Thursday, July 22, 2010
Tip-toeing Through the Sand Dunes
Stretching for 17 miles, the Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Wetland Area offers one of the most scenic shorelines along the big pond. Boasting the tallest sand dunes--some up to 70 feet high--between Cape Cod and Lake Michigan, this barrier system’s ponds, creeks, and bottomland forests comprise the most productive fish and game habitat on the tiniest Great Lake. And Oswego County is the gateway to this enchanted collection of landscapes and seascapes.
The mouth of the Salmon River marks this giant sand box’s southern border. Indeed the soft sandy beach created by the river is Brennan Beach RV Park’s greatest attraction. Billed as the largest RV park in the Northeast, it ends at the south shore of the mouth of Deer Creek.
On the other side, barely a jump across during high water, and a dry step in summer (by July the creek goes underground a few feet before the beach), lies Deer Creek Wildlife Management Area, a visitor-friendly classroom into the workings of a barrier system.
What makes it so is the path running through it. You see, WMAs are managed for fish and game and, as a rule, don’t have roads or clearly defined footpaths running through them. Deer Creek WMA has both; its dune area starts with an abandoned asphalt road that ends in a footpath running right down the middle of the system, skirting the edge of the back dunes on one side, the pond that swallows Deer Creek on the other.
Along the way, you’ll be surrounded by the flora attracted to a natural, freshwater barrier system: American beachgrass, cotton woods, dune grapes and POISON IVY.
Signs all around the place remind folks the dunes are fragile and people should stay off. But cousin Staash claims “poison ivy works much better in discouraging foot traffic in the sensitive areas than any ol’ signs.”
And he’s probably right. Unfortunately, a lot of visitors don’t know their poison ivy from saw grass, and in the two weeks it takes for the itching to stop, they resolve to never set foot in the place again.
And that’s sad because the place is so beautiful it’s worth revisiting over and over, particularly as the seasons change. Avoid contact with the poison ivy by wearing clothes that cover the entire body, not touching anything you can’t identify and staying on the trail.
Believe me, the path will take you close to everything there is to see, from the beachgrass clinging precariously to the steep dunes and the old cottonwoods crowning the crests to the scrubby dune willows, wormwood and cottonwood saplings making a toehold in lower areas. The pond is only a few feet away, close enough to see the huge carp and pike residing within, far enough away to fill your eyes with a beautiful panorama.
Get here by heading north on NY 3 for 1.9 miles from its intersection with NY 13. Turn left on Rainbow Shores Road, follow it to the end, and turn left onto the unpaved, hard surface road. Bear left at the fork 0.6 mile later and continue for 0.2 mile to the parking lot.
If you’d rather see the place from the water, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation offers a canoe launch on Deer Creek, on the west side of NY 3, about 1.5 miles north of its intersection with NY 13.