Dobbins Woods Preserve (100 acres) was the first property obtained by the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy. That was in 1995. It is the second-largest piece of land that the organization owns. The Cassadaga Creek Preserve (126.1 acres), is the largest and was bought in 1998.
Cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and hiking are popular activities on the eastern 48 acres of Dobbins Woods. After parking along the road, you walk into the property until you find a big sign. That is the beginning of a loop that provides a pretty easy course for beginning winter athletes.
This land used to be cropland. Mr. Willis Dobbins donated the property in memory of his father, Harry. Harry was the first forester in this region of the New York State Conservation Department. Willis replaced the crops with red and scots pines. Wet soil conditions caused many of those trees to fall over or just not thrive. Trees more suited to wetlands have gradually replaced them.
Purchased in 1995, the Dobbins Woods Preserve on Bly Hill Road off Route 394 was the first property obtained by the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy.
Photo by Ann Beebe
The western half of the property was never farmed. It contains ''pit and mound topography.'' The mounds in the ground are actually decayed the remains of trees that fell when fierce winds headed up the hill from the lake.
The large trees include red maple, eastern hemlock and yellow birch. Also found here are cucumber magnolia, tulip tree, sugar maple, American beech, shagbark hickory, black cherry, northern red oak and white oak. What a great place to study tree bark in the winter.
The smaller trees filling the understory are hawthorn, American hornbeam, northern arrowwood and spicebush. They make hiking a little bit more challenging.
Let's learn more about the understory shrubs. There is lots of hawthorn, or thornapple, that provides berries for bird survival in winter. However, their long thorns make hiking hazardous. I've seen a mouse spiked on one before. That might have been evidence of shrike work.
Ostrya Virginian has several common names: American hophornbeam, ironwood and eastern hophornbeam. There is another species, Carpinus caroiliniana, called American hornbeam, ironwood, blue-beech and water-beech. For clarity, I will describe Ostrya Virginia, which is the species found in Dobbins Woods. It produces leaf-like bracts that enclose the seeds. The bracts are in clusters, about 2 inches long, that give the tree its nickname. Those clusters look like hops (as in beer).
There are two shrubs representing the viburnum family. Maple-leaved viburnum is small - only about 3 to 6 feet tall. Find it on the wood edges. The dark purple fruits are tiny - only about one-quarter inch long and often be found all winter. The second Viburnum, arrowwood, is bigger - 6 to 10 feet tall. From my research, this is probably not the species in Dobbins Woods, because it is mostly found in low moist areas by rivers. However, Dobbins Woods does have a wet area. I'll check this out in the spring.
The last shrub on this property is spicebush. This tall (from 4 to 12 feet high) shrub is one of my favorites. In March and April you can't mistake its sweet aroma. In wet areas, at this time of year, look to see if any dark red fruits are left on the shrub. The half-inch-long berry can hang singly or in groups of up to five individuals.
During the spring wildflowers season, the CWC organizes wildflower walks. Besides ferns, the wide variety of flowers includes red and white trillium, yellow trout lily, Canada mayflowers, solomon's seal, marsh marigold, goldthread, sharp-lobed hepatica, kidney leaf buttercup, mayapple, blue cohosh, common toothwort, spring beauty, round-leaved violet, and perfoliate bellwort, foamflower, starflower, and miterwort.
Here's hoping that this article raises your interest enough to check out this important property. It is only about one mile from Chautauqua Lake on Bly Hill Road, which intersects with Route 394. Two tributaries flow through the property into the lake.