Smith Woods FAQs

About the fence:

Why did PRI decide to install a fence around Smith Woods?

Deer populations across much of New York State, including Trumansburg, are very high, in some cases as much as 10 times what is considered appropriate for healthy forests. Deer have eaten small saplings and wildflowers in Smith Woods for many years. Although the understory is open and attractive, this is not healthy in the long term. Without new trees establishing, there will be nothing to replace the older trees when they die. And the wildflowers are diminishing each year. Independent assessments by forest ecologists at Cornell and the University of Vermont have determined that excluding deer is the single most important thing we could do to improve forest health. Because Smith Woods is a valuable environmental, community, and scientific resource, PRI is investing around $50,000 to build a fence that will keep deer (not people) out of the forest.

What is the evidence that excluding deer will help the forest?

The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation has been experimenting with excluding deer from small areas in several state parks within the Finger Lakes region, with excellent results. Vegetation rebounds significantly within the fenced-in areas. Numerous scientific studies have documented the benefits of fencing on forest health in areas like Trumansburg where deer populations greatly exceed normal numbers. We expect wildflower populations to noticeably increase within a few years after the fence is erected, and also increases in oak, basswood, maple and hemlock saplings. In September 2017 scientists made a thorough survey of species inhabiting Smith Woods. They will now be able to assess the effects of deer exclusion on biodiversity over time, which will be very valuable information for future forest management efforts.

Will a six-foot fence really exclude deer?

Deer can jump a six-foot high fence, but only under duress. Orchardists in the area have had success with six-foot fences, so we will be starting with this height. If the deer consistently jump the fence, then we will be applying for a zoning variance to raise the fence another two feet.

Will the fence be ugly?

PRI has contracted with Williams Fence Company, which installed a similar fence around the Cornell Plantations Wildflower Garden. The metal fence the company uses has black mesh that is almost invisible inside the woods. We elected to put the fence just inside the woods along Rt. 96 and Falls Road specifically to preserve the attractiveness of the gateway into Trumansburg.

Will Smith Woods be closed to visitors?

No! Visitors will always be welcome in Smith Woods, which was established for the educational and recreational use of the community. Self-closing gates will be at the ShurSave corner and the Cemetery Road corner and will not be locked. Numerous scientific studies are being conducted in Smith Woods because of its unique character and researchers need 24/7 access.

Were there other reasons to install a fence?

Yes. The land behind the ShurSave was recently purchased by the Grassroots Festival for the purpose of establishing campsites in the field, and also in about 8 acres of woods that are part of their parcel. These 8 acres are contiguous with Smith Woods, so without a fence, campers would inevitably (even if not intentionally) move into Smith Woods, compact the soil, and damage the vegetation. Grassroots participants are welcome to visit Smith Woods, but like all visitors they will have to enter through the gates and will be asked to stay on the established trails.

Were many trees cut to make way for the fence?

Remarkably, almost all of the trees that were cut for the fence were less than 4 inches in diameter. The fence company will work around the larger trees so they will not have to be cut. PRI wanted to put the fence around the outside of the woods that borders ShurSave and extends back into the field, but this property is not part of Smith Woods. Neither the previous owner nor the current owner was interested in selling those 8 acres to PRI so the fence could be placed outside the forested parcel. As a result, a pathway for the fence also had to be cut through the woods on the eastern end.

Are there other changes planned for Smith Woods?

We are working on installing improved signage to guide visitors, and trail markings will also be improved. We are also looking into installing raised walkways over the wetter areas to minimize damage to wetlands vegetation by hikers. PRI is trying hard to balance accessibility and education for visitors with preserving this old-growth forest in as natural state as possible for everyone to enjoy for years to come.

Where can I learn more about Smith Woods?

A book on Smith Woods, (Smith Woods: The Environmental History of an Old Growth Forest Remnant in Central New York State by Warren D. Allmon; Marvin P. Pritts, Peter L. Marks, Blake P. Epstein, David A. Bullis, Kurt A. Jordan), has recently been published by PRI. It is available at the Ulysses Philomathic Library in Trumansburg, or can be purchased at the Cayuga Nature Center, the Museum of the Earth, and online here. You can also learn more about local forest ecology by visiting the Nature Center in person.