Nature and Outdoors
All true stories begin and end in a cemetery.Carlos Ruiz Zafon
When you think about cemeteries, what comes to mind? The final resting place for loved ones, memorials, sadness, or even ghosts? Ever since I was young, when we would bury a loved one or place a memorial crock on a headstone, I would remark on the beauty and wonder I felt. I would become really curious about the lives of people long since passed. I would wonder how they lived their life, what they cared most about, if they still have family and friends that pay their respects. Somewhat morbidly, I would wonder how they died. Thankfully for me, some of the older headstones provided that information.
When I left for college, I actually sought out a cemetery when I needed a break from studying. If I’m not sounding strange enough, I recently visited a cemetery during a vacation to New Zealand! If you share the sentiment that cemeteries are worth visiting for a stroll–or anything in addition to a burial–you will be happy to know that we have some wonderful options right here in Elmiraland. You can even make a plan before you head out by searching this website to find a cemetery or to search for famous graves.
A few of my local favorites, below.
Woodlawn Cemetery is by far one of my favorites. The Friends of Woodlawn work hard to preserve the integrity of the cemetery, and it shows. Most recently they worked to install the Heller Cremation Garden which surrounds a new columbarium or alternative to in-ground burial. During Halloween the Friends offer a (typically sold out) Ghost Walk that I would encourage you to check out along with ongoing audio tours and other special events. Within Woodlawn is Woodlawn National Cemetery, which started as the final resting place for prisoners of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp and is not to be missed. Exercise and history all in one!
Woodlawn was among the first cemeteries designed to have a park-like feel. Prior to 1831, Americans did not bury their dead in large cemeteries. Around that time, however, we began creating large cemeteries that felt more like public parks and places to spend time outdoors. Because the US did not have many public parks at that time, families would flock to cemeteries for picnics or to carriage race among the beautiful gardens and sculptures. Woodlawn (est. 1858) certainly has this feel to it. Stroll along its winding roads and you’ll be sure to get some steps in. You’ll also notice some famous names who’ve made Woodlawn their final resting place including Mark Twain, John W. Jones, Ernie Davis, and a host of Elmira’s founding families (Diven, Eldridge, Pagett, Hendy).
Saints Peter and Paul’s Cemetery on Elmira’s Southside is where my passion for cemeteries first grew. In the 1980’s, my parent’s owned the Convenient Food Mart on the corner of Broadway and Franklin Streets. While they were working, I’d hop on my bike and ride throughout the cemetery, sometimes for hours. (I was a slightly odd child but I’m OK with that). I would ride and wonder, sometimes do some gravestone rubbing and always check to see if the mausoleum was open.
A few years ago, I discovered the Webb Mills Cemetery while reviewing grant applications for work. This cemetery is in the hamlet of Webb Mills at the junction of Pennsylvania Avenue and County Highway 69. Community members have adopted the cemetery and volunteer their time to mow, fix fallen headstones, solve water run-off issues and so much more. It’s a really lovely place situated on a hill.
There are so many other smaller cemeteries scattered throughout the City that often get overlooked like the ones on Fulton Street, Second Street, and upper Maple Avenue. Most are lovingly cared for or at least mowed by a few dedicated people.
I encourage you to consider visiting one of these cemeteries or take a trip to be with your loved ones. Make sure you have plenty of time to pay your respects, reflect on life and enjoy the memories. Then, take a moment to gaze around at all of the headstones. Each one represents a life. We all try to avoid cemeteries but death is inevitable. You can give yourself some serious time to focus in on your future direction surrounded by a rather silent audience. All of our lives have meaning and purpose and the truth of the matter is that someday it will end. Cemeteries will surely remind you of that.
Memories of Elmira summers…
As someone who moved to Elmira from the desert landscapes of New Mexico, I have never ceased to be amazed by the greenery and lush colors present everywhere. This quiet liveliness describes my entire experience living here. There are so many small things that are abundant in Elmira, which can often be taken for granted.
Growing up, I spent every day playing outside in the summertime, whether in my own sprawling backyard or running through the fields and trails along the slumbering Chemung River. When I was younger, the whole world seemed like a giant playground where my imagination could run wild–the “bamboo” (actually Japanese knotweed, but it’s more fun to call it bamboo) growing everywhere became spears or swords, tall trees became enemies or forts or obstacle courses, puddles became great floods. In fact, every time it rained my brother and I would run outside to play in the temporary streams. Moving from the southwest, I never lost my appreciation and awe of rain. We would play outside until we were soaked, then we would run inside shaking like wet dogs.
These experiences would not have been possible if we had moved somewhere else. This freedom and access to the outdoors allowed me to have an amazing childhood. In the winter, my family would cross country ski on snowy days, or take our sleds down the dike for hours on end. There are few places with as easy access to nature as Elmira, and it made all the difference in my childhood to be able to do such things.
I grew up in a welcoming neighborhood, with other kids to play with and adults that always came together to help us when little disasters came through town. The sense of community contributed to my ease as a child, and made me always feel comfortable roaming the nearby neighborhood while I played. Elmira is a very unique town, and I am so thankful to have gotten to grow up here, taking full advantage of all that the area has offered to me.
Guest writer Tallulah Keeley-LeClaire graduated from Elmira High School in 2018 and will be a sophomore at Yale University in the fall. She is spending the summer studying in South Korea (read more about it on her blog).
Did you know that Chemung County has a FREE water park?
It’s called the Chemung River. It winds through our backyards and offers thrills, adventures and discoveries — on and in the water and along its banks and trails.
You can paddle, fish, wade and cool off in the river current. You can hike, bike, cross-country ski, watch birds and click spectacular nature photographs on the trails, levees and grassy banks. The river’s 10 public boat launches make it easy to access and enjoy paddle trips for a few hours to a few days.
We sometimes forget or don’t appreciate nature’s flowing water park. Too bad, because it’s a convenient and accessible destination for fresh-air recreation, education and a reconnection with nature and the river valley’s serene beauty.
That valley is a magical place where water, air and soil come together in a trinity of habitats brimming with plants, animals, fish and awe-inspiring wonder. You never know what you will see or experience, but you will always come away with good memories and river tales.
Our water park is a convenient place for outdoor exercise and for hands-on-and- feet-wet education about our environment, our place in it and our responsibility to protect and respect it.
The water park is open year-round, but the busy season begins this month when thousands of local folks, families, tourists and sportsmen and sportswomen take to the water and trails to enjoy some of Chemung County’s greatest natural resources – water, trails and outdoor recreation.
Our region is water wealthy. We are rich in rivers – Chemung, Tioga, Conhocton, Cowanesque, Canisteo and Susquehanna — and blessed with the Finger Lakes. Unfortunately too few people enjoy these blessings.
I invite you to do so. Hike the Chemung River trails in West Elmira or the grassy winding levee on the city’s Southside. Paddle a canoe, kayak or paddle board on the water. Ride a bike or walk your dog on the hard-paced dirt trails or the flat and grassy river plains.
Drop a hook, line and worm in the water and maybe catch a walleye, bass, pike or pan fish. While you wait, look for soaring bald eagles doing their own fishing, turtles sunning on a log or great blue herons standing stilt-still in the riffles.
Need a rest? Sit in the grass with your feet in the water and simply watch and listen to the river flow. Feel the breeze caressing your cheeks, the sun warming your shoulders and the cool water massaging your toes. There is no prescription medication that’s relieves stress and wash away the day’s annoyances, than river sitting. And there is no co-payment.
All it takes is your decision to give it a try. Visit our river, enjoy it and discover what it can do for you, your family and our community.
It’s free, accessible, open 24/7, no waiting in long lines, you never know what you are going to experience and you will learn much about the outdoors and yourself.
This has been a guest post by:
Executive Director, Chemung River Friends
After driving by the parking area on Water Street exit roughly two thousand times and each time thinking, “I really ought to go investigate that soon,” I finally made it down the extension of the Lackawanna Rail Trail. The trail has been an easy bike ride through the city for a few years now, and the extension from the Water St. parking lot to the Lowman crossover opened in November 2017. The trail is a very gentle 8.7 miles from one end to the other – ideal for bikers, joggers, and wheelchair friendly (built to ADA standards). The trail is not plowed in winter, which means if good powder falls and you’re quick on the draw, it’s probably a very nice cross-country ski. Because it’s flat and straight, so it’s easy to get into a groove and hold a steady pace.
If you’re less speedy and more curious, then it’s an unexpectedly great walk. You might think that an urban trail that follows the highway would be boring and bereft of nature, but hey, it’s the opposite! Armed with my binoculars and leashed dog, I moseyed along looking into the woods. Because the trail is balanced between the highway and the edge of the river, where there traditionally has not been much in the way of foot traffic, the wildlife still seems unused to humans (and dogs) coming right up to into their habitat. I saw dozens of species of birds, including a juvenile bald eagle and a red-tailed hawk with a talonful of squirrel, and even more bird nests – at least ten Baltimore Oriole nests, hanging like little baskets of dryer lint from the spindliest of twigs. The bright black-and-orange songbirds will be livening up the trail soon as they migrate back in spring. This forest-river ecotone is rich with wildlife! My dog found fox scat, and didn’t to eat it or roll in it, so it was a glorious day for both of us.
And what I absolutely loved the most after the eagle sighting was the ability to linger and take in the bend in the river. I adore that view upsteam – roughly just before the exit sign to Elmira heading west on I-86 – but since I usually just the briefest of sidelong glimpses while zipping home on the highway, I’ve never gotten to really relish the view. I can tell you now with confidence that it’s a beautiful sunset on that bend in the Chemung. Well worth the hour-ish walk on the Lackawanna trail.
Three surprises from my stroll:
- Impressive number of birds, from songbirds to waterfowl to raptors.
- Highway noise not bad at all! For a walk immediately parallel to the highway, the traffic noise wasn’t very loud. I’d suspected it would be more unpleasant but I was able to tune it out easy, and you’d be able to carry a conversation with no trouble.
- There are lovely benches along the trail for resting. But – this is totally mystifying to me – they face the highway. If I were inclined to sit and rest along this trail, my personal preference would be to look out over the Chemung River, watch some osprey fishing, see some folks enjoying a canoe paddle, take in the autumn foliage on a warm day. But the benches have you sitting and observing the traffic. Though once I asked my dog to sit in front of the scenic river, and walked over the other side of the trail to take her photo at the bend, it occurred to me…. they might be… selfie benches!