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
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 And hidden in the trees, an ancient spring—no longer active at ground surface—sits at the head of a ravine that steeply descends 300 feet eastward to Nine Mile Creek.
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.
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.
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
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
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."
The Earth Restoration and Reforestation Alliance — www.championtrees.org — updated 10/12/2003