Trees for Tribs Grant to fund Sugar Creek Restoration Project

The Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium (FLM&A) was one of ten applicants to be awarded a Trees for Tribs Grant through the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. The Trees for Tribs Grant Program supports efforts to reforest New York’s tributaries, or small creeks and streams, which flow into and feed larger rivers and lakes. The goal of the program is to support communities in planting young trees and shrubs along stream corridors, also known as riparian areas, to prevent erosion, increase flood water retention, improve wildlife and stream habitat, as well as protect water quality.

Sugar Creek

The FLM&A project, called the Sugar Creek Restoration Project, will improve wildlife habitat, water quality, and climate resiliency along Sugar Creek, a main tributary to Keuka Lake, by planting riparian trees and shrubs on the banks of three neighboring properties, owned by the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium, Izaak Walton League, and Branchport/ Keuka Park Fire Department. The FLM&A was granted $38,000 to complete this project in 2 years.

Approximately 3,160 native trees & shrubs, all grown from NYS-sourced seed, will be planted on roughly 13-acres along Sugar Creek. The plantings will be done by community volunteers, under the direction of the Finger Lakes Museum & Aquarium, and approved by a DEC Forester. Plantings will follow NYS DEC guidelines, which include the use of tree tubes, stakes, weed mats, and wire cages, to ensure the plants have the best chance of surviving. The FLM&A will coordinate and oversee a 2-year long maintenance plan for the plantings, using guidelines set forth by the NYS DEC, that include regular monitoring and reports, photographic documentation, and watering.

Sugar Creek emptying into Keuka Lake

Located in the hamlet of Branchport, NY, on the northwest fork of Keuka Lake, the FLM&A’s 29-acre site encompasses a 16-acre wetland/preserve—known as the Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve—and a 13-acre former school campus. The Campus includes a 17,000 square foot building currently under phased renovation, several green infrastructure elements (Bioswale, a riparian buffer zone, turf pavers, and porous pavement parking lots), a large reclaimed meadow, a kayak and canoe livery known as the Creekside Center, three timber frame lean-to’s for outdoor programming, and an ADA-accessible hand-carry launch/dock. Sugar Creek borders the east side of the Museum Campus, and the west side the Townsend Grady Wildlife Preserve, before emptying into Keuka Lake.

Townsend Grady Wildlife Preserve photo by Roger Bailey

In 2014, the FLM&A became steward to

16-acres of wetlands with 100 feet of lakefront on the northwestern fork of Keuka Lake. Known as the Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve, these wetlands have served as a natural water filtration system to Keuka Lake watershed for thousands of years, most recently filtering over 160 square miles of agricultural and residential runoff. The Preserve contains two federally-delineated classifications of wetlands; the more traditional emergent classification (where one would expect to see cattails, lichens, and mosses), as well as a more unique classification of forested wetland (containing trees over 6 meters tall, like white oak and shagbark hickory). The FLM&A staff and volunteers have begun work on building over 5,000 feet of trails, boardwalks, bog bridges, viewing platforms, interpretive signage, a timber frame pavilion, and various nesting platforms and boxes for wildlife in the Preserve. A comprehensive bio assessment of the Preserve is also underway, which includes documentation of all flora and fauna, soil and water flow assessments, and ongoing monitoring.

Verdi Burtch Memorial sign

The Izaak Walton League/ Lake Keuka Chapter (IWL): For nearly 100 years, the IWL has fought for clean air and water, healthy fish and wildlife habitat, and conserving special places for future generations. Today, IWL plays a unique role in supporting citizens locally and shaping conservation policy nationally. The Lake Keuka Chapter of the IWL owns and manages a wetland at the northwest branch of Keuka Lake, with approximately 1500 feet of frontage along Sugar Creek. This property is also known historically as the Verdi Burtch Wildlife Preserve. There is foot trail access and an observation platform on this property, as well as water access for kayaks and canoes.

Aerial view of Sugar Creek and Branchport

Branchport/ Keuka Park Fire Department (BKPFD): BKPFD is an all-volunteer department that provides firefighting response, vehicle accident response, emergency medical response, and underwater search and recovery for a district in Yates County, NY. Its coverage area contains a large portion of the Keuka Lake shoreline in the Finger Lakes region, most of the township of Jerusalem, a small portion of Steuben County, NY, and Keuka College. The BKPFD owns about 400 feet of shoreline bordering the east side of Sugar Creek in Branchport. Anglers regularly access this property for fishing on Sugar Creek, and the volunteer firefighters use this property for practice.

The Sugar Creek Restoration Project will need many volunteers to help plant, water, and monitor trees over the next 2 years. Please contact the FLM&A at (315) 595-2200, if you are interested in volunteering. We will post more details as this exciting project progresses.

Photo credits: first two photos of Sugar Creek by Helen Sullivan Heizyk; photo of Townsend-Grady Wildlife Preserve sign with deer by Roger Bailey; photo of Verti Burtch Memorial sign by Kelley Elliott; aerial photo of Sugar Creek and Branchport by Bob Engle.

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