Onondaga Lake is 4.6 miles long, jutting northward out of downtown Syracuse, in Liverpool, NY . It was once a ritzy summer destination for Rockefellers, and vestiges of this era (like the Onondaga Yacht Club) remain. The lake is one of the most polluted in the country, however, since for many years it was used as a large refuse bin by the steel and salt industries that helped build the area into the not-quite-teeming metropolis that it has now become.
Massive clean-up efforts have been proposed, not the least preposterous of which was the idea to create a giant tarp which would then be sunk to the bottom of the lake, covering (and ostensibly sealing off) the waste products that currently sit there (primarily mercury). The current plan is to control source pollution and dredge and cap the bottom of the southwest portion of the Lake. The Syracuse METRO wastewater treatment facility is currently implementing upgrades to help reduce dissolved concentrations of Phosphorus and Ammonia that stem from the city's sewage system, still one of the major contributers of the Lake's pollution. The toxicity of the lake has rendered it unusable for swimming, though boaters still populate it. Notably, the Syracuse University crew team (along with most of the teams at area high schools) spend several hours a day in and on the water during the season. Keep an eye on those folks in the future... it might make for an interesting long-term study. Catch-and-release fishing has been reinstated, though consuming caught fish is not recommended. Despite the pollution input continuing to some degree, the clean-up effort seems to be going "swimmingly."
Highlights of the lake and its surrounding park:
The Salt Museum A celebration of the salt mining history of the region, located on the southeastern shore of the lake, towards downtown. Your standard "history of the area" museum, but probably one of the few dedicated entirely to salt and its procurement. As a souveneir, you can purchase a little cloth bag filled with (naturally)... salt (I still have one of these).
The Good Dog Park Sponsored by Wegmans, the Good Dog Park is a fenced-off area on the northeast side of the lake featuring an assortment of olympics-style activities for dogs (of the sort that can be seen at the Westminster Dog Show & such). You can force your dog to do all sorts of fun things, like run up a tall ramp, go through a dark tunnel, and jump over a striped pole. Additionally, your dog will be free to sniff the bottoms of all the other dogs in town as they run free throughout the large common area. An interesting commentary on socialization (I liken it to a "dog bar" in that all the dogs are checking each other out and either trying to hide, trying to be friendly, or trying to mate).
Lights on the Lake I think Lights on the Lake is up to 3 miles long now? Every November, once the snow falls, Lights on the Lake is open to the public. For a per-car fee (used to be $6, but this was in like 1994), you can drive through the park at night and marvel at the sparkling Christmas scenes. If you are so inclined, you can marvel at the few token "world religions" scenes that are courteously thrown in (such as a menorah). But, the best part about Lights on the Lake is that most of it is never taken down. Long after the snow has melted and the lake is producing its signature summer scent (dead fish, heated up toxins, sweaty rollerbladers), you can walk along the lakeside trail and see the electric snowflakes and elves still hanging around the park like lonely ghosts.
The Ghostly Traincatchers While driving southward on the western side of the lake, you'll pass an abandoned train platform as you grow nearer to the Carusel Mall. Well, not quite abandoned... there are about 7 life-size white plaster statues of people waiting for a train, in various poses along the platform. (Can someone confirm if these are still there? It's been a while since I've been in Syracuse). For several years, each of these figures wore a red scarf. The scarves faded as each winter passed, eventually just hanging limply, dull and greyish. Far and I climbed up the platform and visited these figures one afternoon in the summer of 2002, freeing them of their rot-scarves and providing them with lovely Salvation Army shirts, purses, neck-wraps, and hats, all of which were gone two days later when we stopped by to take pictures. Will their ghost-train ever come?
Onondaga Lake, photos and description on the commercial Rochester website nyfalls.com
Onondaga Lake Pollution
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2005-06-14 14:15:49 I have many fond memories of the lake... such as the sickly smell on hot summer afternoons, the green film left on the hulls of the boats, the "NO SWIMMING" and "DO NOT EAT FISH FROM THIS LAKE" signs posted all round. Memories, too, of the strange way the lake would move, lending creedence to the rumours that the bottom was a mile deep with tar and soda ash. I even had my first kiss on the shores of this lake, a few feet away from a large, decomposing carp (it was a magical time). I will be adding much more to this page! —HeatherYager