Looking back on Lansing’s principal stream

Lansing’s Salmon Creek empties in nearly 90 square miles of Tompkins and Cayuga counties, sending 27 billion gallons of water each year into Cayuga Lake. The stream was the backbone for the early development of the town and is still valued today.
Lansing’s Salmon Creek empties in nearly 90 square miles of Tompkins and Cayuga counties, sending 27 billion gallons of water each year into Cayuga Lake. The stream was the backbone for the early development of the town and is still valued today.
Photo by Matt Montague
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Lansing’s Salmon Creek rises from a pond just south of the town of Scipio’s town barn in Scipio Center. From there, Big Salmon Creek meanders irregularly nearly nine miles south, roughly paralleling Route 34, passing by the Salmon Creek Sportsman Club and running under Popular Ridge Road, Tile Kiln Road and Myers Road before it swoops by the Town of Genoa’s fire station on Route 90.

Little Salmon Creek, having risen seven or so miles to the northwest, joins Big Salmon Creek just to the east of the intersection of Hill and Indian Field roads. A half mile to the south of this confluence, Indian Field Road becomes Salmon Creek Road, and the creek’s waters enter the town of Lansing.

Together, the Salmon Creeks empty about 90 square miles of Cayuga and Tompkins County – On Jan. 22, that meant about 80 cubic feet of water flowed by the U.S. Geological Survey’s gauge in Ludlowville every second. On March 30, 2014, the USGS registered a 13-year high of 6,970 cubic feet of water (or two tractor trailer loads) per second.

Average flow from 2006 to 2018 was about 118 cubic feet of water per second. That’s 7,080 cubic feet per minute, 425,000 per hour, 10.2 million per day and 3.7 billion cubic feet of water per 365-day year. Sounds like a lot, but that 27 billion gallons a year is only about 1% of Cayuga Lake’s 2.5 trillion gallons of water.

On Genoa’s Town Line Road, Salmon Creek runs past the old Fedorka Hill Climb, where 1970s Saturdays would draw a crowd of about 1,000 to watch motorcycles and the odd snowmobile race up a dirt track to the crest of the hill.

Here the creek becomes fishable. This stretch above the falls is good for stocked brown trout and the occasional wild brook trout.

The area around the intersection of Brooks Hill Road and Salmon Creek Road holds the 33-acre Salmon Creek Bird Sanctuary, an “Important Bird Area” identified by the National Audubon Society for its 48 pairs of Cerulean Warblers, along with Scarlet Tanagers, Hooded Warblers, Baltimore Orioles and a host of other birds. There are no established hiking trails, so birders are advised to use the road carefully.

A mile and a quarter south of Lockerby Hill Road, Locke Creek comes in from the east through an area known as “The Gulf.” Two one-lane bridges mark the rest of the road above the falls – Salmon Creek ducks under the second one and then curls itself around the Lansing Rod and Gun Club.

In 1791, Silas Ludlow and his brothers Henry and Thomas dragged a store of goods up the lake from Ithaca and then up Salmon Creek until he ran into a 36-foot waterfall. The power of the water tumbling over the lip impressed them into buying Military Lot No. 76 for $60.

Town Historian Louise Bement said that the Ludlows were just one of many mill builders on the creek.

“On Salmon Creek, there were 10 grist mills and 11 sawmills, one of which was the Ludlow Mill,” she said. “After the Ludlows built their cabin, they built a 20-square-foot grist mill of rough unhewn logs. A wooden trough led from the top of the falls to a water wheel. Next, they built a new mill below the Grist Mill. For several years, these two mills were the only ones in a radius of many miles.”

Andrew Myers’ son, Andrew, built a large grist mill and a saw mill on either side of the Myers Bridge. You can find these mills on the 1853 map that hangs in a frame at the Lansing Town Clerk’s office.

“Three and a half miles up the creek from Ludlowville, there was a grist mill operated by James Ford,” Bement said. “Four miles up the creek, there was a mill owned by Mr. McClung. There was a sorghum mill just above the bridge on Salmon Creek Road. There were so many small dams on Salmon Creek to run these mills that when a spring flood washed them all out, there was a very bad flood in Myers.”

Below the falls, the creek runs down a series of shallow, smooth chutes before flowing into a long, deep pool under the Dug Road Bridge, an unofficial headquarters for Opening Day of trout season.

The Department of Environmental Conservation has an etiquette guide for this near-religious holiday:

“Elbow room to fish is a common courtesy,” this guide reads. “The stationary or slow-moving angler should be given room by over taking them noiselessly out of the water and re-entering as far away as practical. Wading right up to another angler could disturb a pod of feeding fish, and no one appreciates this type of conduct. Pleasant conversations are OK, so long as you don’t disturb other anglers.”

A hundred yard wade downstream, Townley Creek tumbles over a short waterfall into Salmon Creek, while Hedden Creek comes in 50 yards further. Townley creek has three 50-foot waterfalls upstream, while Hedden Creek has its Buttermilk Falls.

These flow into a long deep pool accessible by Green Road via Mill Street. This is where the USGS’s water gauge sits and where canoeists and kayakers put in when the water is high enough for a run down to the lake.

Salmon Creek runs around the bend through a rugged set of rapids before slowing beneath the steel deck bridge on Ludlowville Road. It wanders through a deep gorge under the highway bridge and then under the Myers Road and railroad bridges before it widens to continue building Meyers Park and the Salt Point Natural Area.

A bar of gravel carried there by the creek runs about 500 feet out from the tip of Salt Point – fishermen carefully wade there in the spring and the fall, and families cool off on it when the lake finally warms up in July and August. That’s where the deep water starts and where Salmon Creek finally loses itself in the lake.

In Brief:

Women in Math Day

What do math, free food and the art of paper folding have in common? IC Women in Math Day!

The third annual IC Women in Math Day will take place at Ithaca College on Saturday, Feb. 8 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. This program is designed for female high school students and their families and open to any high school student interested in mathematics. Engage with other high school students and explore through hands-on activities how math and origami can help us explore outer space.

There is no cost to participate in the event, and lunch will be provided. Accompanying adults are welcome and encouraged to participate in all activities. For more information and to register for this event, search for “IC Women in Math Day” or visit the website at tinyurl.com/wfma74k.

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