Plymouth Woods Nature Preserve
Take your eyes off your feet and look up--maybe you'll see a porcupine taking a sunbath high in a big old oak.
This is a particularly fine example of a mature oak-hickory forest. Most species of oak and hickory known in our region are found here, along with a few American chestnuts and healthy populations of mountain laurel and flowering dogwood. Those accustomed to forests farther north in our region will find this one quite different: fewer sugar maples, for example.
In addition to its exemplary forest, this 90-acre preserve encompasses a lovely little ravine and a small wetland. This may be the Land Trust's only preserve with a handsome-and wonderfully fragrant-wetland plant called "Sweet Flag" (Acorus calamus). Like Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Sweet Flag is in the Arum Family. The long, narrow leaves look like cattail, but have a crease up the middle.
Birds typical of our hardwood forests, such as Wild Turkey, Ruffed Grouse, Pileated Woodpecker, Wood Pewee, Black-capped Chickadee, Wood Thrush, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ovenbird and several other warbler species make their home at the preserve, in addition to less common species like Black-billed Cuckoo and Winter Wren. Listen for this wren's long, melodious, high-pitched song, especially in the vicinity of the small ravine. Cuckoos are more common during years when their favorite food-fuzzy caterpillars such as tent or gypsy moth caterpillars-are abundant.
The preserve also harbors the typical mammals of our region, as well as porcupine. And, of course, Red-backed Salamanders-probably our most common forest salamander-live at the preserve. These lungless salamanders live in damp areas, never in the water, and (unlike most salamanders) the female guards her eggs.
Dr. Edward Grandt, well-known Elmira physician (now retired), has found a quiet refuge in this majestic forest for many years. In 2003, he generously donated it to the Finger Lakes Land Trust. His goal was two-fold--to protect it in perpetuity, and to share it with the public. For years, he has maintained trails and a small meadow with fine views to the south.
Long ago, this property was farmed, but even aerial photos from the early 1960's show most of it heavily forested, with just two small fields.
As you hike the red trail through the meadow, you undoubtedly will notice the numerous anthills. These are home to the Allegheny Mound Ant, an important part of the preserve's ecology. To keep the mounds exposed to full sun, the ants inject formic acid into the base of plants that would otherwise shade the mounds. These ants make among the largest and most complex mounds of any ant. A colony can persist for over 100 years. Allegheny Mound Ants can both sting and bite. Nevertheless, bears love to eat the larvae and eggs.
Directions to the preserve:
From Route 17 east of Elmira, take the Church St./Rt. 352 exit--Exit 56. Go through Elmira, and turn left on Rt. 225 (Hendy Creek Road). Go about 3 miles and turn right on Kneale Road. Go 0.4 miles to the preserve parking area, on your right