are easily walked trails, much easier than the vigorous trails at Treman and Buttermilk Falls state parks with their high hills and endless stone steps.
The forest path is somewhat dark, although it seems to be relatively new growth forest, and there is a lot of honeysuckle along the trail, red berries glowing with sunlight.
There is a feel here (to me) of the Forest Primeval … One gets the feeling that this is what New York State looked like when the Iroquois lived here …
Titus Triangle Park Walk (North Titus Ave—South Titus Ave—South Street)
Here, Six Mile Creek runs through a charming little Ithaca city neighborhood. I walk this way because, once again, it is spiritually refreshing (i.e. it makes me feel a little better) to walk along the creek, and especially to walk along the creek through the Titus Triangle Park.
I love walking past the elegant old Victorian Sprague House at Albany and North Titus, and across the ornate stone George Johnson Bridge with its Gaslight Era streetlamps to the park. (Or, alternatively, walking along the little dirt path with its winding tree roots on the South Titus side of the creek.) It is a quick spiritual getaway whilst running errands or walking through the city.
And the Titus Triangle Park is the best thing on the walk. There are charming benches along the creek where one can sit and watch the ducks and the sunlight (or moonlight) glittering on the water, and think about the passage of time, or lost love, or weep over your dead cat or whatever.
Stewart Park Trail Walk (Pier Road to Stewart Park)
One can enter Pier Road by the Ithaca Tompkins Transit Center on Willow Avenue and walk around the Circle Greenway of the Newman Municipal Golf Course and onto the Stewart Park trail, which will take you over a succession of little steel suspension bridges running over swamp water and lily pads, through a forest of willows, and on to Stewart Park.
This is a wonderful way to enter Stewart Park, over these suspension bridges, along swamp paths, entering out onto the big broad green lawns of the park. There are lily pads and croaking frogs and willows and herons and iridescent red-violet-and-green dragonflies shooting over the water and all kinds of swamp critters including, in all probability, Pogo the possum…
A wonderful walk…
Ithaca Falls and Environs (Intersection of Falls Street &Lake Street)
Saving the best for last … this is the most outright spectacular area to visit.
Ithaca Falls is, as the young people say, awesome … one of the most extraordinarily beautiful bits of landscape on the North American continent. You can park a car in a lot at the end of Lincoln Street and walk a somewhat rocky trail right up to the falls. Don’t get too near them; the force of the water is dangerous. §