This scenic and inviting 241-acre preserve is a short drive from Ithaca and encompasses portions of an extensive forest, rolling meadows, wetlands, and a rugged stretch of Six-Mile Creek.
The preserve borders Yellow Barn State Forest, Hammond Hill State Forest, and the Cornell Old 600 Natural Area, making it an important connector in a larger array of some 8,000 acres of protected lands. The preserve adds another gem to the “Emerald Necklace,” the Land Trust’s initiative to connect 50,000 acres of public open space around Ithaca, and is the first project linking two blocks of state forest in the necklace.
An easy meandering trail on the Baldwin Tract of the Park Preserve, accessed from the south parking area (just north of the intersection of Irish Settlement Road and Midline Road), leads you through a meadow that encircles a beautiful evergreen plantation (all of which used to be an agricultural field). Follow the spur trail and you will find yourself in a mature forest that leads to the hemlock-studded gorge and waterfalls along Six Mile Creek.
A new north parking area is now complete, and a universally accessible boardwalk guides visitors over the wetlands. The boardwalk and mile-long trail connect the preserve to more than 20 miles of multi-use trails at Hammond Hill State Forest. Please note that while hunting is prohibited in the Roy H. Park Preserve, it is allowed in the adjacent state forest through which the trail passes.
The primary natural feature of this preserve is Six Mile Creek, which is the drinking water source for the City of Ithaca and a major watercourse in the Cayuga Lake watershed. Approximately 5,350 feet of the creek flows through the preserve (with preserve land on both banks), and another 2,600 feet of stream flows along a boundary of the preserve (preserve land along one bank). The Park Preserve and other adjacent protected lands provide extensive protection to not only to the stream, but also to large areas of upland forest and wetlands along the stream corridor. In the northern section of the Park Preserve, Six Mile Creek meanders through an extensive open wetland complex where there is intermittent beaver activity, and in the southern section of the preserve the creek drops through a hemlock gorge with cliffs, small waterfalls, and beautiful pools.
The preserve features open wetlands, mixed hardwood forest, wet hemlock woods with sphagnum moss and liverworts, numerous vernal pools, an expansive beaver pond fringed with cattails, and even a heron rookery. The vernal pools provide superb habitat for spotted salamanders and wood frogs. On an early April day, listen for the ringing birdlike calls of spring peepers and the clackety-quacking of wood frogs heralding the coming of spring, and keep on the lookout for great blue herons.
The trail from the south parking area on Irish Settlement Rd. initially passes through a former agricultural field where sixth grade students from Ithaca planted 1,000 spruces and red pines in 1980. These, along with self-seeded white pines, have now grown large and provide fine habitat for a number of bird species. The Park Preserve is renowned among local birders for its splendid array of breeding birds. In the forest, you may hear winter wren, hermit thrush, northern waterthrush, and Louisiana waterthrush; while in the former field, listen for prairie warbler, eastern bluebird, tree swallow, eastern towhee, indigo bunting, and yellow-billed cuckoo.
The acquisition of the four tracts that comprise this preserve was made possible by many generous donors and supporters of land conservation along Six Mile Creek. The most significant gift came from the daughter of the late Roy H. Park, who wanted the new preserve named in honor of her father. A media executive and entrepreneur, Park made his home in Ithaca, and after his death in 1993 the Park Foundation was created to continue his legacy of dedication and support for education, public broadcasting, and the environment.
In April 2007, the Land Trust acquired the first 80 acres of land for this nature preserve, adjacent to land subject to a conservation easement donated to the Land Trust by Frank and Blythe Baldwin. In December 2007, the Baldwin’s sold their 57-acre property to the Land Trust at a greatly reduced price to add to the new preserve, ensuring the continuation of a tradition of public access that the Baldwins had accommodated as private landowners for many years. With broad community support, the Land Trust purchased an additional 167 acres in November 2010, of which 80 acres merged with the Park Preserve and the remaining acres were added to adjacent Yellow Barn State Forest. In December 2014, the Land Trust added 24 more acres to the preserve. These latest acquisitions greatly increase the protected land connectivity and recreational access potential in the area, and ensure significant protection of water quality and habitat along Six Mile Creek.