Hamlin Marsh Wildlife Management Area
The Stanley J. Hamlin Marsh Wildlife Management Area (formerly called the Clay Marsh Wildlife Management Area) is located in the Town of Clay northwest of North Syracuse in Onondaga County. The area is easily reachable from NY Route 481 via Henry Clay Blvd., from Route 11 via Bear Road; and from Wetzel Road for the west and southwest portions of the area. The 7 ½ minute topographic map covering the area is Brewerton.
Hamlin Marsh is 1686 acres in size with about 88% of it in wetland habitat. The Wildlife Management Area (WMA) is about four miles long and from ¼ to one mile wide. Mud Creek flows into and out of Hamlin Marsh WMA and drops only about 2.4 feet as it travels through the marsh. Mill Creek flows into the marsh from the south side under Bear Road. Area topography is gently rolling land with an average elevation of about 400 feet above sea level.
Hamlin Marsh WMA was at one time the basin of post-glacial Lake Iroquois whose water level was about 70 feet above the present marsh. Poor drainage and the relatively shallow depth of water have favored the development of wetland vegetation. The organic soils created from dying wetland vegetation are over 25 feet deep in places. The marsh appears to have become wetter since the 1940's. Part of this is due to increasing human development around the wetland causing more frequent and faster water runoff into the marsh and partly due to dams downstream of the marsh.
The marsh contains the largest, yet unstable, cattail stand in Onondaga County. Cattails increase in some areas of the marsh while decreasing in other areas. Other vegetation includes: arrow arum, arrowhead, water lily, smart weed, burr reed, purple loosestrife (an exotic invader), swamp loosestrife, button bush, alder, willow, red maple, ashes, hickories, tulip trees, oaks etc. Phragmites or common reed is another exotic invader showing a scattered presence.
The upland areas adjacent to the marsh, including old fields and woods, and the emergent and submergent aquatic vegetation in the wetland provide many types of habitat for wildlife. The area provides breeding, nesting, resting and feeding opportunities for almost two hundred species of birds. Careful observation will show pickerel frog, wood frog, snapping turtle, spotted turtle, garter snake, starnosed mole, muskrat, beaver, mink, fox, raccoon and white-tailed deer.
In the past Hamlin Marsh was referred to as Clay Marsh, Cicero Swamp, Little Cicero Swamp and Peat Swamp. In 1994 it was renamed the Stanley J. Hamlin Marsh WMA after a local prominent conservationist who was instrumental in the state acquisition of the area.
The Town of Clay was settled by Europeans in the very early 1800's. Early settlers cleared the heavy growth of hemlock, beech, birch, pine and maple for farming. In 1871 the Syracuse Northern Railroad (now Conrail) was built across the marsh. Numerous fires caused by sparks from trains burned ten to twenty foot holes in the organic substrate. In the mid- 1870's peat was mined just to the east of the Conrail tracks and south of Mud Creek. Today the mine appears to be an open pond. The peat was transported to the fields south of the peat mine (now a Clay Town Park) for drying and then sold as fuel. From 1913 through at least 1921 onion and carrot farming along the north side of Henry Clay Blvd. and west of the railroad was a main activity and livelihood for the Euclid area. These old farm fields are now under four to six feet of water and cattails. An old farm road running north and south a half mile west of Davis Road marked by a line of willows is also under water. From the early 1900's through the mid-sixties local residents contributed to their income by trapping muskrats. Records show up to 100 muskrats taken by one trapper in a day.
New York State began purchasing the Hamlin Marsh WMA in 1975 with monies derived from the Environmental Bond Act. In short these goals are to protect, maintain and perpetuate the natural resource environment within the Area while permitting related recreational uses compatible with the resources including wildlife.
Management and maintenance activities are carried out with monies derived mainly from hunting license fees and Federal taxes on sporting arms and ammunition. These monies are channeled through the Conservation Fund, a dedicated fund for fish and wildlife activities. Examples of management and maintenance include parking area construction and maintenance, boundary line maintenance, information signs, mowing, wood duck box erection, etc.
In 1994 a major project funded by a partnership consisting of Ducks Unlimited, Wildfowlers of Central New York, the Army Corps of Engineers-Buffalo District and the Conservation Fund was completed to provide public non-motorized boat access into the marsh as well as increased nesting and open water habitat. The $100,000 project created 4.9 miles of channel, over 200 nesting islands and about 11 acres of open water. The channels are a minimum of 25 feet wide and an average of four feet deep, although some portions are up to ten feet deep. The main channel (accessible from the Davis Road parking area) from Davis Road to the Conrail Railroad is 3.1 miles long. A 30 yard portage over a "plug" left in the channel is necessary.
The .7 mile Mill Creek channel is accessible from the Bear Road parking area and meets the main channel about .9 miles west of Davis Road. There is not a recognizable channel west of the railroad tracks. Caution is advised if foot travel is undertaken because of the soft bottom and hidden holes within the marsh.
Observation deck at Hamlin Marsh
Activities compatible with the objectives for the management area include: hunting, trapping and fishing under state wide regulations, non-motorized boating, photography, hiking, and wildlife observation. Hunting usually occurs from September through February.
Prohibited activities not compatible with the area are: off-road vehicular travel (i.e. cars, snowmobiles, motor cycles, all-terrain vehicles, etc.), swimming, boats with motors and camping. Permanent manmade structures of any kind are prohibited.
Special note should be made that the Conrail Railroad is private property and not part of the wildlife management area.
Hamlin Marsh offers an accessible hunting blind and a separate accessible observation deck with benches, overlooking Hamlin Marsh. The deck is built at the border of a vast marshland that contains waterfowl in migratory seasons. The hunting blind is located on open water and features a 600' wooded access path with designated parking. Be advised, there is no port-a-john at either location.
Hunting blind off Old Wetzel Rd.
To reach the observation deck from Route 481, take Exit 12 and proceed east on Route 31. Turn right onto Henry Clay Boulevard. Follow toward the south. The observation deck is located on the left, just over the highway.
To reach the hunting blind, continue south 1.5 miles on Henry Clay Blvd. Turn left onto Wetzel Rd., then left onto Old Wetzel Rd. The parking area is on the left. The hunting blind can also be reached from I-81. Off the Mattydale exit, proceed to the left turn on Bailey Rd. Turn right at Buckley Rd., proceed to a right on Wetzel Rd. then turn right on Old Wetzel Rd.
See a full listing of DEC's accessible recreation destinations.
Rules for Use
The Stanley J. Hamlin Marsh Wildlife Management Area is open to the general public year round under the following conditions:
- Swimming, camping, boating with a motor and overnight mooring or storage of boats is not permitted.
- Off road vehicular travel is prohibited and the use of all terrain vehicles, motorcycles, motor scooters, mopeds, trial bikes, snowmobiles, four-wheel drive vehicles and similar off-road vehicles is also prohibited throughout the management area.
- Permanent man-made structures of any kind are prohibited
- Climbing on or using the nesting islands during the spring months is prohibited.
For more information write or call
Wildlife Manager, Region 7
1285 Fisher Avenue
Cortland, NY 13045
607-753-3095 ext. 247