The plant community at Sampson State Park
(Editor’s Note: This article is the fifth of a series exploring plants and horticulture within driving distance of central Pennsylvania.)
The past several columns in this series explored the managed (vineyards) and natural (Watkins Glen and Treman state parks) plant communities within the Finger Lakes Region. While these visits can be easily done in several day trips, some might want to create a 3-4 day adventure. Overnight offerings run the gamut from hotels, motels, to short-term home rentals (i.e., Airbnb and VRBO). But it may be the region’s state parks, and their camping facilities, that allow full immersion into the surrounding landscape.
One option to consider is Sampson State Park. It is situated on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake and covers over 2,000 acres with several activities for young and old.
The land has a rich history, from the early Native American inhabitants to early settlers that farmed the surrounding land. But during the 1940s the area was transformed into a large Naval training facility where hundreds of thousands of recruits passed through.
Decades later, with consolidation of training sites across the US, the training site closed. The land was passed onto the New York State Park System to the creation of today’s Sampson State Park.
The description of the park states that heavy brush, pine and cedar thickets, and young growth wooded areas are slowly reclaiming the once cleared military land.
Several steep ravines edged with old growth oak, hickory, ash, and maple traverse through the park land draining into Seneca Lake. This evolving landscape makes excellent habitat for songbirds, white-tailed deer, wild turkey, fox, coyote, raccoon, squirrel, rabbit, and other small mammals, as well as waterfowl and birds of prey including bald eagles and osprey.
Some of the plant life and military history of the park can be explored by wandering around the park with your cell phone. Throughout the acreage, there are signposts, with a phone-based guided tour.
But the most serene plant setting is the Lake Shore Trail. The 1.7-mile (3.4 round trip) trail is flat and part of the parks old road system and gated off from any vehicle activity. This makes it an easy walk or a great place to take the family for smooth bike ride. Mature trees line the shoreline and throw some good shade, making it a pleasant hike/ride on a hot, sunny day. Several benches are located along the trail and provide great views of the lake. There are also some footpaths that lead down to the rocky shore. These are great as it feels you have the whole lake and beach area to yourself.
The sunsets over Lake Seneca are stunning and can be viewed from multiple locations within the campground, with the beach area the most accessible and wide open. If this adventure includes the kids, note that the lifeguards are not on duty during the evening.
This series has explored trips around plants in New York, some further than others. The next few columns will look at plants in our backyard, the Pine Creek Rail Trail.
Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.