What Are the Finger Lakes?

Sunset on Cayuga Lake, the longest of the Finger Lakes.

What Are the Finger Lakes?

The state of New York has a total area of about 54,500 square miles with its geography dominated by the Great Appalachian Valley in the eastern part and Hudson Valley on the southern half of the state. Most parts of New York border water bodies such as the Great Lakes. Almost 14% of the state consists of water, and it is the only state that touches both the Great Lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. New York has several overlapping regions within its territory. The regions are divided into ten economic regions while the counties fall into 11 regions for tourism purposes. One of the regions which serve as both an economic and tourism region in New York is the Finger Lakes.

Overview of Finger Lakes

Finger Lakes was a name given to a collection of 11 long, north-south lakes found in the Finger Lakes Region of New York. The region is a popular tourist destination and is often defined as a bioregion (a region smaller than an ecozone but larger than an ecological region). The lakes seen from the early maps resemble the human fingers hence the name and are among the deepest lakes in the US. The Cayuga and Seneca lakes are also some of the longest though they are narrow with their widths not exceeding 3.5 miles. These Finger Lakes include Otisco, Skaneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Canadice, Hemlock, and Conesus from east to west. Cayuga Lake is the largest of the 11 lakes with an area of 66.9 square miles. Cazenovia Lake which is located in the east is sometimes considered the 12th lake because of its similarity to the other 11 Finger Lakes. Five of the Finger Lakes together with other lakes in the area are considered minor lakes. These include Conesus, Silver, Hemlock, Lamoka, Canadice, Waneta, Honeoye, and Otisco.

Formation of the Finger Lakes

The Finger Lakes have formed from several northward-flowing streams over two million years ago. They were formed due to the movement of the continental glacier which moved southwards from Hudson Bay. The movement of glacier initiated Pleistocene glaciations which widened and deepened the existing river valleys. The terminal moraines which were left behind by the glacier acted as dams leading to the formation of the lakes. The deep glacial cuttings on the river valleys also formed some tributaries hanging above the Finger Lakes

Environmental Concerns

The areas covered by the Finger Lakes lie on Marcellus Shale and Utica Shale which are known natural gas reserves. The natural gas is now available for extraction thanks to the popularization of the fracking technology. Most of the landowners have leased out their land for the purpose of natural gas extraction. However, the extraction of natural gas in the area is a great concern to the environmentalist and resident because of the contamination of groundwater and the impacts of the mining activities. The authorities in New York have banned all fracking activities in the state including the Finger Lake regions due to the risk of pollution.

Main Attractions in Finger Lakes Region

The region is home to many museums including Corning Museum of Glass, Strong National Museum of Play, and the Finger Lakes Boating Museum among the several museums. The region is also the largest wine producing in New York with over 100 wineries located around the lakes. The Women’s National Historic Park which is home to Elizabeth Cady Stanton is located in Seneca Falls.


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