MARK GILLESPIE/Livingston County News
MARK GILLESPIE/Livingston County News Genesee Valley Conservancy Stewardship Director Ben Gajewski leads a walk to the 25-foot bridge across a creek at the Indian Fort Nature Preserve following the official opening.
Genesee Valley Conservancy
Indian Fort Preserve opens to the public
Visitors access the new Indian Fort nature Preserve, owned by the Genesee Valley Conservancy, from a small parking lot on Route 63 near I-390 in Geneseo.
From the busy intersection, walkers find the howl of Interstate traffic quickly gives way to the croaking of frogs in a pond and the rushing water of a waterfall. Indian Fort offers 1,000 feet of unspoiled access to the Genesee River and a site archaeologists believe was once used by the Iroquois in the 14 or 15th century as some kind of camp or retreat.
According to Conserancy Stewardship Director Ben Gajewski, settlers harvested timber from the land and converted most of it to open pasture 50 years ago — until the family of Judge Robert Houston listed it on the National Register of Historic Places and allowed the property to begin reverting back to its natural state. A few 300-year-oak trees still remain along a steep gully.
After the county took ownership of the property, Gertrude Houston brought the county and the Conservancy together for a year-and-a-half of talks to preserve the Indian Fort land and open it to the public.
An anonymous $40,000 donation covered the purchase of the land, and established an endowment to fund maintenance costs. A $20,000 grant from the New York State Conservation Partnership program covered costs associated with the purchase, plus management and public use planning.
A six month managment planning process included consultation with community members, Seneca Nations representatives and archaeologists from SUNY Geneseo and the University of Buffallo. Professors from SUNY Geneseo were specifically invited to use the land for class projects in geology, biology and geography.
The county awarded the Conservancy tax-exempt status in exchange for keeping the preserve maintained and open to the public.
“It will essentially be like a town park,” said Gajewski. “What we would pay in taxes goes toward the maintenance of the property.”
The Conservancy used dozens of volunteers and several contractors to prepare the preserve for its June 13 opening. Projects included construction of a 25-foot footbridge, several benches along the trails, a parking lot and information kiosk — which Gajewski said was not built until archaeologists conducted “shovel tests” to be sure the kiosk wouldn’t be built over a historic site.
The Indian Fort Nature Preserve is open from sun-up to sundown. “We encourage folks to use the preserve and respect the land,” said Gajewski.
For more information, call the Genesee Valley Conservancy at 243-2190 or go to geneseevalleyconservancy.org.