On World Migratory Bird Day, The Nature Conservancy will celebrate the grand re-opening of its 87-acre Eldridge Wilderness Preserve in South Hill, N.Y. The event marks the completion of a nine-month project to improve the little-known community resource by refurbishing trails, installing interpretive panels and adding mobile QR code signs that allow people to connect and learn more online.
The community is invited to join a ribbon cutting and guided tour of the property on May 11. Jim Howe, The Nature Conservancy’s Central & Western New York director, will lead a short ceremony with project supporters, and nature walks will give visitors a chance to see the area’s diverse birds and forests.
Eldridge Wilderness was donated to The Nature Conservancy in 1971 by Frank Eldridge, Jr., a music professor at Ithaca College who loved birds and formed the original trails by hand.
“We want to make Eldridge Wilderness a place where the community can experience nature, learn, exercise and connect to the vital benefits our lands and waters provide,” Howe said.
Perched high atop South Hill, the preserve’s forests change from chestnut oak, shagbark hickory and white ash, to mature beech and sugar maple, to a grove of large hemlocks. These forests help protect a stream that drains into Six Mile Creek, the source of drinking water for the city of Ithaca, while providing important habitat for migrating birds.
“It’s fitting to re-open Eldridge Wilderness on World Migratory Bird Day,” said Howe. “We’re learning more about where birds stop to rest and feed during migration, and large numbers of them are using habitat in urban and suburban areas.”
People need natural refuges, too, Howe adds. “Today’s college freshman averaged less than 1 hour a week in outdoor play growing up. A recent study by The Nature Conservancy shows getting outside improves physical health, benefits cognitive function and reduces stress.”
Ithaca College Environmental Studies Professor Jason Hamilton says the project also brings new research and stewardship opportunities for students, citizen scientists and volunteers. “Ithaca College students have helped maintain trails here for many years,” he said. “We look forward to staying involved and using Eldridge as an outdoor lab.”
The revitalization project was made possible through grants from the Helen Thomas Howland Foundation and Constellation Energy. Conservancy trustee Sue Suwinski and local members Carol Morris and Beth Brennan helped shape the project’s scope, while neighbors and volunteers contributed many hours of work in the field.
“Tompkins County is an environmentally-conscious community, and we’re thrilled to have had a part is providing support for this project,” said George Ferrari, Jr., Executive Director of the Community Foundation of Tompkins County. “We hope Eldridge Wilderness becomes a well-loved place for outdoor exploration.”
Eldridge Wilderness is one of 35 preserves protected by The Nature Conservancy’s Central & Western New York Chapter. Get directions and learn more at nature.org/cwnypreserves
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. The Conservancy and its more than 1 million members have protected nearly 120 million acres worldwide. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at www.nature.org.
The Nature Conservancy in Central & Western NY