Land gift expands old-growth forest natural area

David Bandler, professor emeritus of food science, stands on the parcel gifted to the Fischer Old Growth Forest Natural Area.

Cornell Botanic Gardens has expanded the Fischer Old Growth Forest Natural Area in the town of Newfield, New York, with a gift of 42 acres from Lenore and David K. Bandler '55, MPS '71, professor emeritus in Cornell’s Department of Food Science.

The parcel will be known as the Bandler Family Forest Tract. With the gift, the natural area now preserves more than 100 acres, with almost 30 acres of old-growth forest.

The parcel is an important addition to Cornell Botanic Gardens’ Fischer Old-Growth Forest Natural Area, one of the best of the few remaining examples of pre-European settlement forests in the region. With the Bandler gift, the preserve now protects a broad continuum of habitat types, allowing visitors to understand and study the influences that past land use has had on plant communities and natural plant succession.

“You can essentially walk back in time and look at the changes that agricultural and forestry practices have had on the landscape and how they influence what we see today,” said Todd Bittner, director of natural areas for Cornell Botanic Gardens.

The natural area provides examples of old-growth forest; mature, second-growth forest; forests that had been cleared, farmed and abandoned at different times dating back more than 100 years; and meadow.

“The Bandler Family Forest Tract completes the continuum of forested plant communities, as they relate to different agricultural land use and management practices, because it contains a mature, timbered forest that has never been plowed,” Bittner said. “We now have the whole sequence, end-to-end, making this natural area all the more remarkable.”

The new tract also completes protection of the Fischer Old-Growth Forest Tompkins County Unique Natural Area, which has been a conservation priority for Cornell University for nearly four decades. The parcel exhibits complex geological landforms tied to the post-glacial elevation of Cayuga Lake and subsequent tributary and delta formation. These unusual landforms contribute to the high diversity of native plants that thrive there.

“When we saw how the Fischer Old Growth Forest was used to enhance teaching, research and the pleasure of hikers in the Cornell community, we knew that our adjoining land should one day become part of that treasure,” said David Bandler. “We have enjoyed this beautiful forest for the past 57 years, and it’s time for it to be forever preserved for future generations.”

Bittner added: “The Bandler Family Forest Tract is worthy of being protected on its own merits for containing high-quality examples of hemlock-northern hardwood forest, mixed oak forest and Appalachian oak-hickory forest types. Being protected as an addition to the Fischer Natural Area makes it all the more valuable for conservation and education purposes.”

The new parcel is the second gift from the Bandler Family to enhance the Fischer Old-Growth Forest Natural Area. The 17.43-acre Bandler Family Tract, donated in 2016, is characterized by herbaceous and shrub-dominated old fields, young successional forests, historic stone walls and old plow lines. It also provided frontage along Elmira Road/Route 13, which allowed for improvements to visitor parking, orientation and hiking trails.

The Fischer Old-Growth Forest Natural Area is accessible from Route 13. A 1.5-mile marked hiking trail, open dawn to dusk, guides visitors through the nature preserve. provides detailed directions and provides GPS enabled-maps to aid in exploring the Fischer Old-Growth Forest and more than 200 miles of hiking trails throughout the area.

Shannon Dortch is associate director of communications and marketing at Cornell Botanic Gardens.

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