GENESEO – If you think you need to travel to the Amazon, the Nile River Valley, or California’s Redwood forests for beautiful vistas, you’re ignoring some unique landscapes close to home. The Genesee Valley is home to top-notch natural environments, and the Genesee Valley Conservancy (GVC) is working to preserve some of the area’s best locations.
Founded in 1990, the GVC has protected over 13,600 acres of forests, farmlands, and a whole lot in between. The nonprofit organization owns three nature preserves in the region, and their newest, the Indian Fort Nature Preserve, is of enormous geological and biological importance. The preserve is home to a 75 to 100 foot waterfall, which cascades over exposed rock layers that are hundreds of millions years old. Gullies and streams run through the successional forest on the preserve, creating a vibrant microclimate.
However, the preserve is just as important for its culture as it is for its ecosystems.
The preserve gets its name from remnants of a fort-like structure found on the property, which have been traced back approximately 500 years. The Indian fort makes the preserve, which is located on Jones Bridge Road in Geneseo, stand out, according to GVC Stewardship Director Benjamin Gajewski.
“Culturally, the most unique feature – because some of the waterfalls and biology are found elsewhere on other properties or in Letchworth (State Park) – is the Indian fort, what is essentially two palisades, that formerly stood on the site back in 1400-1500 that were Iroquois built,” Gajewski said. “They’re basically wooden walls making some sort of an enclosure.”
The palisades are now little more than dirt mounds standing several inches tall, and while Gajewski said experts don’t know what the exact purpose of the fort was, ideas abound.
“They know where the palisades are. There have been a couple of studies, but it’s hard to know exactly what their purposes were,” he said. “Was it actually a fort, was it just a holding area or safety camp, was it something religious or spitirual? They’re not certain. There are some ideas out there as to what it might be, but it’s certainly a future research project waiting to happen.”
Gajewski said he hopes the GVC can help convey the story surrounding the Indian fort as they gather more information about the site.
As with the GVC’s other preserves, balancing the want to share the property with the public and the need to conserve the land is a continuing consideration for the Stewardship Committee. It’s an example of how land use changes over time and how humans exist with nature, according to Gajewski.
“Every forest, probably in the world, has some human influence on it,” he said. “We’re part of nature, as much as some people want to pretend we’re separate. Everything we do impacts it…fifty or a hundred years from now, what the (GVC) decides to do is going to impact what the forest looks like.”
The Stewardship committee had to decide what to do with the Indian fort preserve, and options ranged from closing to the public all together, to making it a more park-like space. However, Gajewski hopes that the GVC’s work to provide adequate signage and maps for their preserves will create spaces where nature can flourish and people can appreciate it.
“We were careful to set up a trail network that minimized impact to the resources that are there,” he said. “Through management planning we looked at the site and said, ‘Where do we want trails? How many trails do we want?’ By cutting the trails and having open, accessible areas, people are going to most likely stay on the trails. If we can get the majority of use onto very narrow trails on a select part of the property, that leaves a great majority of the property untouched.”
The GVC does most of its work through conservation easements, which are legal documents guaranteeing property owners will agree to maintain the integrity of a plot of land by restricting certain uses of the property. The easements are usually donated to the GVC, and the documents have helped protect numerous landscapes including forests, farms and watersheds.
With only five staff members to administer the entire Genesee River Watershed, the GVC can’t protect anything, which isn’t the goal, according to Gajewski. Instead, the group focuses on specific properties to protect through preserves and easements and relies on a network of members, donors and volunteers to support their work.
“Becoming a member and joining the organization is a tremendously helpful – every little donation helps us accomplish our mission,” Gajewski said. “If folks aren’t able to join, or if they also want to help out with their time, time is certainly great.”
If you would like to get involved as a member, volunteer, or landowner, you can visit the GVC’s website at www.geneseevalleyconservancy.org or call the office at (585) 243-2190.