Photo: Bill Hecht

More than 2,000 Feet of Finger Lakes Shoreline Protected Through Public-Private Partnership

The Finger Lakes Land Trust acquired a 35-acre property featuring 2,300 feet of undeveloped shoreline at the southeastern end of Otisco Lake, in the town of Otisco. The property was identified as a priority for protection due to its role in maintaining the lake’s water quality. See maps and a beautiful aerial video about this project.

The acquisition features meadows with scattered trees as well as several shallow ponds, two seasonal tributaries to the lake, and forested wetlands. Flocks of waterfowl utilize the area during migration and herons are frequently observed feeding in the ponds. The site also provides habitat for area Bald Eagles.

Photo: Bill Hecht

The Land Trust acquired the land from the estate of William “Bill” Henderson. Henderson purchased the land back in 1942 at a public auction. He was 15 years old at the time and rode his bicycle to the auction. Henderson subsequently maintained the land for 76 years until his passing in 2018.

The acquisition was accomplished through a partnership between the Land Trust, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), and Onondaga County. DEC helped fund the project through its Water Quality Improvement Project Program – an initiative to support the protection and restoration of environmentally sensitive lands that buffer public drinking water supplies. Onondaga County will own and manage the site as a public conservation area and the Land Trust will retain and monitor a perpetual conservation easement.

During the coming months, the Land Trust will oversee the planting of approximately 1,000 trees and shrubs to establish and enhance vegetated buffers to the lake and the two tributary streams. The Land Trust will also work with Onondaga County to develop a long-term management plan that provides for the restoration of wildlife habitat as well as appropriate public access for hiking, wildlife observation, and fishing. It is anticipated that the property will be conveyed to the county sometime during 2021. To watch a beautiful aerial video and learn more about the project, please visit

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Basil Seggos said, “Through New York’s Water Quality Improvement Project grant program, New York State is making strategic investments to protect and enhance water quality for the benefit of our environment and public health.  DEC is proud to partner with the Finger Lakes Land Trust and Onondaga County on the conservation of this shoreline parcel to enhance public access to recreation opportunities, protect habitat for a diverse array of wildlife, and to safeguard water quality in Otisco Lake as a public drinking water source.”

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said, “Onondaga County remains committed to securing and protecting sources of clean drinking water for our community. This newly acquired property, which will be added to the Onondaga County Parks system, will ensure that Otisco Lake continues to be a source of safe drinking water to the residents of Onondaga County.” McMahon continued, “In addition to taking on the responsibility of protecting and maintaining this site, Onondaga County has worked with OCDC to invest $100,000 in cutting edge technology, through a partnership with SUNY-ESF, to detect and prevent HABs in Otisco and Skaneateles lakes. Together with our local towns and villages, we can ensure our community continues to have abundant sources for clean drinking water.”

Land Trust Executive Director Andy Zepp adds, “We’re grateful to Onondaga County and DEC for making this project happen. There are few undeveloped shoreline parcels of this size remaining in the Finger Lakes region. By acquiring the land, we will help ensure the future of this important public drinking water supply while providing the public with access to a rare stretch of wild shoreline.”

This is the Land Trust’s second conservation project in the Otisco Lake watershed, where it acquired the 36-acre Otisco Lake Preserve in 2015. Located in the town of Spafford on the west side of the lake, the preserve protects over 1,300 feet of undeveloped Otisco shoreline and hosts a hiking trail that leads visitors down a steep hillside to the shore.