Looking for a fall activity? Visit Onondaga Lake Park
Onondaga Lake was once dubbed “America’s most polluted lake.” But now, this Syracuse lake and its surrounding park is an outdoor haven. With numerous amenities, locals and tourists can enjoy this essential Syracuse park.
History of Onondaga Lake Park
Onondaga Lake Park’s history stretches back for centuries. According to the Onondaga Nation, the lake’s shore is where five warring nations — the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk — were brought together by the Peacemaker. They became the Haudenosaunee Confederacy, the West’s first representative democracy.
During the 1800s, Onondaga Lake produced 90 percent of the salt used in the U.S., according to the Onondaga Historical Association. The park has a Salt Museum which explains the history of how salt was made from the lake’s surrounding springs and used in different industries. Around this time, there were also resorts, beaches and an amusement park by the lake which people visited in the summer.
Yet Onondaga Lake Park’s history also has a dark side. Within a century, nearby companies dumped harmful chemicals directly into the lake with little to no treatment. This his how Onondaga Lake got its nickname as the most polluted lake in the country. But with a $1 billion lake clean up underway since 2014, the park is making a comeback.
The Central Park of Central New York
Onondaga Lake Park is a prime destination for people who want to enjoy the great outdoors. That’s because there’s so much to do there. The beautiful views is a huge plus, especially in the fall when the leaves change colors. So if you’re looking for an activity during fall break, check out this park.
The park has four trails — East Shore Recreation, Shoreline Walking Trail, Lakeland Nature and West Shore — for people to walk, run, bike and even rollerblade on. There’s also an electricity and solar-powered tram that people can ride by the lake. The park also has several playgrounds, a skate park, a dog park and a boat launch/marina. Plus, people can also rent equipment at the park, including tandem bikes and bocce balls.
And if you get hungry after your visit, there are plenty of restaurants around. Swing by Heid’s of Liverpool and grab a hot dog when you’re done exploring the park.
Local Love to Visit
A long-time Syracuse resident, Dai-Duong Ton-That has been running at Onondaga Lake Park for two decades. He recalls the lake’s bad odor when he first started running at the park with the Syracuse Chargers Track Club. He says he’s glad the lake’s clean-up efforts began and that the park expanded over the years because it’s attracting more people to go there.
“It has become a really popular running place now,” says Ton-That. “The nice part about the Onondaga Lake Park is it’s built for long-distance runners with its water stations and mile markers.”
Besides running between seven to 12 miles, four to five times a week on his own at the park, Ton-That also spends time with his family there. His daughter, Lily, loves biking and climbing trees by the East Shore. Sometimes, they rent a kayak from the park’s Willow Bay section.
Meanwhile, Matt Smith and Edmee Rivera of Baldwinsville like going to Onondaga Lake Park to get away from the city’s hustle and bustle and reenergize.
“It’s probably the most peaceful place in the area,” says Smith.
“It’s a little piece of nature amidst the chaos,” Rivera adds. “You can hear the water and the breeze, and it’s just a mental getaway.”
Smith also says that walking at the park is a great form of exercise for his 5-year-old dog, Porkchop.
Onondaga Lake Park also hosts several events throughout the year. One of their most popular is the Onondaga Cup and Lakefest in the summer. It’s a one-day event where visitors crowd the park to watch athletes compete in a regatta and professional water-skiers do stunts on the lake. The event also comes with live music, free fitness classes, trolley rides, drinking games and more for all people to revel in.
Another popular event is the annual “Lights on the Lake,” a special holiday attraction that runs from November to January. At this event, visitors drive through a two-mile-long stretch of twinkling light displays—from characters from the North Pole to colorful arches. This year, the event is 5 to 10 p.m. every night from Nov. 15 to Jan. 6. It’s a great way to get into the holiday spirit.