Public lands for all the people

By Carol Isaacs

Reporter Correspondent

(Transcribed from the Wellsville Daily Reporter.)

Belmont - There is a wide variety of public lands available in Allegany County - free - for fishing, hunting, cross-country skiing, and nature hiking. Public forest land also helps support the logging industry with timber management and also allows programs that allow private individuals to harvest firewood to heat their homes.

Allegany County has two types of public lands under its management, according to forest ranger Daniel Richter of Fillmore. “State forests are multiple-use areas meant to accommodate various public uses,” he said. “Sportsmen can hunt unrestricted in a state forest if they have the proper licenses. People can camp at any location free for three nights without a permit. On the fourth night, or for groups of more than ten on the first night, a free permit is required. Permits can be obtained from your local Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) office.”

Unlike other state parks, “Allegany County’s state forest are undeveloped, unstructured, and not designated for any one use,” he continued. “You will not find restrooms, swimming pools, or fees as in other state-owned facilities. Allegany County stresses preservation of the natural environment for sportsmen and recreation for the naturalist.

“Wildlife management areas are more restricted,” Richter went on. “These areas set priorities mostly for sportsmen. Hanging Bog Wildlife Management area in Rushford is the main one in Allegany County. Camping is restricted to ten sites, and is by permit only. Reservations may be obtained from the Olean DEC office.”

Both types of land serve another purpose besides recreation - the selling of forest products to logging companies and firewood to individuals. To cut firewood on state land, an individual must enter a lottery in Belmont. Each spring, winners are permitted to cut a limited number of cords of wood on the state property. Under no other conditions is the cutting of wood allowed.

The permits expire Oct. 1, allowing the full summer for wood harvest. Each cord costs about $12. The charge helps offset the cost of paperwork and of marking trees, but the program is not self-supporting.

Palmer’s Pond near Phillips Creek, just east of Belmont, has five cross-country skiing trails varying from 1.4 to 7 miles in length. One trail is set aside for nature hiking. The trail, about two miles long, winds down a hillside through wooded terrain and across a babbling creek. At the halfway mark is a lean-to for lunch break or, for the adventurous, for Pond, where the fire tower is located.

Allen Lake in the Town of Allen is the largest state-owned body of water in Allegany County. As with Palmer’s Pond, it is designated chiefly for use by those interested in fishing. Camping is allowed there, although not along the water’s edge. These ponds are stocked by the DEC, using money collected from the sale of fishing licenses. Allen Lake and Vandermark State Forest have truck trails for motor vehicles.

The Lost Nations State Forest in Centerville was originally a DEC training camp in the 1930s. Today chimneys stand where the barracks once stood. Now picnickers and campers use them as fireplaces. This area is attractive to visitors from Buffalo, since it is the northernmost of state lands in the country.

A little-known set of hiking trails exists in Rushford in the Weaver Road and Swift Hill areas. There are new signs, but these areas have not been greatly used.

More information about state lands in the county is available from the DEC office in Belmont. A full color map of the county, showing all state lands, is available at the information desk in the county courthouse in Belmont.

In addition, the DEC publishes a magazine, “The Conservationist,” with photos of New York wildlife and scenery and articles about hunting and nature. For subscription information, call the DEC office in Chatham.