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Ithaca is gorges, literally

Ithaca+is+gorges%2C+literally

 

By Mary Ford and Rachel Wolfgang

Aside from its frigid winters and steep hills, Ithaca’s gorges are one of the town’s iconic cultural landmarks.

The view of Fall Creek Gorge from Thurston Ave. bridge. Photo by Rachel Wolfgang
The view of Fall Creek Gorge from Thurston Ave. bridge. Photo by Rachel Wolfgang

The ravines and waterfalls around town were formed millions of years ago, but they are also a part of modern life in Ithaca, fascinating residents and visitors alike.

Mike Roberts, seasonal steward of Cornell University’s natural areas, said the gorges are a defining feature of Ithaca.

“Clearly there’s some sort of identity wrapped up in the gorges,”  he said. “A lot of people know of Ithaca when they see the ‘Ithaca is gorges’ T-shirts, you know. And, you know, they’re pretty central to the founding of Ithaca, and for some they’re sort of founded on the industries that cropped up around the hydropower there.”

At Cornell University, the gorges are also an essential part of the school’s landscape and identity. According to Todd Bittner, director of natural areas at Cornell University and chair of the Cornell University gorge safety committee, the gorges offer a peaceful place for students to go amid the stresses of classwork and everyday life.

“I won’t say it’s a specific place, but it’s more of a feeling,” Bittner said. “Because there’s place in the gorges that you can go, in the middle of a university campus, in the middle of a pretty large urban center, and not have any of that be present.”

Visitors take in the rushing water below and trees surrounding the Fall Creek suspension bridge. Photo by Rachel Wolfgang
Visitors take in the rushing water below and trees surrounding the Fall Creek suspension bridge. Photo by Rachel Wolfgang

Gorge safety is also a concern for both the town and Cornell University; More serious swimming restrictions have been put in place in 2015 after an Ithaca resident died in one of the gorges. Bittner said part of the university’s Gorge Safety program are gorge stewards, students who give tours of the gorges on Cornell’s campus during the summer and fall.

“The gorge stewards are one of the more important parts of our gorge safety program overall,” he said. “They want to inform users, visitors of what’s safe … We also want them to be a resource on the uniqueness of the gorges and why they’re special. So we give them some information about the geology and the plant communities and stewardship and, you know, and, in one word, the natural heritage of the gorges.”

Visitors look at the Cascadilla Gorge Trail map near Court St. Photo by Rachel Wolfgang
Visitors look at the Cascadilla Gorge Trail map near Court St. Photo by Rachel Wolfgang

Rick Hinckley, resident of Ithaca and gorge enthusiast, said the gorges are part of Ithaca’s “eye candy” appeal, emphasizing the natural beauty of Ithaca.
“It’s just the wonder that you get from seeing what nature does,” Hinckley said. “There isn’t a time I come up here that I don’t see something beautiful and something new.”

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