The 12,000-step program to summer gorge safety

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Joe Schwartz
cascadilla gorge
Jason Koski/University Photography
Summer 2015 gorge stewards Quinn Kelly '14, left, Sophie Rogers '16 and Laura Talpey in the Cascadilla Creek gorge.

The list of enjoyable things to do in the two scenic ravines flanking Cornell’s central campus – Fall Creek and Cascadilla Creek gorges – is practically endless.

Climb native-stone steps until you’re breathless, then chill in the naturally air-conditioned shade.

Peer under a clump of moss to discover what’s wiggling thereabouts.

Alternative swim venues
Two city pools and three state parks (with equally beautiful gorges) await.
The two public pools within city limits are the Alex Haley Municipal Pool, 408 N. Albany St., and Cass Park Pool, 701 Taughannock Blvd. (Route 89).
Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert H. Treman State Park offer bracingly cool swimming in gorge-sourced water, while Taughannock Falls State Park has swimming in Cayuga Lake, which is getting warmer with each passing day. All three state parks (as well as Cass Park and the Cayuga Nature Center) are served, weekdays and weekends, by TCAT’s summer–only Route 22, with connections to campus and other parts of the city and county.

Learn flora, fauna, natural and local history from interpretive signage (at all entrances to gorge trails), from the Cornell Plantations Path Guide ($12.95), from Cornell Plantations info (free online) or the knowledgeable and friendly gorge stewards (absolutely free).

Escape the frenetic hubbub of campus, Collegetown or downtown Ithaca.

Inhale mood-elevating negative ions from waterfalls (not scientifically proven, but it can’t hurt) or simply meditate (the trail behind Risley leads to a mindful spot).

Marvel at the power of tumbling water that carved through ancient rock formations in a mere 15,000 years.

And that’s just Day One.

However, there are a couple activities to avoid in the gorges: swimming and departing from designated trails and recreation spaces.

Out-of-bounds places are clearly marked by signs and fences for the safety of all concerned – including first responders. Maps delineate enough trails to occupy recreational hikers and foot-powered commuters through June, July and August.

The gorge-swimming prohibition comes with warnings – and numerous alternatives.

Warning: The City of Ithaca, which has jurisdiction for Cornell’s two gorges, defines swimming quite broadly: “No person shall bathe in, swim in or for purposes of swimming and/or bathing enter any of the waters within the City of Ithaca except in the waters officially designated as swimming or bathing areas.”

City laws are enforced by Ithaca Police and Cornell Police – two organizations that know, from tragic experience, about the danger of gorge swimming.

“Gorge stewards are there to educate the public on all aspects of the gorges – geology, biology, natural history and preservation – but also the hazards, and safer options for cooling off in the summer,” explains Mark Holton, Cornell Outdoor Education’s director of outdoor programs and risk management, who coordinates the gorge stewards program in cooperation with Cornell Plantations.

Gorge stewards, who take to the trails each summer as part of the Nathaniel Rand ‘12 Memorial Gorge Safety Education Program, ”are the university’s ambassadors to the gorges,” says Todd Bittner, Cornell Plantations’ director of natural areas and chair of a standing committee on gorge safety.

“This university has a thoroughly considered commitment to making our iconic gorges safely accessible to the public,” Bittner adds. ”Visitors help preserve that commitment – and minimize risks – through safe and responsible use, by staying on the trails and out of the water.”


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