Griffin Memorial Forest
This is a fairly small forest acreage wise, but big in heart. It’s only 40 acres, but if you are in the area, it’s worth checking out. It shows the forward thinking of some of the local folks at the beginning of the twentieth century- the grass roots of modern conservation. In the days when our forests and natural resources were merely a commodity to be used up and abandoned, luckily for us some locals had the vision and means to preserve the outdoors for generations to come.
I went on a snowy morning in March, with the prediction for winter storm Stella, hanging in the air. The predicted blizzard wasn’t supposed to get going until afternoon, and most everything was closed for the day – so I grabbed my wool pants and headed south.
John P. Griffin lived most of his life in the area. He was born on March 29, 1849, on the property that this forty-acre forest was taken from. He worked as a school teacher and a store keeper for some time in Fine. As the tannery and other industries slowed down in town, he later moved back to the family homestead. He had a great passion for the outdoors, and its preservation. He planted rows of Maple trees along the roadside of his farm in 1876 as a tribute & memorial to the United States centennial. In 1914, as a supervisor for the town of Fine, he deeded off and donated forty acres of property to the town, to be perpetuated and maintained as a town forest. It was claimed (at that time) that it is the only town forest in the U.S. He worked alongside of professor Edward F. McCarthy, (the director of the newly established forestry school in Wanakena) to ensure that the forest would be maintained with the future in mind. In the spring of 1915, McCarthy donated 40’000 white pine and Norway spruce trees. These two-year old trees were planted on the 40-acre tract by Ranger School students. Mr. Griffin passed away on February 26, 1917. He didn’t get to see the fruits of his labors, but knew well that the forest that bears his name would carry on. The idea wasn’t to preserve the woods in a forever wild way, but to manage them as a renewable resource. Trees are harvested, but in a fashion to keep the forest healthy and productive for generations to come. He also knew that the timber would provide some income for the town as well. These forestry practices are common-place today, but were a new and radical concept for the day.
In the spring of 1939, a bronze plaque was placed on a massive boulder, and dedicated to Griffin. The ceremony was presided over by then, Fine town supervisor Otto Hamele. Hamele, of Wanakena, was another pivotal link in the conservation of the areas woods & waters. He was instrumental in shaping Wanakena’s future and the beginnings of the Ranger school there. (for more on this see https://hikingthetrailtoyesterday.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/wanakena/ )
Today the forest is open to the public and has been very well managed. The plaque is still there, and many kiosks have been placed strategically to give you some insight to the forest around you. Students and staff from the Ranger school as well as the Clifton Fine central school have worked to keep the area looking good. Nearly a hundred years after it was started, the forest would surely meet John P. Griffins approval.
From New York State RT.3, turn onto the Brown’s falls Road in Oswegatchie NY. Following this North east, you will come to a fork in the road at the Schuyler road intersection. Keep to your left and you will see a water tower on your left and pipeline (hydro plant) as you cross over it. Stay on this road, and you will cross Skate creek at the bottom of a hill. The name of the road varies on the map- on google maps it is the Griffin road up to the bridge, from there forward it’s labeled as the Skate creek road. Anyways, keep going to the top of the hill. Just past the first house you see on your right, you need to turn right, this is the Sitting Bull road. Not far up that road you will find another road to the right, and this is the Owl Mountain road. Following this to the end you will see the memorial plaque/rock and the parking area is just past that, with a circle driveway. It’s not too difficult to find, just keep your eyes open for some rustic signs along the way. The roads are all in pretty good shape, so should be passable for most cars in the non-winter months. I drive an AWD car and drove right to the parking spot without issue, but we only had 4 or 5 inches of snow. Plan accordingly to the season, it doesn’t appear that the roads are plowed past the Sitting Bull road intersection.
On the trail
Once you get there, take a few minutes to read the collection of kiosks here. There are some interesting things posted, from local history to the flora & fauna of the area. A picnic table, a fire pit and even some firewood are provided at the parking area. There is a funny signpost showing the distance to many locations – like Key West, London, The finger Lakes, etc. The main trail is wide and fairly easy to follow, with several different trail markers. Basically, it is a clockwise loop of 3/10th of a mile. It takes you through some well managed hardwoods, and some of the nicest Black Cherry trees that you will find in the area. There are also several skid trails (from past logging operations) that made for a nice hike. The evergreens that were planted in 1915 are mostly gone (probably harvested), but there are a few great ones visible from the parking area. Though I didn’t see any wildlife, deer tracks were abundant.
This is not a long hike by any means, but it is easy enough for little kids, and would make a great place for a quiet picnic in the forest. It’s nice to walk through these woods and consider that this is the result of one man’s devotion to the preservation of all things wild. Nearly a century ago the county’s only known town forest was created and it still lives up to the original idea. Whether or not you get to go there yourself, or if you experience it through this article – take a moment to reflect on the act of one man’s vision of a forest for those who can appreciate nature and all it has to offer.
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Reference, acknowledgments and bibliography
NYS Historic Newspapers –
The Potsdam Herald Recorder- May 21, 1915 & May 12, 1939
Town of Fine-
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