Dec. 21, 2015
Mr. Steven Nicholson
Chair, Unique Natural Area Committee
Environmental Management Council
Tompkins County, NY
Dear Mr. Nicholson:
On behalf of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA), I am submitting this request to the Unique Natural Area Committee: that the current Indian Creek Unique Natural Area (UNA) designation be extended westward to include the 25.5 acres of the Indian Creek woods (also known as the “Biggs property”).
ICNA was formed in 2013 by West Hill residents who are concerned about the environmental impact of future use of this acreage of wetlands and wildlife habitat, whose creek and tributaries are part of the Cayuga Lake watershed.
The Indian Creek site includes the following UNA characteristics as designated in the county’s current FAQ posted on its website:
- contains diverse flora and fauna
- archeological or paleontological site
- cultural or historical importance
WETLANDS CONSIDERATION: While the NYS DEC has not at this time designated wetlands on the site, we have contacted the DEC to begin the process. Extensive wetlands were cited in 2014 as the reason a developer withdrew from building a large housing development on the site. Also, according to the “Short Environmental Assessment Form” submitted by Tompkins County as part of its attempt to sell the “Biggs property” in August, 2013: “Maps indicate a small, 0.38-acre unregulated National Wetland Inventory (NWI) wetland on the southwest portion of the parcel …” Tompkins County, which owns the property, has never fully studied or mapped the known wetlands or the flow of water down West Hill in the Indian Creek gorge.
ENVIRONMENTAL SIGNIFICANCE: In the past year, the Ithaca area experienced several major flooding events. The effects of rapid climate change are impacting the sensitive ecosystem of the Cayuga Lake watershed. The extensive wetlands on the site help to mitigate flooding and protect the integrity of the hill slope. The existing Indian Creek Unique Natural Area (UNA) lies a few hundred feet downhill of the woods; the creek itself flows from the woods into the UNA.
Preserving these acres of woods and wetlands supports the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the county’s “Energy Roadmap.” Any development of the woods will increase emissions: more energy will be used, especially to pump water up the hill; green space will be paved over, and more cars will add to the traffic flow into the city. Infrastructure such as sewers, roads and electric lines would have to be extended into the undeveloped acreage.
RICH DIVERSITY OF FLORA AND FAUNA: Local naturalist Akiva Silver toured the Indian Creek property and describes it as “a wonderful combination of mature trees and thickets” that provide a rich ecosystem to support a diverse wildlife population. The land was timbered in the nineteenth century but has never been developed. The woodland is about 100 years old. The woods surrounding the dense wetlands in the middle of the site contain many trees more than 60 years old, including many “high-value wildlife trees” that provide nuts and berries. Nearby residents report ongoing sightings of foxes, wild turkeys, possums, coyotes, salamanders, hawks, owls, and other wildlife. Among the mature trees at Indian Creek are white pines, white oaks, red oaks, maples, basswood, pin oaks, black walnut trees, white ash, black cherry, spruce, shag-bark hickory, butternut hickory, and eastern red cedar. There are native shrubs.
HISTORICAL/ARCHEOLOGICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The intersection of Indian Creek and Dubois roads was once the site of a major Native American crossing of Indian Creek along the “Taughannock Trail” which went from the south end of Cayuga Lake to Taughannock Falls. This trail is documented in a pamphlet, “Old Indian Trails in Tompkins County,” published by the Historical Society of Tompkins County. ICNA has consulted with Prof. Sherene Baugher of Cornell University, who concurs that this site may have historic and archaeological significance and should be surveyed. Also supporting a complete archaeological review are Prof. Jack Rossen of Ithaca College, Prof. Kurt Jordan of Cornell and Prof. Kathleen Allen of the University of Pittsburgh.
I am including with this letter an image prepared by the proposed developer in 2014. IThe second image is a map that shows the proximity of the property to the Indian Creek Unique Natural Area.
In the interest of protecting the Cayuga Lake watershed for the long term, meeting the county’s goal of reducing greenhouse gasses, preserving wildlife habitat and greenspace on West Hill, and recognizing the archeological significance of the site, we urge the committee to consider extending the Indian Creek Unique Natural Area to include this property.
Roy Luft, Indian Creek Neighborhood Association