Thousands of acres of forest and wildlife management area are up for review

The state wants the public to weigh in on the future of more than 8,700 acres of state forest and wildlife management area called the Canandaigua Highlands. The property includes the Italy Hill State Forest and High Tor Wildlife Management Area in the towns of Italy, Jerusalem, Naples, Middlesex, South Bristol and Naples in Yates and Ontario counties.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation is looking to improve access to the property, manage vegetation such as native grasslands and woodlands, control exotic species, and preserve historical and archaeological resources.

The highlands is rich in human history dating back to its first inhabitants, the Onondowahgah — Seneca Nation. G. Peter Jemison, historic site manager for Ganondagan State Historic Site in Victor, provided the DEC with an early history. Seneca Nation traces its birthplace to this area off the east shore of Canandaigua Lake.

“The name we have for ourselves in Seneca literally translates ‘the people of a great hill,’” said Jemison, a Seneca of the Heron Clan.

“The hill of our origin I am convinced is South Hill, lying at the southeast end of Canandaigua Lake. Stories concerning our birthplace speak of our people emerging from a cleft in the hill. Archaeologists have tried to fix the date of our origin as 950 A.D. We however, hold to a much earlier date. Based on artifacts discovered in the Genesee River Valley there has been continuous occupation of this region dating back more than 7,000 years,” according to Jemison, who contributed to the DEC’s 2005 management plan now to be updated.

With general information about the Canandaigua Highlands in hand, the updated plan will chart the next 10 years. The overall goal is improving and protecting the land; also expect updates to recreational facilities such as the Bristol Hills Branch of the Finger Lakes Trail and kiosks.

Work already done based on the previous 2005 plan included timber management, construction and maintenance of roads and parking lots, and upgrades to the emergency helicopter landing pad. High Tor was also expanded to cover additional acreage, and the DEC employed various methods to protect habitat for rare, threatened or endangered species.

The Canandaigua Highlands is adjacent to land owned by the Nature Conservancy in Naples where a study is underway regarding land around Parish Flats. Naples Town Supervisor Tamara Hicks recalled an information session in Naples a few years ago about the DEC plans in High Tor and Italy Forest, which drew a large response. Some confused the two projects, however, as state land surrounds the Nature Conservancy portion. The Parish Flats area is being studied to look at methods of stream and wetland restoration, and ways to alleviate flooding, improve habitat and protect lake water quality. While the objectives of the Parish Flats area plan are in line with the DEC’s management plan, she said, the two plans are completely separate.

On the Canandaigua Highlands plan, the DEC released a fact sheet and request for comments and concerns at

Once a draft plan is completed, the public will be invited to review it and attend a public meeting to share their views on a draft plan. Comments will be weighed against law, regulations, the DEC commissioner’s directives and other public comments before changes are made to the draft plan. Public questions and/or comments will be included in the final plan.

Comments and concerns may be emailed to or mailed to NYSDEC, 7291 Coon Road, Bath, NY 14810.