The Black Diamond Trail is for walkers and bikers in the Finger Lakes, near Cayuga Lake.  It’s a new railroad bed conversion, running eight miles between Cass Park in Ithaca, NY and Taughannock Falls Park, in Trumansburg.  Eventually it will continue south to Treman Park, another eight miles or so.

The trail’s name refers to coal – – the north-south railroads in the Finger Lakes generally ran coal from Pennsylvania, to ships on Lake Ontario, and thence to sooty places around the world.  This particular route of the Lehigh Valley RR also had a luxurious “Black Diamond” passenger service from NYC to Ithaca, and then on to Niagara Falls.







I’ve sometimes been, well, not entirely complimentary about sumacs. In autumn, they’re quite often looking like the tattered and hungover remnants of a Mardi Gras parade. But they’re unfailingly colorful in the fall, and can look pretty darn elegant in summertime, too.



The south (Ithaca) end of the trail is a bit dull.  Some tiny rivulet-size waterfalls, blackberries, raspberries, Joe Pye Weed, and sumac alongside.  A powerline is overhead for a mile, and the cars on Route 89 are visible through the trees.

Serious bikers streak past, unsmiling, bug-eyed goggles, spandex and sinew, their tee-shirts advertising an obscure microbrewery in Rochester.  The beers and ales are a bit too hopped-up, and the cyclists too – – pretty much oblivious to the waterfalls, wildflowers and views of Cayuga Lake.





The aged hippies from Trumansburg glide by at a more sedate pace, on recumbent bikes or ancient Schwinns, “Uncle John’s Band” and “Jack Straw” audible from their headphones.  They wave, stop to look at the little streams, comb a few bugs out of their gray beards, and offer you a sip of homemade kombucha.  They’re nice, but I don’t drink, afraid I might wake up under a tree, like Rip Van Winkle, a few decades in the future, a rusty  peace medallion around my neck, wearing mossy old bellbottoms, and “California Dreamin” running through my head.









A mile or so north of Ithaca, the trail becomes nicer.  Most of the pastel-jumpsuit-joggers turn back toward the city.  The powerline decides to head west, and it’s just trees overhead.  The trail moves farther and farther from the highway.  An unmarked but well-beaten footpath goes up the hill, alongside a nice stream with lots of little falls.





After a while, as we go up the hill, a sound like passing trains or traffic starts coming through the trees.  Past an old picnic area with stone tables, and we’ve come out behind the county hospital.  Huge air conditioners are making the rushing sound.






Going back down the hill toward the rail-trail, a side trail is covered with matchstick-sized fungus.  Tiny but creepy.








They’re unmoving, but we walk around them, just in case.












Finger Lakes, FLX, Ithaca, Nature, NY, Railroads, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. August. Matchstick Army on the Black Diamond Trail


42 thoughts on “Walks Around The Finger Lakes. August. Matchstick Army on the Black Diamond Trail

  1. What a great post, Robert! I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and looking at the pictures. And you know what?! You’ve put a flea in my ear with that rail trail. You will remember from my posts about our RailTrailRoadTrips that Mary and I enjoy doing rail trails and that our goal is to do at least ten miles in each state of the US. Well, we don’t have NY yet. So, the Black Diamond Trail is defiitely on our bucket list. 🙂
    Enjoy your Sunday,

  2. I find that last picture wonderfully ambiguous. Presumably it’s a closeup of tree bark but my mind is happy to see it as rock formations.

    As for sumacs, which you rightly observe are “unfailingly colorful in the fall,” we here in central Texas value them all the more in a region that doesn’t have grand-scale fall foliage like you do up there.

    • It’s wonderful to see in the autumn, and in really cold weather, when the gorge is covered with ice. It was roaring & coffee-colored last week, when that area got up to ten inches of rain in one day.

  3. Nature at its best! I love all of your so skillfully captured images. The fern in sharp focus with the waterfall in the background has the greatest appeal. Nice work, Robert!

  4. A lovely walk, with old friends like Lobelia – what a beauty! I ahven’t seen one in ages. The sumac photo is very nice, and boy, how lucky were you to see a monarch caterpillar! Fantastic. As for the matchstick army, good thin they didn’t trip you. 🙂

    • We saw just that one lobelia, and one caterpillar. I was surprised to see the caterpillar, because there are full-grown monarchs flying around, but I guess they don’t all hatch at the same time. It’s been so wet, there’s all kinds of fungi everywhere.

      • Monarchs have a complicated pattern of reproduction – some can be migrants, some, like the caterpillar, from eggs laid by migrants, etc. One’s better than none! I like the way your photo shows the munch marks. 🙂

        • I had a chat with that guy, about eating upside down and acid reflux, but he just kept munching. Definitely happy to see more monarchs around here again, after a couple of scarce years. My sister had a patch of milkweed plants in her garden this year, but hasn’t seen any chrysalises on them.

  5. I’m not sure what it says about me that “Uncle John’s Band” is playing in my mind now: or maybe I do. I never made a concert, or indulged in the ‘refreshments’ offered there, but I suspect a lot of us still have a little Deadhead in our makeup.

    Here’s a tidbit that makes me feel as though I must be two hundred years old. My grandfather was an Iowa coal miner, and my grandparents’ house backed up to a rail line that ran from the mines to the yards where they’d be attached to trains heading to who knows where: probably Kansas City, Chicago, or points in between.

    The coal cars were open, and there always were chunks falling off. A lot of people still heated with coal, and we kids would go out with gunny sacks, pick up the pieces, and sell them to people at a deep discount. I can’t remember the price, but I don’t remember ever having a dollar bill except on birthdays or Christmas, so it might have been fifty cents a sack. And we made them empty the bags and give them back to us. Got to keep that overhead down!

    Good grief.

    Now, I’m wondering if those old tracks have been transformed into rail trails. Iowa’s a big hike and bike state, and pretty committed to prairie restoration, so it’s possible.
    It would be wonderful if they have. Your photos here are a testament to the sorts of delights that can come with efforts like that. I always like the waterfall photos, and the one here with the ‘staircase’ is especially nice.

    I laughed out loud at your description of the serious bikers. We have them, too, and I always have the urge to sit them down and feed them cheeseburgers until they smile.

    • Linda, I always get a kick out of what you write. I love this idea of a cheeseburger intervention!!
      I also appreciate these rail trails when we’ve had some really wet weather, because they drain, and you’re not slogging through mud the whole time.
      My father‘s family came from a coal mining region in PA, One of my great grandfathers was a miner, and there’s still a few anthracite mines going, and trains of course, but the rail trail to Mauch Chunk (re-named Jim Thorpe) is one of the most popular bicycling spots in the east.
      That little village by the way, years ago obtained Jim Thorpe‘s body as kind of a tourist attraction, and I read somewhere that his family wants it back, to re-bury in Oklahoma with the rest of his kin.

  6. I really need to make it to the northeast one of these years. It’s even far enough away to call it a major trip, without the hassle of customs officers. (Of course, I don’t know what sort of customs they have in the northeast).

    • Well, the NE is often rusty and crumbling, but many folks find our local customs to be colorful and entertaining. I may be leaving soon for the Old NW (Wisconsin) but if you organize an expedition, please let me know, I’d love to meet up, and can provide translation services!

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