Cortland County: Gateway to the Finger Lakes

10 things you must do when you visit

By Sandra Scott

A 1925 Brockway fire truck that four people drove 17,000 miles from Argentina to Cortland during WW I. 
A 1925 Brockway fire truck that four people drove 17,000 miles from Argentina to Cortland during WW I.

There is always something interesting to see and do in Cortland County regardless of the season. One unique way to explore the county is with its Experience Cortland Geotour, which takes visitors along the rolling hills to some of Cortland’s secret and not-so-secret hideaways.

1. Nature: The beauty of nature is everywhere. The county has over 30,000 acres of state forest land perfect for hiking, cycling, mountain biking and snowmobiling. The Finger Lakes Trail passes through Cortland County. Lime Hollow Nature Center has 12 miles of hiking trails, free of charge. It offers special programs, adventure camps and programs designed for pre-school and home-schooled children. Paddlers will enjoy the thrills of paddling on Otselic and Tioughnioga rivers.

2. Homeville Museum: It is now called the CNY Living History Museum and it is the perfect museum for people who love anything and everything with wheels. There is a large model train exhibit. The extensive military exhibit has a World War I ambulance and a recreation of a trench where so many soldiers hunkered down during WW I. During that war, the western front in France was fought using trench warfare, an integral part of the war. As part of its fire truck display there is a 1925 Brockway fire truck that four people drove 17,000 miles from Argentina to Cortland.

3. History: The inventor and industrialist Chester Wickwire and his family and servants lived the good life in what is today the 1890 House Museum. The limestone house recalls the architecture of the chateaus of the Loire Valley of France. The beautiful woodwork and stained glass would be difficult to reproduce today. It is on NYS’s Haunted History Trail. The Cortland County Historical Society and Suggett House Museum preserves, collects, and interprets artifacts and documents germane to Cortland’s history.

4. Agritourism: The rolling hills and climate are perfect for many agricultural endeavors. There are cider mills, u-pick farms, and many places selling fresh produce. Fall is time for a family favorite, the three-mile long Trinity Valley Corn Maze. Check out locally produced honey, maple syrup and unique items such as locally fermented treats like sauerkraut, pickles and kimchee. There are several alpaca farms including Tartan Acres which also operates a B&B. They sell alpaca wool which is warmer than sheep’s wool and very soft plus offer classes for those interested in raising alpacas.

5. Arts: The arts are alive and well in Cortland County. The Cortland Repertory Theater is one of the longest running professional theaters in New York state. The Center for the Arts of Homer is the venue for a variety of arts from stage performances to a gallery with a focus on local and regional artists. There are several small galleries and studios. Located in the historic corset factory the Cinch Art Space showcases the work of dozens of artists and craftspeople. The Eric Kroot Art Trail at Lime Hollow Nature Center has been set aside for nature inspired outdoor art exhibits created by young people and local artists.

Tartan Acres, an alpaca farm, which also operates a B&B. It sells alpaca
Tartan Acres, an alpaca farm, which also operates a B&B. It sells alpaca

6. Libations: Visit the newest craft beer place in Homer.  Sip one of Homer Hops brew on the patio overlooking their field of hops. Cortland Beer Company was the first brewery in Cortland County. The owners have created their own brand of vodka, whiskey and gin. At the Finger Lakes Tasting & Tap Room, imbibers can try a variety of local beers, wines, spirits and ciders. One of the most unique distilleries is the Dragonfyre Distillery outside of Marathon. A sign on the country road leading to their distillery advises visitors to “Beware of low flying dragons.” Don’t miss the bright blue Hobbit door and fairy doors.

7. Guinness World Book of Records: Homer’s Men & Boys Store is home to the world’s ‘slargest pair of pants, according to the Guinness World Book of Records. But, what really is amazing is the piles and piles of all sorts of merchandise. Their motto, “If we don’t have it you don’t need it,” rings true. They store has been family run since 1951.  Shipwreck Amusements also made the book by having the World’s Longest Miniature Golf hole at 459.5 feet.

8. Winter wonderland: Cortland County is a premier winter destination. There are a couple of ski resorts, including Greek Peak where visitors will enjoy downhill skiing along with cross country skiing and tubing. If you get tired of snow fun, its resort has an indoor waterpark. Toggenburg Ski Resort, Greek Peak’s sister resort, is the northern part of the county along with Labrador Mountain and Song Mountain Resort. There are many snow-covered trails perfect for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing and over 200 miles of maintained snowmobile trails.

9. Fair weather fun: Snow season may be Cortland County’s busy time but there is plenty to do when there is no snow.  The Outdoor Adventure Center has a zip line, a high aerial challenge course tour, and a mountain coaster. There are plenty of places to go biking and there is also a downhill mountain biking course.  The Tioughnioga River and other waterways are perfect for fishing, canoeing and kayaking. If golf is the exercise of choice, there are five great golf courses from which to choose. There are also several mini golf courses.

10. Festivals: Regardless of the season there is always something interesting going on. Start the year off with the Homer Winterfest. Music lovers won’t want to miss the yearly multi-day music festival. Spring means the Marathon Maple Festival, a 50-year tradition. There are many music events scheduled during the summer, including the NEEMfest, known as the “Woodstock of Electronic Music.” Cortland hosts the annual National Brockway Truck Show and the Homeway Museum has a yearly Civil War Reenactment. Fall means it is time for the Trinity Valley Dairy Corn Maze and Family Fun Days and the brave should check out the outdoor Haunted Hospital. Little York hosts the Fiber Arts.

Photo: One of the most unique distilleries in CNY is the Dragonfyre Distillery outside of Marathon.