The Natural Habitat of Letchworth State Park

The Natural Habitat of Letchworth State Park
Letchworth State Park is the largest facility in New York's Genesee Parks and Recreation Region. Along with its scenic vistas, Class I and II whitewater rafting areas and 66 miles of trails, the park offers an unusual ecosystem rooted in both geologic and conservation history. About 35 miles south of Rochester, N.Y., Letchworth, located in Castile, receives about 1 million visitors annually.


The park, which encompasses 1,430 acres, follows a 17-mile stretch of the Genesee River.


One of Letchworth's most dramatic features is its deep-cut gorge. That's why its called the Grand Canyon of the East. Carved by the north-flowing Genesee River over thousands of years, the walls of the gorge rise as high as 600 feet over the riverbed. The exposed canyon walls of sandstone and shale, along with their fossil remains, represent millions of years of geologic history dating to the Devonian period of the Paleozoic Era.


Carved by the last ice age, the Letchworth ecosystem includes three major waterfalls and dozens of smaller ones. The largest cataract, named Inspiration, or Middle, Falls, drops 107 feet.


The rolling hills on either side of the gorge would best be described as mixed forest. The amazingly diverse variety of trees includes oak, maple, hickory, pine, beech, birch and even a smattering of hemlock, catalpa and honey locust. In all, more than 150 species of trees, domestic and foreign are found here.


The surprising diversity of the foliage is a function of the park's history. William Pryor Letchworth, who donated the land for the park to New York State in 1906, was a wealthy industrialist and noted naturalist. Letchworth grew saplings from seeds he gathered in his world travels and then transplanted the young trees throughout the area. New York continued this forestry effort for years after Letchworth's death.


Like the forests around it, this unusual ecosystem has created a varied mix of wildlife. The cliffs and trees are home to more than 150 species of birds, including turkey vultures, bald eagles and red-tailed hawks. The river and its tributaries support trout, beaver, wood duck and mergansers. In the hills above, you'll find white-tailed deer, red fox, wild turkey, timber rattlesnake and even an occasional coyote and eastern black bear.

Article Written By Robert Leonardi

Robert Leonardi is a freelance writer specializing in eye care and general health-related articles. He is the president and CEO of a chain of eye care centers and has more than 30 years of experience as a licensed optician and administrator in the optical industry.

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