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Camillus Forest
Forest Data
43 4 0 N
76 17 36 W
400 to 700 feet
Total Acres
355 acres
Old Growth
40 acres
Forest Type
thinned old growth mixed hardwoods
Sugar Maple 83%
Beech 13%
Red Maple

Camillus Forest
Unique Area

Camillus, New York

Surveys: September 7, 2003, October 5, 2003; October 18, 2003
Tree Data; Vegetation Report

Camillus Forest Unique Area, on the east summit and slopes of a large hill due west of the hamlet of Amboy, includes an island of undisturbed forest surrounded by
Camillus Forest
Pam Rosatti
with two average size trees

PHOTO DYarrow 9/7/03

farmfields and woodlots. The 355-acre property contains only a small 40-acre sylvan sanctuary of old growth hardwoods, but it holds a special ecology, energy and atmosphere. Trees are mostly sugar maple, with a bit of beech and red maple, many over 100 feet tall and approaching 200 years old. The trees' tall, straight, unbranched boles and deeply fissured bark are ample evidence this is an ancient forest. A few of the maples are well over 200 years old; one was dated by annual growth rings at 285 years old.

But most delightful is the understory. Much of Camillus Forest is thickly carpeted with rich diversity of herbs and fragile woodland ephemerals. Also, the forest is on a high point with spectacular views of distant places, including Onondaga Lake six miles east, and downtown Syracuse eight miles southeast. And hidden in the trees, an ancient spring—no longer active at ground surface—sits at the head of a ravine that steeply descends 300 feet eastward to Nine Mile Creek.
Aerial Photo
Camillus Forest
Camillus, New York
click to enlarge

PHOTO www.nysgis.state.ny.us

Camillus Forest is on a 700-foot-high hill with a fairly flat south summit and commanding views of surrounding countryside. With water from the ancient spring nearby, this would have been an excellent settlement site in precolonial times. Unfortunately, the NYS DEC Unit Management Plan makes no mention of native settlements, or archaeological data on or near the property.
Topographic Map
Camillus Forest
Camillus, New York
click to enlarge



In 1926, the property was bought by New York State as a farm colony for disabled young men. The Syracuse State School farm raised livestock, eggs, milk and grains to supply other state facilities and state prisons. Farm residents were trained to become self-sufficient.

Early History
Camillus Forest and
Town of Camillus
Educational policy changed, farm vocational training declined, labor costs rose, plus a shortage of skilled labor brought an end to the farm colony system, including the Syracuse State School. In 1966, a fire destroyed three large barns. In 1971, the last crops were planted by the State School, although some land was rented for agriculture through 1996.
Sugar Maple
Camillus Forest
Camillus, New York

PHOTO DYarrow 9/7/03

New York State acted to sell the unused property to a local developer. The gently rolling slopes facing Onondaga Lake and Syracuse are a jewel for upscale suburban development sprawling all around Camillus. The new owner planned to harvest timber from the 40 acres of old growth, and the tall, old trees were marked for cutting. However, public protest from local residents and environmental groups forced New York State
Wild Ginger
Camillus Forest
Camillus, New York

PHOTO DYarrow 9/7/03

to reverse its sale of the property, and transfer it to the NYSDEC for preservation as a unique natural resource.


Camillus Forest was studied in May and June 1996, and February 1997, by DEC foresters and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry faculty. Sited on the property's highest elevation, with outstanding views north and east, the forest is described as a mature, old-aged northern hardwoods stand. The forest was dominated by sugar maple (83%) and American beech (13%) by density, with a diversity of other hardwoods including red maple, black cherry, red oak, tuliptree, butternut, basswood, and ash. Tree size ranges from saplings to 42 inch dbh. Trunk coring determined trees are between 150 and 160 years of age, although one maple is 285 years. Click this link for the tree data. No evidence of major timber harvest was found, suggesting the stand hasn't been cut since NYS bought the farm in 1926.

May through July 1997, Dr. Don Leopold of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry led graduate students in an herbaceous plant survey. Click this link for the survey plant list. Most common
Forest Vegetation Report
Unit Management Plan
in the forest: waterleaf, blue cohosh, touch-me-not (jewelweed), toothwort, and Christmas fern. No threatened or endangered plants on the NYS Natural Heritage database were sighted.
Red Maple
Camillus Forest
Camillus, New York

PHOTO DYarrow 9/10/03

Labor Day 98 Blowdown

Since then, several severe natural wind disturbances have damaged the forest. Most significant was Labor Day 1998 by winds exceeding 115 miles per hour—equal to an "F2" tornado—largest scale windstorm to hit Onondaga County since November 1950. Scattered small openings in the forest canopy became one very large blowdown, eliminating overstory on 12 acres.

An interim forest stewardship and education trail built in 1997 became impassible after the Labor Day blowdown. In the windstorm's aftermath, the interpretive was re-routed to meander around the area of maximum treefall.

Research reveals such catastrophic winds occur in a stand every 1,300 years in the northern U.S. Blowdowns increase sunlight reaching the ground, to nurse a new age class of trees. Species that don't tolerate shade—black cherry, white ash, tuliptree—will eventually dominate the opening, enhancing vegetation diversity, forest structure and wildlife habitat. Logs and limbs will rot into the forest soil to supply nutrients to the new trees.

Camillus Forest Unique Area is currently owned by the State of New York, and managed by the Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Division of Lands and Forests Office, in Cortland. According to the DEC April 2002 Draft Unit Management Plan:

"Camillus Forest Unique Area was established by Governor George A. Pataki in March of 1997 with the goal of preserving the 355-acre property for public enjoyment and education of present and future generations. Collectively, the area is an exceptional and diverse open space resource that provides a multitude of passive recreational use opportunities."
Blue Cohosh
Camillus Forest
Camillus, New York

PHOTO DYarrow 9/7/03

"The property's 'crown jewel' is a 40-acre forest in its southwest corner—a magnificent old sugar maple and American beech forest nearly two centuries old—one of the finest examples of mature northern hardwood forest in Central New York—slowly developing old growth characteristics. A portion of the forest is truly ecologically significant and irreplaceable, deserving protection under the State Nature and Historical Preserve Trust (article 45)."

"Due to the excellent soil resources and no immediate past history of timber cutting, this forest is an exceptional natural resource. Because it will be preserved under the same guidelines utilized by DEC foresters in the Adirondack and Catskill forest preserves, the area will effectively be utilized as a "living classroom" and will illustrate how older forests respond to natural disturbance and eventually develop into 'old growth.'"

The Earth Restoration and Reforestation Alliancewww.championtrees.orgupdated 10/12/2003