Acreage: 80 acres
From Ithaca, follow Rt. 79 east to Caroline; turn left (north) on Flat Iron Road. Preserve located on left, where road crosses stream.
Mabel P and Paul T Goetchius Wetland Preserve
Tucked away in the pastoral countryside of the Town of Caroline, 12 miles east of Ithaca, lies the Goetchius Wetland Preserve, where an impressive wetland restoration partnership has been underway for several years and continues to flourish. This preserve showcases the power of organizations working together, in this case the Upper Susquehanna Coalition (USC) securing land acquisition funding and providing wetland restoration expertise, and the Finger Lakes Land Trust owning and managing the preserve. Nature enthusiasts gravitate to the Goetchius Wetland Preserve for its mix of natural open and wooded wetlands, newly created wetlands from former agricultural fields, open grassland, and dry woods – a mix that has demonstrated the value and benefits of habitat diversity and wetland restoration efforts.
There is a preserve parking area on Flat Iron Road, which provides access to the open field and wetland areas for wildlife viewing, but visitors should be aware that there are currently no marked trails in this area and caution should be exercised if machinery is on site conducting wetland restoration work.
The only marked hiking trail on the Goetchius Wetland Preserve is in Mary’s Woods, accessed from the back of the Caroline Grove Cemetery on Rt. 79. This short, flat, and easy-to-hike loop trail leads to a bench that looks out over a beautiful view of the natural wetland, with Hammond Hill in the background.
Four property acquisitions have resulted in the current preserve. Out of a desire to honor the memory of their parents, as well as a precious piece of land, Susan Creed and Paul Goetchius donated the first 18 acres of wetland to the Finger Lakes Land Trust in 1995. Soon after, in that same year, the Land Trust purchased another 19 acres at the southern end of the preserve from the estate of Mary Willsey and named the woodland "Mary's Woods" in her honor.
In 2007, a 35-acre tract was purchased and added to the preserve with funds provided by the USC. The USC then embarked on the first significant wetland restoration project on the property, restoring wetland hydrology functions to a field that was historically wetland, and creating new habitat for the benefit of many types of birds, amphibians, and other wildlife. In August 2011 an additional 7.5 acres of hay field was added, again using wetland mitigation funds, and USC quickly began work on a second wetland creation project, making two new shallow ponds near Flat Iron Road. On an adjacent parcel of land owned by the NYS Dept. of Transportation (not part of the FLLT preserve), there is yet another large wetland restoration project that complements the ones installed close by on the Goetchius Preserve.
In addition to providing crucial habitat for fish and other wildlife, wetlands filter nutrients and sediments from storm runoff, protecting water quality. Because of the slow runoff rate, wetlands help reduce the effects of weather extremes by controlling flooding and providing water during a drought.
Unlike most marshes, the large natural wetland that is partly on the Goetchius Preserve is unique because it drains to both the north and the south, contributing to both the St. Lawrence and Susquehanna River watersheds. The primary wildlife attractions of this preserve stem from the wetlands and the important habitat they provide. Although grasses and sedges are the most common types of vegetation in the wetland, there are populations of interesting plants that will satisfy curious botanists. Among them are winterberry, speckled alder, and marsh marigold.
The preserve has a rich array of birds and amphibians that thrive in both the natural and artificial wetlands. In spring, drive carefully to avoid hitting spotted salamanders or wood frogs migrating across Flat Iron Road. More than 80 bird species have been observed at the Goetchius Wetland Preserve. On a quiet day, look and listen for belted kingfisher, great blue heron, and northern cardinal; watch a family of wood ducks fly above the water; and admire the regal Canada geese. As the day lengths increase in spring, look and listen for the “peents” and courtship flights of American woodcock. The grasslands interspersed among the wetland are good places to look for meadowlarks, savannah sparrows, bobolinks, and killdeer; while the muddy edges and shallow areas of wetland restoration sites have been attracting Virginia rail, semi-palmated plovers, great and lesser yellowlegs, and four species of sandpipers. The scurry of activity is not limited to feathered visitors. On a summer evening, the hum of cicadas and flashes of fireflies may turn the Goetchius Wetland Preserve into a veritable concert hall.
The upland forest of "Mary's Woods" hosts a variety of trees benefitting wildlife, including black cherry trees (identified by their dark flaky bark), American beech (much of it dying from beech bark disease), and sugar maple (including some large dying or dead ones that provide valuable nesting cavities for animals such as eastern screech owls). A variety of sparrows, warblers, woodpeckers, and other birds move through regularly. Winter is a great time to watch for animal tracks such as opossum, raccoon and fox. You might even find a burrow, excavated by a woodchuck awaiting spring.