Western Finger Lakes

Central & Western: Priority Conservation Landscape

The Western Finger Lakes is an ecosystem of forests, wetlands, and streams centered around four of the most intact Finger Lakes: Hemlock, Canadice, Honeoye and Canandaigua Lakes.

Hemlock and Canadice Lakes are the only two in the entire Finger Lakes chain whose shorelines remain undeveloped. Since 1876, the City of Rochester has utilized the water from the lakes—which lie fewer than 30 miles from Rochester—as its primary drinking water source.

The pristine water has helped Rochester prosper into one of New York’s largest cities. Prior to tapping Hemlock Lake, Rochesterians obtained their water from cisterns and wells, which resulted in frequent outbreaks of dysentery and a deadly cholera outbreak in 1852.

Shortly after the City constructed its conduit system, Hemlock Lake experienced a boom in cottage and hotel development along its shoreline. In the 1890s, a proposal to build a hotel and summer resort on the lake prompted the City to begin acquiring lakeshore properties to prevent development of the Hemlock-Canadice watershed and to safeguard the City’s investment in its drinking water supply. Today, the City of Rochester owns 7,100 acres of land in the watershed, including the entire shorelines of both lakes.

Why We Work Here

The Western Finger Lakes region features an intact forest that extends from Hemlock Lake eastward to the Naples Valley, including the Bristol Hills. Within this forest, visitors can find stands of eastern hemlocks that preside over steep ravines, a lush Appalachian oak-hickory forest, one of New York's largest silver-maple ash swamps and rare plants including spreading globeflower, orchids, wild gentian and some of the most diverse fern assemblages in the state.

River otters, woodland salamanders, native salmonids, bald eagles and black bear are common. The northern coal skink and timber rattlesnake are rare but characteristic finds. Migrating warblers and songbirds of all types inhabit the forests and fields.

  • Residential development resulting from urban sprawl
  • Water level changes
  • Incompatible forestry practices
  • Invasive species such as Japanese knotweed, garlic mustard, and swallow-wort
Conservation Strategy

The Nature Conservancy's goal is to preserve the forests, lakes, streams and wetlands of the Western Finger Lakes ecosystem using various land and wetland protection tools, including conservation easements and partnerships with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and NYS Office of Parks and Recreation.

With our partners and other stakeholders, we also develop management strategies to reduce forest fragmentation, maintain the forest interior habitat and restore the system’s natural hydrology. 

Conservation Actions

We have protected more than 4,000 acres of land in this landscape, including 1,100 acres of critical lands and waters in the Hemlock-Canadice Lakes watershed.

In 2003, the Conservancy helped protect a 900-acre tract of land that is now part of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's 2,100-acre Honeoye Inlet Wildlife Management Area.

In 2002, we purchased a 200-acre property of forests and gullies on the west side of Hemlock Lake, where the City's ownership along the lake is at its narrowest—roughly 200 feet from the shoreline. Known as the Eagle Crest Preserve, the property is located in the Town of Conesus and adjoins City lands for more than one mile. Incompatible logging or residential development of this property could have had severe impacts to water quality in Hemlock Lake. The Eastman Kodak Company provided The Nature Conservancy with funding to acquire this property.
In 2001, we acquired a 164-acre property of forests and shrublands from conservation-minded couple, Dick and Kitty Freeman, who sold their land to us at half-price to assist our acquisition.

In 2000, we received a donation of nearly 700 acres of wetlands from Mrs. Florence Muller. Located at the south end of Honeoye Lake, this large swamp system is one of the best examples of a silver maple-ash swamp in the entire state. Its ability to filter and purify water is critical to the water quality in Honeoye Lake. Mrs. Muller also donated her home to Finger Lakes Community College, which has made it the Muller Field Station.

In 2000, we teamed with the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Finger Lakes Community College, Rochester Gas & Electric and Seneca Park Zoo to release seven river otters in Honeoye Inlet.


NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, City of Rochester, NYS Office of Parks & Recreation, Rochester Area Community Foundation, Finger Lakes Land Trust, Boy Scouts of America, Rochester Museum & Science Center, NY River Otter Project, Finger Lakes Community College, Mrs. Florence Muller and the Marie and Joseph Wilson Foundation.


Hemlock and Canadice Lakes

Hemlock Lake is seven miles long and a half-mile across at its widest point. Canadice Lake is three miles long and 0.3-mile long at its widest point.

Timber Rattlesnake

Timber rattlesnakes are rare, but can be found in the Finger Lakes area.


The Hemlock/Canadice watershed is a designated Aubudon Important Bird Area. It supports two bald eagle nests and serves as a migratory stopover for loons and other birds.