For a short family-friendly hike, with lots of interesting features to explore in early spring, check out Calico Pond.
Just a few minutes from Cortland, this little gem is hidden off of Route 41 in Cincinnatus, in the northern section of Gee Brook State Forest (link to directions below). The trail is less than a mile long, and the gentle gradients provide an easy and relaxing nature experience.
Soon after its beginning at the parking area, the trail passes a tributary stream of Gee Brook on the left. At this time of year, spring run-off creates a staircase of miniature waterfalls as the stream cuts through the underlying strata of shale. The trail crosses Gee Brook, which is like a small river after recent heavy rains, via a steel bridge, then turns right to follow the old road. Early spring woodland flowers provide bright spots of color against the brown of last year’s leaves; these include Siberian Squill, a member of the hyacinth family. Although it’s not a native species, squill is among the first flowers to appear in woodlands and gardens after the winter, and it’s also one of the few varieties with true blue coloration. It looks delicate, but Siberian squill deserves its name, as it blooms as far north as Zone 2.
Shortly, you’ll hear—and then see—a series of waterfalls along the brook. The fault lines of the rock cross the stream bed diagonally here, creating long cascades of water which face towards the banks of the brook and reflect the spring sunshine: a great photo opportunity!
The path then gradually climbs above the stream, becoming a small bluff overlooking the tree-filled valley. The valley provides sheltered habitat for the blue jays and other birds seen among the branches.
Further along, coltsfoot grows in disturbed soil along the edges of the road. Coltsfoot was imported to the US as an ingredient for cough syrup. This explains its scientific name, Tussilago farfars: tussis is Latin for cough. The bright yellow flowers look like early dandelions and are a cheerful sight, but coltsfoot is actually an invasive that can displace native species.
Just ahead the woodlands give way to old pasture land bordering Calico Pond, which covers about six acres. Small children should be guided across the rock stepping stones in the embankment at the head of the pond. The pond is named for the calico bass living here, and, according to the DEC, also contains pickerel, largemouth bass, and perch.
On the day of our visit in mid-April, the spring peepers were just beginning to tune up for the full orchestra to come, and a lazy bullfrog gave an occasional croak. While eating lunch on the edge of the pond, we were thrilled to see a belted kingfisher alight on the branch of a dead tree nearby and then fly into the woodlands across the pond. The bird’s distinctive loud call could be heard across the water. The kingfisher is easily recognized by its bluish-gray crest, stocky shoulders, and long straight bill. As the name implies, the bird eats small fish in streams and ponds. Instead of building a nest, the kingfisher digs a tunnel up to 15 inches deep into earthern banks above the water; here it lives and lays its eggs.
After skirting the edge of the pond, the path enters a shady grove of tall hemlock trees. The trail continues on for a short distance through deciduous woodlands, which are filled with sunlight at this time of year before the trees leaf out. Short and sweet, the Calico Pond hike provides a great way to get fit and relax close to home. Joan Martin, Project Coordinator,
Directions: from the intersection of NYS Rt. 41 and Route 11 in Polkville (where I-81 passes overhead), drive south on Rt. 41 for 12.7 miles, to the point where Rt. 41 intersects with Piety Road and the Gee Brook State Forest access road (formerly Lieb Road). There is a state forest sign at the entrance. Turn right into the access road and travel to the parking area at the end; the road is barred to further vehicular traffic. Note: Calico Pond is in the northern parcel of Gee Brook State Forest. There is another entrance to the southern section a few miles further south on Rt. 41.
Resources, maps, and more information:
NYS DEC web site: http://www.dec.ny.gov/lands/37042.html
CNY Hiking web site: http://cnyhiking.com/GeeBrookStateForest.htm
Pictured: Gee Brook waterfalls, along the Calico Pond trail
Article and photo by Joan Martin, Project Coordinator, SVHC.