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National forest is a popular attraction

HECTOR—It may be the second smallest national forest in the country and little out of the way, but the Finger Lakes National Forest in Hector can be a well visited site.
The forest is the only national forest in New York state.  While it doesn’t get publicity that the Watkins Glen State Park does, it has its own draw.  It is also trying out green initiatives and fighting invasive species.
Carol Burd, recreational planner, said according to surveys of sample groups at the forest, staff estimate that 410,800 people visit annually.  An exact number cannot be obtained because there is no “main entrance” to the forest.  She added staff survey visitors every few years to get an updated estimate.
In comparison, Dave Peterson, park manager, has previously said the Watkins Glen State Park gets between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors annually.  It is also one of the state’s “flagship’ parks.
Kari Milliman Lusk, FLNF staffer, said the park is open year round, and trails can be used for hiking, horseback riding, skiing, and motorbikes.  There are over 30 miles of trails, with Interloken being the longest.  Lusk said its around 12 miles, running north and south through the forest.
Milliman added there are shorter trails, and ones over more level ground for less experienced hikers.  Lusk explained some trails go around ponds, which are good places for bird and nature watching.
She said that the forest keeps the ponds stocked with brook trout in the spring.  Hunting and fishing is allowed, as permitting by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulations.  However, Lusk added the national forest is a multiple use agency, meaning there is more than just hunting and fishing allowed.  The forest is also used for habitat management and timber.
Lusk said the forest is doing a lot of work involving invasive species, both insects and plants.  She explained the forest released some native beetles to combat the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid, as well as the Leafy Spurge.  She added Cornell University students have grown native plants, gone into the forest, and replaced invasive plants with the native plants.  Lusk said some experimenting has been done with bringing in sheep and goats to eat invasives in some pastures as well.
However, forest staff can do little against the threat of the Emerald Ash Borer.  Lusk said staff mostly educate people about it, and about not transporting firewood.
In attempts to be more green, Lusk added that a composting toilet has been installed near the camping area.  She explained that volunteers have been camping out in the forest and doing various projects, like this.
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