Eye of the Beholder

Fun and games at the Corning Museum of Glass 

When it’s 15 degrees out with a steady presence of wind gusts and flurries, it’s easy to convince yourself to stay on your couch, bundled up in sweat clothes, figuring out what you’ve yet to watch on Netflix. But in Ithaca’s neighboring towns there are destinations that are close enough to warrant leaving the house, even on a winter day. 

Here are a couple of ways to spend some time—one indoors and the other out.

Corning Museum of Glass in Corning

(~50 minutes from downtown Ithaca)

Corning, home to the headquarters of Fortune 500 company Corning Incorporated (formerly Corning Glass Works), a manufacturer of glass and ceramic products for industrial, scientific and technical uses, is also home to the Corning Museum of Glass (CMOG). The latter houses one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of glass objects from both the past and present. 

With people from around the state—and world—go out of their way to visit the CMOG; it’s worth the less-than-an-hour trek from Ithaca. From more than 45,000 objects showcasing 3,500 years of glassmaking to getting the chance to make glass yourself, there’s plenty to see and do, CMOG Senior Manager of Communications Yvette Sterbenk said. She added that the CMOG is the most visited museum in New York State outside of New York City and is “a huge treasure that’s only an hour away [from Ithaca].”

“The Corning Museum of Glass is a three-fold experience,” she said. “You see glass; you see glass being made; you have the opportunity to make glass yourself. It’s really a museum that looks at the material of glass from different angles—from art, from science, from history, craft and it’s a very unique experience in that not only are you seeing artwork on display, you actually have the chance to see artists at work, working with the material.”

As for those subfreezing temperatures you’re likely to find on an Ithaca or Corning winter day? Watching, or participating, with glass in a form that’s as hot as molten lava will tend to warm you up. Sterbenk said the museum’s biggest draw is live glass making, among other things.

“Live glassblowing,” she added, “is warm, vibrant and really mesmerizing. People come here and they love to see that. The stations where you can go and work with glass yourself [also tend to be popular]. The other big thing is shopping. We have a huge retail shop, which is a really unique shopping experience as well.”

For those looking to plan a trip in the coming weeks, the CMOG will have its “Behind the Glass” lectures in the evening of the second Thursday of every month. The lectures are done by artists or innovative people in the glass industry. On the third Thursday of every month, the museum has its community event titled “2300°,” which is filled with live music and live glassblowings performed by artists. Both of those events are free and open to the public. 

If you do make the trip up to Corning, there is more to do than the CMOG, Sterbenk said.

“Corning is a small town,” Sterbenk said, “so just over the bridge, literally a two-minute drive, is our downtown area called the Gaffer District. “Gaffer” is another word for a glassblower. So this being a glass town, that’s what the district is called. It’s a great street for restaurants and shops, so it’s really a nice way to spend the day. Also, there’s the Rockwell Museum of American Art, which is a small museum, but has a lovely collection and is worth the visit. We have accommodation tickets here [for Rockwell Museum], so you can save money by going to both museums.”

Hammond Hill State Forest in Dryden

(~ 25 minutes from downtown Ithaca)

For hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, or a quiet walk in the woods, Hammond Hill in Dryden offers nineteen miles of well-kept trails. Termed the Twin Sheds Management Unit area by the DEC, because two separate watersheds have their headwaters here, Hammond Hill also connects to Yellow Barn State Forest, Robinson Hollow State Forest and several Finger Lakes Land Trust areas. Trails are color-coded so that walkers and crosscountry skiers can avoid taking the same routes as snowmobiles. 

Winter is the perfect time to walk in Hammond Hill: the leaves are down, revealing panoramic views to the north of rolling farmland and to the east of Dryden Lake. The trails are particularly popular with cross-country skiers, thanks to the elevation (above 1800 feet), which means there will be snow on Hammond Hill even it’s absent in the rest of the county. The trails accessible from the parking area on Star Stanton Road are not steep, so it’s possible to get those beautiful views without a heart-pounding climb. Check the DEC site for trail maps before you go. Dryden Lake is also a popular spot for winter sailboarding, as the lake, which is shallow, ices across earlier and stays frozen longer than Cayuga. 

Ironically, the best Mexican restaurant in Tompkins County is in the village of Dryden. Jalapeños Mexican Grill, run by the Tabares family on the corner of Rt. 13 and 38, offers the freshest, best-prepared and most authentic Mexican food around. Patrons choose from ingredients in the display case, then Rudolph or Betty prepare the meal in front of you; no matter how busy they seem to be, orders take less then ten minutes and prices are reasonable. Dryden also boasts a volunteer-run Community Café on the opposite corner, with surprisingly good quiche, creative muffins, and a play area/reading room for restless youngsters. Affectionately termed “DC3” by the locals, the café hosts local bands in the early evening; it closes at 9 o’clock. 

You would also be wise—as long as you are of age—to visit two neighboring micro-breweries: Dryden’s Bacchus Brewing Company, located at 15 Ellis Drive in Dryden, and Hopshire Brewery, located at 1771 Dryden Road in Freeville. Both locations will have several beers on tap, including an appropriate winter beer to end your active day.  •

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