Photo: Melissa Groo

Sweedler and Thayer Preserves

Pull on your hiking boots and follow the trails in this forest, along the rim of Lick Brook gorge, through the layers of time and seasons.

Natural History

These two preserves, plus the adjacent 27-acre Lick Brook Natural Area owned by Cornell University, provide excellent examples of the area’s geologic history and ecological systems.  During the last ice age, glaciers thousands of feet thick blanketed much of northern North America.  The ice scoured the land, sculpting the beautiful topography of the Finger Lakes Region.  The effects of these glaciers can be seen in the multiple waterfalls that splash down along Lick Brook on its journey to Cayuga Lake, including one that is nearly 140 feet tall.  The preserves protect approximately 3,000 feet bordering Lick Brook at the Sweedler Preserve, and more than 2,000 feet at the Thayer Preserve.

A large portion of this landscape is covered by lofty eastern hemlock and white pine trees, but many varieties of trees and shrubs thrive here.  Different species of oak and maple can be found, as well as the less common cucumber magnolia and mountain maple.  In autumn, Lick Brook becomes part of the colorful tapestry that spreads across the region in red, yellow and orange.  The steep topography of the preserve dictates the downward flow of soil nutrients, which collect in the forest and the floodplain at the base of the slope, contributing to a tremendous springtime wildflower display.  Wild geranium, Dutchman’s breeches, and the aptly named spring beauty can all be found nestled among the majestic sycamore trees that dot the fertile floodplain of the Cayuga Inlet.

The Thayer Preserve has a more gentle topography than the Sweedler Preserve, but the gorge still features steep banks, a few low cliffs, and a bedrock stream bed with small waterfalls.  A mature forest with eastern hemlock, white oak, and sugar maple provides ample shade and habitat for mountain dusky salamanders and the ubiquitous red eft. On a spring day, listen for the flute-like song of the Hermit Thrush and the “zee zee zee zoo zee” of the Black-throated Green Warbler, or tread softly through a fresh fallen snow to find the tracks of Wild Turkey, red fox or deer.

The Lick Brook corridor remains a conservation priority area for the Land Trust.  The perpetual protection of this area allows ample opportunity for hiking, including access to Buttermilk Falls State Park via a spur of the Finger Lakes Trail, and peaceful enjoyment of our natural world, while protecting the water quality of Cayuga Lake.


After the Revolutionary War, the land that now comprises much of these preserves was cleared for timber and agriculture.  Farms in the area were later abandoned, leaving the land to recover and slowly return to forest.  Moss Sweedler purchased the “Lost Gorge” in the 1970s, and understanding its uniqueness, decided to leave it to the Finger Lakes Land Trust in his will.  But in 1989, the Land Trust let the Sweedlers know that Lick Brook was a top priority for protection, recognizing the development pressure in the area and the site’s exceptional beauty, and in 1993 the Land Trust purchased 128 acres from Moss and Kristin Sweedler at a bargain price, creating the Sweedler Preserve at Lick Brook.  Since then the preserve has provided public access to one of the most remarkable waterfalls and gorges in the area.

The land along Lick Brook upstream and across the creek from the Sweedler Preserve was originally protected from development when the Thayer family donated a conservation easement to the Land Trust in 1998.  Ree Thayer was an early and active member of the Land Trust, a dedicated volunteer at the Sweedler Preserve, and had an eye for preservation of the land around her.  In February 2011, the Thayer family furthered their commitment to land conservation and public benefit to the community by donating 20 acres of their land.  This donation, combined with an adjacent seven acre parcel of land along the creek acquired by the Land Trust in 2008, now comprise the William J. and Marjory L. Thayer Preserve.  The Thayer family felt that their donation was a celebration of the many years that Ree and Bill lived in Ithaca and derived pleasure from the natural beauty.

Public Use

During the full hunting season, from October 1- December 21, bowhunters will be hunting on the Sweedler Preserve in locations that are at least 150 feet from marked hiking trails, and trails will remain open to the public during that time. Hikers must stay on marked hiking trails at all times. Hunters will be allowed to hunt with bow only throughout the regular bow season, as well as through the regular gun season and late bow/muzzle-loader hunting season.

During the special Tompkins County Deer Management Focus Area hunting season, from January 8–January 31, 2022, gun hunters will be hunting on the Sweedler Preserve and the whole preserve, including the Finger Lakes Trail, will be closed to the public during that time.

Please see our public use policies for recreational activities on nature preserves.

Go Finger Lakes

Go Finger Lakes is the free web site created by the Finger Lakes Land Trust to promote recreation and conservation. Use the interactive map of over 50 hiking, biking, paddling, skiing, and outdoor adventure destinations across the region!

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From Ithaca follow Rt. 13 south to just past Buttermilk Falls State Park. Turn left on Sandbank Road. At Y intersection bear right on Town Line Road. Park immediately on right side of the road (before the bridge). Sweedler Preserve is to the right (white trail), Thayer Preserve to the left (orange and blue trails).