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The French Creek watershed is a biodiversity hotspot located within our Upper Allegheny Basin priority conservation landscape. Not only is it the most biologically diverse aquatic system in the Northeast, but it also contains five times more species than the average New York stream! Our French Creek Preserve is located within this thriving watershed.
French Creek derives its name from a fort that the French erected during the 18th century in what is now Erie, Pennsylvania. On one of his first diplomatic missions for Colonial America, a young George Washington traveled up French Creek in the winter to request that the French abandon the fort. Washington’s canoe capsized on the return trip, and he nearly froze to death.
French Creek's wide array of aquatic habitats—including headwater and mid-reach streams, riparian corridors and wetlands—sustain 89 species of fish and 28 species of mussels. Thirteen globally rare species inhabit the creek, including the Tippecanoe Darter, found nowhere else except here and the upper Allegheny River Basin, and the federally endangered clubshell and northern riffleshell mussels. Many of these species have disappeared from American waterways, but French Creek continues to provide them precious refuge.
Because the 1,235-square mile watershed drains parts of western New York and northwestern Pennsylvania, we collaborate with the Pennsylvania chapter on this project. French Creek has served as a valuable proving ground for many of the Conservancy's science techniques.
Our preserve is open year-round and includes more than three-quarters of a mile of creek frontage as well as footpaths along smaller tributaries. A loop trail traverses a variety of habitats at French Creek Preserve, including a floodplain forest, a mixed hardwood forest and along a creekside bluff. The entire loop can be hiked in approximately one hour.
Eighty-nine species of fish including the spotted darter, mountain brook lamprey and northern madtom; 27 species of mussel including clubshell and northern riffleshell. Other animals of interest include black bear, river otter, osprey, wild turkey, walleye and muskellunge.
The floodplain forest, found in low-lying areas near the creek, is characterized by sugar and red maples, hawthorn and sycamore, with a ground layer of sensitive fern and spice bush. Enjoy the shade of the dense stands of eastern hemlock growing on the moist acidic soils near the creek. Wildflowers include mountain laurel, trout lily, Virginia blue bells, Hepatica, skunk cabbage and many orchids.
French Creek Preserve is located in Sherman, New York, within Chautauqua County.
From the east, take exit 6 on the Southern Tier Expressway (Route 86 /17) near the Village of Sherman; follow NY-76 south for 3.5 miles. Turn right (west) onto County Route 4 and follow this for 5 miles.
From the west, go to the village of French Creek, near the Peek 'n' Peak Resort and Conference Center; then follow County Route 4 north for 2 miles.
The preserve entrance is marked by a large wooden sign.