Harris Hill State Forest
Please note: Sprague Forest Road is temporarily closed. The road closure is due to wet spring weather conditions. Road traffic in saturated, muddy conditions can degrade forest road surfaces. DEC will reopen roads as soon as weather conditions improve. Check this webpage for updates or call DEC's Forestry office at 716-363-2052.
Harris Hill State Forest encompasses a total of 2,271 acres. The unit is located in the Towns of Gerry and Ellington in eastern central Chautauqua County.
These lands were purchased by the people of New York State in the 1930s for timber production, recreational use, watershed protection and wildlife. These areas now provide opportunities for many informal outdoor recreational activities. They are a source of raw material for New York's forest products industry, which provides employment and income for many New Yorkers.
In the 1930s, Harris Hill Management Unit was the site of work projects carried out by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC, established by the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, provided employment opportunities for young men during the Depression. The projects on this unit included the planting of thousands of pine and spruce trees in open areas, along with protection activities such as blister rust control and boundary line identification.
This forest is managed to produce forest crops, maintain diverse wildlife habitats and provide recreational opportunities while protecting aesthetics and water quality - multiple use forest management. The timber stands are classified as either conifer, meaning they were planted, or natural hardwoods, meaning they regenerate without human assistance.
Stands of introduced pine, spruce or larch were planted in old farm fields as they need open areas with direct sunlight to thrive. They are usually grown to an approximate age of 80 to 100 years depending on species and soil conditions. They are usually managed by a series of partial thinnings. These thinnings provide sunlight openings in the canopy to encourage natural regeneration of the native hardwoods. The removal of the conifer overstory in a final harvest allows the hardwood seedlings to grow to maturity. There may be areas where the stand could be replanted with conifers if certain conditions exist.
A number of these conifer stands are currently being harvested using a clear cut method. This is due to many trees blowing down within the stand. The root bases of these mature trees no longer support the trees against strong winds. Clear cutting a part of the stand where this is occurring frequently is the best method to maximize economic return and preserve forest health. This type of harvest also results in natural hardwood regeneration and early successional habitat for songbirds and white tail deer.
Hardwood trees are not usually planted because they spread vast amounts of seed and thereby naturally regenerate. Periodic thinning of these forest stands through the sale of forest products give the residual trees more growing space. This helps to keep the forest healthy and provides openings for new seedlings. They grow into new trees, provide food and cover for wildlife, and eventually yield crop trees for the forest industry. These stands are managed in either of two silvicultural styles: uneven aged or even aged. Under uneven aged management, trees of all sizes are maintained at all times throughout the stands and will generally contain large trees, giving an illusion of old growth. In reality, these stands were harvested prior to state ownership. With even aged management, all of the trees within the stand are maintained at approximately the same age.
Various wildlife can be found on the property, including white tail deer, ruffed grouse, raccoon, and turkey. There are occasional sightings of fox, mink, and bear. The abundance of different habitat types created by forest management in the area make it ideal for wildlife sightings. There is also a good mix of songbirds, especially near heavily harvested areas where there is thick seedling-sapling cover.
Harris Hill State Forest offers many recreational opportunities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, picnicking and cross-country skiing.
Hunting is allowed on the property; be sure to abide by all hunting laws in effect through the NYSDEC.
The Earl Cardot Eastside Overland Trail traverses the state forest north to south from Old Chautauqua Road to Twenty Eight Creek Road. There are 4.1 miles of the trail on the State Forest which are maintained by Chautauqua County DPW, Parks Division. Parking lots for trail use are located on the corner of County Route 50 and Harris Hill Road.The trail corridor navigates the State's various aesthetically pleasing woodlots, marsh dikes and access trails. Mountain biking, hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are allowed on the trail. Motor vehicles are prohibited. When the trail leaves public lands, it only follows roads and highways.
Skiing and Snowshoeing
Allowed on Earl Cardot Westside Overland Trail.
There is mountain biking allowed along the East Side Overland Trail, more info on the trail and maps can be found in the link on the right hand side of the page.
There is also 6 miles of mountain bike trail off the end of Rigby Forest road that also connects into the Overland trail. This trail area is known as Harris Hill Ext. , there are 3 loops trails: Nodab, Rib Tickler and Humpty Dumpty. Parking for this area is at the entrance of Rigby Forest Road, or you can park at the parking areas for the Overland Trail and mountain bike to the area. For more information or maps for this trail system please visit www.ridenamba.org/ and go to the Harris Hill Ext link at the top of the page. This trail system may be closed due to wet and muddy weather, so make sure you visit the web page for updated trail conditions before you visit.
This trail system is a work in progress, and was made possible by an Adopt-a- Natural Resource Agreement program with some local riders. If you are interested and volunteering for this trail system, please contact our office at 716-363-2052 or visit the web page above for more information.
Also there are no horses allowed on this bike trail system unless approved by the land manager. If you have questions or are hosting a horse ride in the area please be aware of where you can and cannot go! Please contact Keith Carrow in the Dunkirk office at 716- 363-2052.
Allowed on property but not permitted on the Earl Cardot Eastside Overland Trail, there are no designated trails at this time.
The local snowmobile club maintains a section of trail which does not coincide with the hiking trail. This trail is adopted and maintained by Lake Effect Trailbreakers snowmobile club. This trail connects to other snowmobile trails that travel off state property. Please be respectful of adjacent landowners. This trail also can be used for hiking, mountain biking and horse back riding in the off season.
Organized trail events require coordinators to obtain a Temporary Revocable Permit for use of the trails prior to the event. These can be obtained through the Dunkirk Sub-Office at 716-363-2052.
Tips for Using State Forests
State lands belong to all of us. Help care for this area and enhance the enjoyment of it for yourself and those who follow by observing these simple guidelines.
From Gerry NY, Take County Route 50 east approximately 3.8 miles to Harris Hill Road. At the intersection there is a parking lot with trail access. The entrance to the parking lot is off County Route 50.
State Forest Office (M-F 8-4 p.m.): 716-363-2052
Forest Ranger (Evenings, Weekends and Holidays): 716-771-7180