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Two little-known lakes in the Finger Lakes region of New York offer a geological mystery inviting the attention of scientists around the world. Green Lakes State Park holds small Green Lake and even smaller Round Lake. These two lakes are both extremely deep for their surface size, leading scientists to believe they are the remains of waterfall 'plunge-pools' from the melting of the last glaciers to cover the area. Sixty-three-acre Green Lake reaches 195 feet in depth, while 38-acre Round Lake is 180 feet deep. Both lakes are an unusual blue-green color due to their depth and dissolved minerals in the water. Other unusual features of these two lakes make them worthy of scientific study, but that likely matters little to the 800,000 visitors who come to Green Lakes State Park just outside of Syracuse for vacations and recreation.
Sometimes called Fayetteville Green Lake to distinguish it from another nearby 'green lake', the larger lake has a swimming beach created by dumping multiple tons of sand into a former wetland to provide a solid bottom surface. The park also contains lawns for sunbathing, a bath house with changing facilities, and a concession stand. No private boats are permitted on the lakes, but row boats and paddle boats may be rented at the park concession. The beach area is very popular with day visitors, and the campground is often filled with vacationers and weekend campers. Over 100 campsites are augmented by eight rental cabins, and several picnic areas are spread throughout the park. Fishing is allowed on both lakes, with rainbow trout, largemouth bass, bluegills, and rock bass usually caught. There are reports of the occasional northern pike catch. The trout are stocked in the spring but don't appear to reproduce to a viable level due to unfavorable spawning conditions. There is plenty to do and see at the lakes, however. The park also owns an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones and a clubhouse in the southeastern corner.
The park contains 1955 acres, of which about 800 acres are considered 'old-growth' forest. One section of the forest is named the Tuliptree Cathedral and supports a stand of trees reaching 147 feet tall. This spectacular stand of tuliptrees, sugar maples, beech, basswood, hemlocks, and white cedars has never been clear-cut; the descendants of David Collins III owned and preserved the forest from 1817 until it was purchased by the state park system in 1928. The stand of old-growth tall trees and Round Lake are listed as a National Natural Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior. There is an extensive system of hiking trails within the park, including about 10 miles of trails designated for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Miles of biking trails are located in the western edge of the park, where they connect with the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park. Nearly all developed areas are located on the eastern end of Green Lake, while Round Lake is surrounded by wilderness area. The buildings, golf course and trails in the park were originally constructed during the Depression by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Although the original CCC dormitories and camp were closed in 1941, the camp was temporarily re-opened in 1942 and became the Fayetteville camp for German prisoners of war.
Green Lakes State Park is ideally located to serve fans of outdoor recreation. The Green Lakes Triathlon recently hosted its 33rd annual race. Immediately to the north, the Old Erie Canal Historic Park preserves 36 miles of the old canal, using the former towpath for hiking and bicycling. The City of Syracuse offers a full range of city-style amenities, including nightlife, dining establishments and cultural activities. Nearby, Clark Reservation State Park holds another 'green lake' much like the two lakes in Green Lakes State Park. A day-use only park, guided interpretive hikes are led by staff from the Clark Reservation Nature Center. All types of lodgings are available in the area around Syracuse, including the resorts and bed-and-breakfasts of the Finger Lakes Region. There is never a shortage of either activities or interesting places to stay. Real estate is often available in the area, but unfortunately not on Green or Round lakes.
All three 'green lakes' in the area are of major interest to scientists. Fayetteville Green Lake is likely one of the most studied green lakes in the world due to the unique geology presented in its depths. Green Lake receives some water from Round Lake, but more than half of its water percolates up from the limestone below. The lakes are meromictic, which means that there is no seasonal mixing of surface and bottom waters. Quite rare, the bottom levels of water in meromictic lakes are devoid of oxygen and produce sulfidic conditions. The lack of water exchange and low levels of oxygen prevent most plant growth and preserve bottom sediments in excellent condition for historic studies of the past. Fish don't survive in these deep waters, and items such as wood do not decay. At somewhere between 55 and 75 feet, the mixing of the two levels allows for the proliferation of purple photosynthetic bacteria and green sulfur bacteria, producing a layer of rosy-pink water.
Unique reefs have been created in Green Lake due to the annual event called 'whiting'. During this time, calcium carbonate precipitates out of the water, creating the reefs. Deadmans Point reef at Green Lake was built up from this calcium carbonate over a period of thousands of years. Underneath the ledge that is Deadmans Point grow some extremely rare aquatic mosses and sponges. Scientists consider conditions in such lakes to be similar to the conditions in ancient seas and hope they contain clues as to past mass extinction events in pre-history. The same calcium carbonate that creates the reefs quickly coats anything remaining under the water, greeting divers with an eerie, surreal underwater landscape.
So, if your interest is scientific or geared strictly toward recreation, Green Lake and Round Lake are the perfect spots to get away and enjoy the great outdoors. Bring the golf clubs along with the tent or RV, or stay in a nearby luxury hotel and enjoy the beach and trails during the day. Finger Lakes wineries and orchards are only a short drive away. The lakes offer visitors plenty to see and do.
*Statistics are for Green Lake only, except for catchment area. The two lakes share the same drainage and cannot be calculated separately.
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