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El Dorado's beautiful shoreline was shaped by dramatic forces of nature. It all began about 20,000 years ago when the one-mile thick ice sheet that covered most of New York State began to melt. Torrents of melt water poured out of the retreating ice sheet and with it came sediment of all shapes and sizes. Sand, gravel, and enormous boulders that were once encapsulated in the ice were now flowing across the landscape.
Eventually, the melt water pooled into a giant lake, called Lake Iroquois. This pre-historic lake was about three times the size of modern-day Lake Ontario.
Over time, the lake level receded to its present size. Lake currents moved sand deposits along the lake’s southern shore toward the lake’s eastern shoreline. Westerly winds and waves transported sand from this underwater sand bar and piled it up to form dunes along the beach. This process of dune formation still occurs today.
This freshwater dune barrier system along Lake Ontario is one of the Conservancy's first conservation areas in central New York, acquired in 1969. It is now part of our Eastern Lake Ontario priority conservation landscape, a 17-mile stretch of Eastern Lake Ontario that contains the largest and most extensive freshwater dune system in New York.
Dunes are fragile. The beach grass and other vegetation that blankets them can be easily damaged by trampling or motor vehicle use. Once the vegetation is gone, winds can blow away the sand and destroy the dunes.
The Nature Conservancy has worked co-operatively with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and New York Sea Grant to establish an educational program that helps inform beachgoers and other recreational users how they can enjoy their visit to Eastern Lake Ontario without impacting the dunes, birds, or wildlife.
Every summer, five dune stewards patrol the 17 miles of Eastern Lake Ontario beaches, reminding people to stay out of the dunes, keep their dogs leashed and avoid areas set aside for birds and wildlife.
The preserve is open from early May until early fall. Visitors are welcome to enjoy our 1.4-mile trail (but please watch your step, the trail is wet and slippery in spots). The trailhead is located at the grassy parking area. The rich blooms of algae in the shallow offshore shoals support dense populations of crustaceans, insects and other invertebrates. These small animals provide the food base that supports the abundant birdlife. On land, keep an eye out for monarch butterflies, reptiles, amphibians and deer. Please help us protect the incredible plant and wildlife at El Dorado by observing the following:
Migratory birds are the specialty here. From July through September every year, a large and diverse concentration of migratory shorebirds stops at El Dorado on its journey between James Bay in Canada and wintering grounds in Central and South America. Excellent viewing of the rocky shore along the north end of the preserve is available at the bird blind, which can be reached from the trail. It provides a great vantage point for viewing ducks, terns and, in the fall, shorebirds. To protect birds and bird habitat, please do not walk directly along the shore. In the interior wetland areas, you will find water birds, waterfowl and song birds. Impressive concentrations of migrating flycatchers, warblers, vireos and sparrows are here from early August through early October.
El Dorado Beach Preserve is located on Lake Ontario in Ellisburg (Jefferson County, New York).