Curtiss Gale Wildlife Management Area: Fulton’s Primordial Woods

Trees so tall you can’t see where the canopy begins.

About a mile south of Fulton, a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation sign hangs on the west shoulder of Cty. Rte. 57, its golden letters announcing the Curtiss Gale Wildlife Management Area.

You search in vain, left and right, up and down the road, for a parking site or access point (the road on its north end is a private driveway).The only way in is from the shoulder of the highway or from the WMA’s 1,000 or so feet of Oswego River waterfront.

And if you decide to hike in, don’t expect to find even the barest amenity like a trail.

No, this lack of human intervention isn’t a sign of our tough economic times and things to come; it’s the result of DEC honoring an agreement it made with the pair of gentlemen who gave this magnificent patch of woods to the state to insure its rare, primordial beauty is never blemished by human kindness and remains a refuge for wildlife.

You see, H. Salem Curtiss and Thomas K. Gale donated the area to the DEC with the stipulation that hunting and trapping are prohibited.

That’s one of the things that make the spot unusual: hunting is a management tool used on all the other WMAs in the state.

Seems the donors’ kind restriction was contagious, spawning a rare moment of cooperation among all concerned.

Normally when a pristine piece of property this close to a metropolitan area is acquired, selfish interests band together to develop it, usually destroying its natural makeup with bathrooms, fences, and groomed trails, making it look like a franchise of the state park system.

Instead, they left the place to nature’s devices; and wow, what a job she’s done!

The forest has never seen mechanized equipment. Its rolling complexion doesn’t have one rut. Instead, the ground is carpeted in a uniform patchwork of plants and forest litter.

And the floor is old; older than the old growth trees reaching so high you need binoculars to recognize the leaves.
I know…I got a stiff neck trying.

I had to identify several by their bark. A black cherry boggled my mind; how it managed to grow so straight and tall is nothing short of miraculous. Tulip poplars, maples, oaks, hickories, beechnuts, you name it, tower to heights I never knew the species could reach. They’re so far up there, in fact, it’s surprising the Federal Aviation Administration doesn’t make them wear blinking lights.

These behemoths aren’t the exception; the forest’s full of majestic old growth. Adam Perry, a wildlife biologist with the state Department of Environmental Conservation puts it in a nutshell: “There’s a lot of really old, big trees there. If you’re into big trees, it’s the best place in Oswego County to see a bunch in a small area.”

Covering only 45 acres, Curtiss Gale WMA is one of the smallest in the system. Straddled by the highway and river on the east and west, and posted signs to the north and south, it’s virtually impossible to get lost–or even disoriented–in the place.

And that’s great for family groups and others who fear wandering off the beaten path. The moment you step in, the trees start to dwarf you but never so much you have to worry about losing your way out.

To learn more about WMAs, including their locations, go to

One of countless giant tulip poplars.
No trails through Curtiss Gale WMA’s magic forest.