James Kennedy State Forest
The James D. Kennedy Memorial State Forest, or Cortland Reforestation Area #3, was named in memory of the District Forester James D. Kennedy. The 4422 acre forest is located in the towns of Harford, Lapeer and Virgil on Babcock Hollow, Baldwin, Bleck, Cook Hill, Courtney Hill, Cortwright, Hauck Hill, Hilsinger, O'Dell, Owego Hill, Quail Hollow, Scutt Hill, Valentine Hill and Van Donsel Roads. The forest was established between 1931 and 1974 to reduce soil erosion, produce forest products, help stabilize the tax base, and provide recreational opportunities. Most of the landscape was cleared of trees for agriculture during the mid-to- late 19th century by European settlers. Between 1931 and 1976 approximately 2,280,500 pine, spruce, cedar, larch and red oak were planted. The trees were planted by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camp S-125 based in Slaterville Springs, NY; Conservation Department employees; Camp Pharsalia crews and social service crews. Today the forest provides a diverse group of ecological, economic and recreational services.
The towns of Virgil, Lapeer, and Harford, as well as the rest of present day Cortland County, were developed under the Military Tract, which was established in 1789. During the Revolutionary War New York State needed soldiers to protect its borders from British attack as well as attacks from Native Americans. Since the State had little money to pay its soldiers, a plan was devised to pay them with land. The Governor of New York, DeWitt Clinton, plotted land from Oswego to the southern border of present day Cortland County. This land was dedicated for the payment of New York's Revolutionary War soldiers. The land was then divided into smaller sections of about ten square miles called townships. These townships were then divided into sections of land approximately 600 acres each to be allotted to individual soldiers. Unfortunately, the majority of the soldiers did not utilize such payments, preferring instead to take their chances elsewhere. In those instances the soldier sold his land warrant to a speculator who would commonly divide the lots into smaller pieces and then sell them for a large profit.
As part of the Military Tract, the town of Virgil was named after the Roman poet, Virgil. Originally the town of Virgil was connected to Homer, New York. Virgil separated from Homer in 1804. The first settler of the Virgil area , Joseph Chaplin, arrived in 1792. Chaplin was commissioned by New York State to cut a road through the dense forest from Oxford to Ithaca in order to open Central New York to settlement and development. Chaplin strove to cut a road as straight as possible and eventually ended up coming out near Ludlowville. This road was referred to as "The First Road." However, the state was not satisfied with "The First Road," and refused to pay Chaplin until he made another road from Virgil to Ithaca which was named "Bridle Road."
After two years of breaking the road, Chaplin's work ended in 1794. New York State achieved its goal of promoting the settlement of Central New York . Shortly thereafter, John M. Frank and his family used the road to settle in the town of Virgil. John Gee and his family followed the Frank family in 1795. They were later followed by John Roe and his family in 1797. These were the first three families to settle in Virgil.
Daniel C. Squires named the town of Lapeer, and he was responsible for its split from Virgil. Squires is reported to have commented after the split, "Although among the youngest of all the towns of Cortland County [it is] the peer of them all." Squires combined the French article La, which is commonly used like "the" in English, with the English word Peer. "Lapeer," the town's name, is a direct reference to Squires' statement meaning "The Peer." Although not organized as a town until 1845, Lapeer's first settler was Primus Grant a native of Guinea who came to the area in 1799.
Unlike Virgil or Lapeer, the town of Harford has no solid information as to the origin of its name. However, there is a hypothesis regarding its origin. It is assumed that Harford followed the example of the neighboring town of Richford in determining its name. Richford received its name from the first owner of Richford's general store, Ezekial Rich, around the year of 1821. Theodore Hart ran Harford's first general store around 1824. It is also interesting to note that Harford was and is often spelled "Hartford." Therefore, it is feasible that Harford did receive its name from Theodore Hart, although it cannot be proven.
James D. Kennedy Memorial State Forest is a popular area for recreational activities such as hunting, hiking, fishing, bird watching, camping, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, trapping, and snowshoeing.
There are many recreational resources within James D. Kennedy Memorial State Forest. There are 12 miles of snowmobile trails that are part of corridor trails 2B, 5A, and 5B and secondary trails 22 and 53. They provide snowmobiling between Dryden, Cortland, and Marathon. There are 16 miles of Finger Lakes Hiking Trails, and there are three annual competitive running events scheduled on the trail. There are three miles of cross-country ski trails and a lean-to referred to as the Foxfire lean-to. There is a 0.2 mile ATV trail for individuals holding a DEC permit for mobility impaired disabilities.
There are also 3 Public Forest Access Roads,(PFARs) within James D. Kennedy Memorial State Forest. They are: Scutt PFAR (2.1 Miles in length), Courtney Hill PFAR (0.8 Miles in length), and Cotton Hanlon PFAR (0.9 Miles in Length). PFAR's are permanent unpaved roads that are open to public use unless gated or otherwise noted.
James Kennedy State Forest is part of the Virgil Mountain 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.
- Pass only in flat areas and the faster trail user should verbally indicate a desire to pass
- The slower user should yield by moving to the right where possible
- Users going down hill have the right of way because he or she is moving faster and may have less control
- Do not descend a hill until the trail is clear
- After a fall move of the trail as quickly as possible to minimize the risk of collisions
- When skiing fill in the sitzmarks before proceeding after a fall
- Don't hike or ski alone serious injury can occur while using the trails. Therefore, it is wise to have a partner on hand to help if an injury should occur
- Do not hike in the ski tracks
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.
- All motorized vehicles are restricted to access roads posted as motor vehicle trails. Off road use of motorized vehicles, such as ATVs, 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.
- No permanent structures should be established, including tree stands or blinds.
State Forest Office (M-F 8am-4pm): 607-753-3095, ext. 217
Forest Ranger (Law Enforcement/Emergencies): 607-283-1159
DEC Forest Ranger Dispatch: 518-408-5850