Enjoy the Outdoors Year-Round

Judy Drabicki

Northern New York has a well-deserved reputation as a great place to raise a family. Part of what makes it great are the year-round opportunities to enjoy a multitude of outdoor activities. The four seasons, combined with vast amounts of New York state lands for hiking, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, or horseback riding, pristine waters for fishing, and abundant wildlife for viewing or hunting set the stage for adventure, exploration, and good, quality family time. Let me be clear, my idea of family is broad and includes a couple with a dog, blended families, and all other combinations that individuals choose to define themselves as a family. Regardless, my point is this—the family that plays together, stays together.  

    Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Adventure NY initiative, a multiyear outdoor recreation campaign to connect families and visitors to the outdoors, estimates that New York state lands accommodate more than 75 million visitors per year. 

    Region 6, which includes eastern Lake Ontario, St. Lawrence River, Tug Hill and eastern Adirondacks has 11 Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) totaling 18,795 acres in Jefferson County alone. These state lands provide wildlife habitat management and wildlife-dependent recreation. Several are located within a 20-minute drive of Watertown. 

    Lakeview WMA, in Ellisburg on State Route 3, is part of the largest natural fresh water barrier beach system in New York state. Lakeview is open to the public year-round, and some of its most beautiful areas can be seen by boat. DEC has provided boat launch sites for canoes or car top boats with a 10-horsepower limit.

    As stewards of the land and the wildlife, sometimes we must carefully manage public access to state lands to provide habitat and nesting opportunities for species that depend on these areas. Perch River WMA, which encompasses 7,800 acres in the towns of Brownville, Orleans and Pamelia in Jefferson County, is one such area where we balance public access with natural resource protection. This restricted wetland and refuge area provides habitat for several of New York’s endangered and threatened species, including bald eagles, black terns, and northern harriers (marsh hawks). By late August, the nesting and brooding season is mostly complete and the fall migration period has not yet begun. That’s when we open access to the public and it’s traditionally a huge draw for bird watchers of all ages. 

    Bird watching is one of the fastest growing outdoor recreational activities that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. Young people between the ages of 12 and 18 can get involved in the State’s “I Bird NY” beginning bird challenge. This past spring, more than 100 young people completed the challenge and became I Bird NYers.

    In September, Rich Schmitt of Rochester took his 13-year old son and the child’s 14-year old friend hunting at Perch River WMA. He wrote to us in an email that the boys ended up with eight blue-winged and three green-winged teal. “It’s always fun to see the younger kids have a successful hunt,” said Mr. Schmitt.

    For the nature observer and hiker, we have many miles of well-marked trails in all areas of the five-county area of Region 6. In May, we cut the ribbon on new improvements at the John Young trail, which make it more accessible to visitors. This newly accessible, 2,000-foot trail is located within the Tug Hill State Forest at Barnes Corners. Our focus is on inclusion, and accessibility improvements invite people with mobility issues and families with children in strollers to our state lands.

    Camping is an amazing opportunity to live off the “grid” for a short amount of time. Visitors can choose from three DEC campgrounds in Region 6; or find primitive camp spots on state lands. Even teenagers sometimes reluctant to spend time with their families enjoy sitting around the camp fire after enjoying a meal cooked over a propane camp stove or sitting quietly around the fire taking time to gaze at the stars. And don’t forget, every fourth grader in New York is eligible to visit one of the state’s day use areas at a DEC campground for free.

    These opportunities to enjoy the outdoors, and many more, can be found on our DEC website, at www.dec.ny.gov where a drop-down menu under Recreation provides a treasure trove of information about available opportunities. Our regional office is also more than happy to take your phone calls at 315-785-2239 to help visitors find a great place to recreate with their families.

                Whether it’s active or passive, back country or front country, on land or water, I recommend that all New Yorkers—and visitors, too—do their family’s physical and mental health a favor and enjoy New York’s great outdoors!