Potato Hill State Forest
Potato Hill State Forest (Tompkins #4) encompasses 915 acres of land and is located in the town of Caroline in Southeastern Tompkins County. It is a popular retreat for recreational activities such as hunting, hiking, snowmobiling, camping, bird watching, mountain biking, informal horseback riding, and snowshoeing.
Originally cleared for pastureland by European settlers and Revolutionary War Veterans, the land that is now Potato Hill State Forest offered limited reward for most farming attempts. The upland soils of the Allegheny Plateau are characteristically thin, steep and acidic. When combined with harsh winters and short growing seasons, the land proved unproductive and farms were abandoned as settlement was attempted elsewhere. The State Reforestation Law of 1929 and the Hewitt Amendment of 1931 set forth new legislation that authorized the Conservation Department to acquire land, by gift or purchase, for reforestation areas. These state forests, consisting of no less than 500 acres of contiguous land were to be "forever devoted to reforestation and the establishment and maintenance thereon of forests for watershed protection, the production of timber and other forest products, recreation and kindred purposes" (Article 9, Title 5, Environmental Conservation Law).
The majority of Potato Hill State Forest was acquired in 1938 and 1940, with two additional purchases in 1975 and 1980. The name of this forest attests to the large scale planting of potatoes in the area by early Irish Immigrants. The highest Tompkins County production recorded was 316,334 bushels in 1845. By 1865, Tompkins County production had dropped to 166,300 bushels, but potatoes were still raised on a decreasing scale until the 1960's. Previous owners of the land included the Kendall, Hotaling, Royce, Cortright, Delola and Michaud families, as well as the Federal Land Bank.
Because soil erosion was a serious problem on the newly acquired farmlands, a massive tree planting campaign began. The labor used to create these tree plantations was provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a work program established by the Roosevelt Administration to create jobs. The Slaterville Springs Camp S-125, hand planted more than 602,000 tree seedlings on Potato Hill State Forest between 1939 and 1941. In 1965, the Caroline Center Youth Camp hand planted an additional 2,000 trees. Almost all the seedlings planted were softwood species, with Norway spruce, red pine and white pine being the most frequently planted species.
The mysterious and rich forest that now covers the landscape of Potato Hill State Forest provides a matrix of different cover types and habitats that allows for a wide variety of plants and animals to flourish. Nature observation and hunting are easy and exciting with over 53 species of mammals predicted or confirmed in the area, including the red and gray fox, snowshoe hare, white tailed deer, fisher and northern flying squirrel. Watching the many different species of birds in the forest is also a favored pastime, as both common and rare species have been identified. Some of these include the cerulean warbler, Louisiana water-thrush and yellow-bellied sapsucker.
The 5.2 acre pond located in the northern portion of the forest provides scenic relief as well as additional valuable habitat for waterfowl, various mammals, snakes, salamanders, frogs, and aquatic invertebrate insects such as dragonflies.
DEC foresters are charged with the responsibility of managing state forests to enhance and maintain a diverse and healthy forest ecosystem for society and wildlife. As such, forest management is strategically employed to develop a balanced mix of young, middle-aged, and old (late successional) forest types that will continue to provide ecological, economic and recreational services for many generations.
Potato Hill State Forest is part of the Tri-County Unit Management Plan. A Unit Management Plan (UMP) guides the DEC's land management activities on several geographically related forests for a ten-year period, although a number of goals and objectives in the plan focus on a much longer time period. Each UMP addresses specific objectives and actions for public use and forest management.
The diversity within Potato Hill State Forest creates excellent opportunities for outdoor recreational activities, and there are 2 miles of marked hiking trails and approximately .75 miles of snowmobile trails maintained by Adopt-A-Natural-Resource partners. There is also a Public Forest Access Road that provides an additional 0.4 miles of recreational access into the forest. This road is denoted for ATV use for people holding Department permits for mobility impairments.
***Stay Safe- Bring A Friend When Out On The Trails***
Potato Hill State Forest may be accessed by taking NY Route 79 to Level Green Road, which runs along the western border of the forest. There is also access to the forest by taking Level Green Road to Blackman Hill Road. Parking is limited, but available from the shoulder of the road.
State Forest Regulations
Anyone enjoying the use of this State Forest must observe the following rules which protect them and the forest environment:
- Do not litter. Carry out what you carry in. Burying of refuse is prohibited.
- If you build a fire, do so with care and use wood from dead and downed trees only. Never leave a fire unattended. Three foot radius must be cleared around fire.
- All motorized vehicles are restricted to access roads posted as motor vehicle trails. Off road use of motorized vehicles, such as, trail bikes and four-wheel drives is not allowed, except where specifically permitted by signs, posted notice or by DEC Permit.
- Camping for more than three nights or in a group of ten or more requires a permit from a Forest Ranger. Camping is prohibited within 150 feet of water, roads or trail.
- Permanent structures, including tree stands or blinds, are not allowed.
State Forest Office (M-F 8 am-4 pm): 607-753-3095 ext. 217
Forest Ranger (Law Enforcement/Emergencies): 607-798-1797
DEC Forest Ranger Dispatch: 518-408-5850