Within reach If you are like me, and I know many of you are, you will be entertaining friends from out of town over the course of the summer. Some with kids, some without, some camera bugs and others who just want to soak in the beauty of our area.

Just about everyone is familiar with the Finger Lakes State Parks. They are beautiful, no doubt, and free ONLY if you are over 62 and it’s a weekday. Otherwise there is a parking charge that seems to rise every year…

So, being thrifty (cheap) I suggest in no particular order, a few less known places whose beauty will knock your socks – or sandals off. And they are free. Always a good thing.

 monroe Cornell OverlookCornell Overlook
Six Mile Creek Gorge runs from the city reservoir through Ithaca’s South Side. Accessing the gorge is a bit of a hike and the trail is not marked. At the corner of Giles St and Columbia St. is a pedestrian bridge that can give you a spectacular birds eye view of the gorge, but the real beauty is at the gorge floor.

Just east of the pedestrian bridge is a steep path down with what might be called stairs. I suspect that these steps haven’t been maintained in many years, but they still function. At the bottom of the secret stair is a shaded meadow leading to Six Mile Creek.

It is a sense of being totally alone in a natural setting, yet in the city.

monroe Fall Creek Gorge

Another less known place is in the Fall Creek gorge on the North border of the Cornell campus. Photo enthusiasts will want to make the steep climb down, but in this case, the stairs are far better maintained than our last stop.

Once you reach the bottom, look upstream to the old Cornell power plant and Foaming Falls, downstream is the rapids and dropoff that is Ithaca Falls, and straight up is the famous suspension bridge. The hike down is absolutely worth the effort. The jury is still out on the walk back up...

Since we’re already on the Cornell property, let’s go even further upstream to the Cornell Plantations – oh, excuse me – the name is now 'The Cornell Botanic Gardens'. The Neuman Arboretum, shrub garden, wildflower garden and the Neven Welcome Center offer a seemingly endless array of flowers, plants, trees and beautifully landscaped areas.

At the very top of the road around the Neuman Arboretum is a stone lookout with benches to enjoy the vista. There is also a bell with a hammer. Be warned, it is loud enough to be embarrassing…

monroe Cornell Lab of Ornithology

Last on this list is the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology. It is the world’s center of avian knowledge and features miles of walkways through the woods where you can visit with the birds – and more than a few sassy squirrels.

The Lab of Ornithology also has the world’s greatest collection of animal sounds. These sounds are used often by movie makers to add authenticity to their creations. BuckBeak’s cry in the Harry Potter movies was created using these sounds. You can play them too!

These are just a handful of the many dozens of free places well within reach of Lansing. And entertaining as well.

'Within Reach' highlights the food, wine and fun of places 'within Reach' of Lansing NY.  Of course, your reach extends exactly as far as you want it to. I am Monroe Payne, Uncle Monte to some. Come with me as I visit, taste and play in our own back yard, the beautiful Finger Lakes of Central New York.