Pharsalia Wildlife Management Area and State Forest

History along the Finger Lakes Trail - Eastern Region

Pharsalia Wildlife Management Area and State Forest

South Plymouth, New York 13844, United States

Created By: Diane Lebo Wallace


Pharsalia WMA - the oldest WMA in New York State - has some of the largest blocks of forest in the region and supports a diversity of birds and other species which prefer such habitat. It is one of the few areas of the state outside the Adirondacks or Catskills that has breeding Swainson's thrush. In addition, Pharsalia WMA contains multiple impoundments providing habitats ranging from open water to wet meadow, and grassland areas ranging from small forest openings to ten-plus acres.

Approximately 40% of Pharsalia Woods State Forest is conifer plantations established by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) with the remaining area in mature stands of northern hardwoods. Dark stands of planted spruce are interrupted by wide open vistas created after a tornado touched down on the forest in 1998. The roadside fire ponds with laid up stone and neatly channeled waterways recall the fastidious work of the CCC. A woodland cemetery pays tribute to Revolutionary War heroes, and the miles and miles of stone walls are monuments to the brute labor necessary for transforming forest into farmland. The cows and plows are gone but the walls remain as a reminder of both faded agriculture and nature's power to reclaim the fields.

Perhaps the most striking feature on Pharsalia Woods is the large swath of open land that resulted following the May 1998 tornado. Approximately 900 acres of land were impacted by the tornado, and all trees within this area were either uprooted, shattered or broken at some point along the main stem. Timber salvage operations with varying intensities of utilization were conducted on 700 acres with the remaining 200 acres left untreated due to sensitive soils, low timber value and for the purpose of retaining controls for comparative studies. Reforestation within the tornado zone has focused on promoting conditions favorable for natural regeneration of native species, restoring vegetation along riparian zones and reestablishing a conifer component on select plantation sites. To date, 30,000 conifer and hardwood seedlings have been planted in the tornado zone.

Following the 1788 treaty signed at Fort Schuyler between Governor Clinton and the Oneidas, what had previously been referred to as terra incognita- "unknown land"- was suddenly the twenty towns of Chenango County. In 1797, John Randall and seven other families arrived from Connecticut and began to carve a claim deep within the New York wilderness. A tell tale sign of the area's shallow soils and marginal farming conditions is revealed in Randall's choice of Stonington as the towns's original name. He may have been persuaded by land speculators to select a name more attractive to the wave of immigrants arriving from the east, because by 1808 the town was changed to Pharsalia. Despite the name change, poor soils resulted in high rates of farm abandonment such that by 1923 the population of Pharsalia had dropped to one half its 1850 level. With high rates of abandonment, Pharsalia became an early focus of state land acquisition programs and today nearly one half of the town is in public ownership.

More info

FLT Map M23

This point of interest is part of the tour: History along the Finger Lakes Trail - Eastern Region


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