Old Growth Point

Approaching the Lake
While the exact acreage of the East Coast’s old growth (trees at least 150 years old) isn’t known–indeed, new stands are being discovered all the time–it’s estimated that ancient woods comprise roughly 1% of the forests this side of the Mississippi. New York boasts more than half of that, primarily in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains and Alleghany State Park.

Closer to home, you’d expect to find some virgin woods in the northeastern quarter of Oswego County, in undeveloped spots like Littlejohn and Happy Valley Wildlife Management Areas or Winona State Forest. However, ranked in the top five of the state’s largest lands, they sprawl over 8,000 acres each, and finding their stands of old growth poses a formidable challenge to today’s average, time-strapped hiker.

The good news is that the southeastern corner of Oswego County is graced with Three Mile Bay/Big Bay WMA, another massive spread that offers some really old trees. Best of all, they’re at the shoulder of McCloud Drive, an unpaved logging trail that leads from Toad Harbor Road to scenic Phillips Point
No tree core samples have been taken, so Mike Putnam, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation Wildlife Biologist in charge of the WMA, can’t say for sure whether they’re old enough to qualify as genuine old growth or not. Still, he’s confident the trees range from 100 to 150 years old.

He thinks the trees were never harvested by the land’s original owners.

His boss, DEC Supervising Forester Richard Pancoe, believes the trees are just shy of old age, but have reached their magnificent stature because of “site quality: good ground, deep soil and sufficient moisture.”

Whatever the case may be, McCloud Drive is an avenue through a natural treasure. Beyond the yellow barrier (designed to discourage the wild, late-night parties that used to disturbed Phillips Point’s tranquility) at the entrance to the WMA exists a spot that contemporary life forgot. Stately oaks, rough shag bark hickories and massive maples, their crowns towering 60, even 70 feet in the air, line the road like columns to an open air temple.

Off to the west side of the road, Oneida Lake gently laps the wooded shoreline. On the east, the forest reaches inland as far as the eye can see.

As you near the end of the road, the land around it rapidly narrows, forcing it to turn sharply to the east and make a loop. But the spit continues forward, growing narrower and narrower until finally disappearing into the lake.

The distance from barrier to point is less than half a mile, but the scenery is so mesmerizing it feels like a couple blocks. It’s a great place to escape the arrogance and apathy spawned by the asphalt and plastic of contemporary life and immerse yourself in a stress-free primordial setting of towering giants springing from beds of quivering flowers.

To get there from I-81, get off at the Central Square exit, head east on NY 49 for about 3 miles, turn right on Toad Harbor Road, then left, three miles later onto McCloud Drive and travel a few hundred yards to the barrier.
Old growth shag bark hickory
Phillips Point
Old growth oaks