Woodchuck Hill Preserve: Backyard Junk

At the Woodchuck Hill wetland with Rufus and Ringo.

At the Woodchuck Hill wetland with Rufus and Ringo.

My birthday is in a few weeks, and there’s just one thing on my list: The Bounty Hunter TRACKER IV. Some girls want jewelry, I want a metal detector to find it. Well, I really hope my Bounty Hunter turns up a Revolutionary War coat button, although jewelry will do. For me, there’s nothing more exciting than finding treasure on the trail. That’s what I stumbled upon during a hike last weekend at Woodchuck Hill Field & Forest Preserve in Manlius, NY.

I set out on the trail with Ben (boyfriend), Rufus (beloved mutt), and Ringo (sheepdog on loan for the weekend from Montreal-bound friends). The trail descends through cedars to a wetland which it follows on the left for about a mile. To your right are the big cedar-filled backyards of Woodchuck Hill Road residents. Every few hundred feet, old limestone fences that divide their properties intersect the trails. You’ll see beaver dams, hear the sound of wind rustling the marsh grass, and jump at the occasional shot from the nearby range. Otherwise, it’s dark, cool, and quiet on the trail. That is, until you come upon an old backyard junk pile. Then you might say, “ohh treasure!” like I did.

Woodchuck Hill Rum Bottle from St. John

Old rum bottle top I found on St. John.

Treasure is a personal, intimate thing: You learn more about people from the objects they value than from a peek in their medicine cabinets. Before you label me a dumpster diver, you’ve got to understand my treasure definition. An old junkyard is the mecca for my kind of treasure: Old objects with an interesting story behind them. It’s also the venue of choice for archaeologists. And if I wasn’t an advertising professional, I’d be channeling Indiana Jones for a living. On my recent trip to St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands, I spent one afternoon playing archaeologist, walking the outskirts of a sugar plantation where I figured waste would be: A slight brush of dirt revealed the top of a rum bottle and a piece of pottery, both around 200 years old when the plantation was still operating.

Old junkyards are not like today’s; in fact, you won’t realize you’re at one until you start poking around. What clued me in at Woodchuck Hill was a broken dish, then, a shoe sole so old it had stitch marks, and a rusted-out pie tin (the ceramic coating revealed its age). I picked up the plate fragment, and looked at the inscription: Buffalo China made for New York Central Lines. The story here was that this plate came from one of the first railroad lines in America; the New York Central Line started operating in the 1830s. In the nineteenth century, Central New York was a major transportation hub with both the railroad and the Erie Canal stopping at cities and towns like Manlius.

Old New York Central Line railroad plate.

Old New York Central Line railroad plate.

While being out on an unexplored trail is a treasure in itself, it’s always exciting to hold little pieces of history in your hand. (Although I always put my treasure back where I found it, yes, even the rum bottle piece). To me, the most valuable objects aren’t necessarily worth much money – although an intact piece of Central New York Line china can bring a profit. I see value in the trail that leads to treasure, and the story behind what I find along the way. Even if I won the lottery, you’d still find me with dirt under my nails, Bounty Hunter TRACKER IV in hand, and a story to tell you.

No Peeking!

While I’m curious, I respect boundaries – I’ve never even peeked in Ben’s journal although it sits on his nightstand. Woodchuck Hill Preserve is adjacent to the big backyards of Woodchuck Hill Road residents, so please respect their privacy and stay on the trail.

Also, check yourself for ticks after hiking at Woodchuck Hill – Rufus, Ringo, and Ben each inadvertently brought home an unwelcome tick treasure.

What Do You Treasure?

Everyone has a different definition of treasure (arrrgh, matey!). For example, my grandma prizes possessions that were flippantly discarded. The less a former owner appreciated a useful or beautiful object, the more it’s worth to my grandma. Growing up in a farming family during the Great Depression, Grams was forced at an early age to access objects as potential treasure. She channeled her definition of treasure into a successful antiques business.

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13 comments to Woodchuck Hill Preserve: Backyard Junk

  • Fred Miller

    Hi Lindsay,

    I enjoyed your “a trailing thought”. I am a treasure hunter at heart too!


  • Leslie

    I can see it now: metal detector in hand – perfect! Looks like Ringo had a nice time treasure hunting too.

  • Mom

    Sounds like a fun time – reminds me of our walks on the farm in Leslie – the out buildings always had something to find. Enjoyed reading about the plate origins – you know I love history!

  • Metal detectors! Then this will make you laugh, I too have had time with a BountyHunter!


  • I share your enthusiasm for old, discarded things, especially if they have a story to tell – I once dug a hole to bury my dog Bailey’s ashes near a reservoir we used to walk around, and about two feet down (I also planted a maple sapling), hit a huge old horseshoe with handcut nails. I’ve still got it. The 1830s Buffalo China plate was a great find, and I’m glad that you connected its history with the Erie Canal and the economic development of upstate NY. I wish my history students at OCC would show a bit of enthusiasm for local history. Nicely written, too. You could always channel John McPhee or Edward Abbey for a living, if advertising or archeology don’t work out.



  • Lindsay

    I’m out at Ben’s house this weekend in the Onondaga Hill area and it’s the annual junk pick up day on Monday – trash pickers have been out all weekend! Ben put out a ceramic bird feeder and a wine rack and both were gone within the hour. It’s a treasure hunter’s paradise. Thanks for your comments everyone :)

  • Nell

    I would say I treasure hand-me-downs most. The majority of the furniture and wall hangings adorning my boyfriend’s and my house were passed down from someone else in the family (with love). (We bought his grandma’s house; in a way we’re LIVING in a sort of hand-me-down.) I have a patchwork quilt handmade by my grandma that flops over the arm of a comfy chair-and-a-half that used to be my brother’s. My mother’s oversized wooden shelving unit houses family photos capturing fond memories from years ago, while my boyfriend’s grandma’s cherry dining room table and buffet set feeds everyone during holiday get-togethers and family meals. To take the hand-me-down treasures a step further, all of my recipes tend to be passed down by elders in the family!

  • Lindsay

    Nell, I think we should go antique hunting sometime! I can just picture the handmade patchwork quilt on the comfy chair. Remind me to tell you the story about my Grandma visiting me and our trip to an estate sale where we found a stinky but beautiful quilt (I will also share my Grandma’s secret quilt cleaning soak recipe – another hand-me-down!).

  • Lindsay

    Neil (haha, Nell and Neil, two of my loyal blog followers!), love the horseshoe story – and isn’t it good luck to hang it over a doorway? Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

  • […] words, I celebrated my 29th birthday yesterday. Between cards and calls, emails and presents (no Bounty Hunter; but highlights included a new backpack for both myself and Rufus!), I thought about where I am […]

  • […] me. Between catching up over coffee and treasure hunting (of the shopping variety, a respite from junkyard pillaging), we made time for a walk at Upper Onondaga Lake Park: a significant stop on the trail of my […]

  • Lindsay,

    On fossils, if you like abundant brachiopods (shell fossils), there is a rockcut (on both sides) with abundant brachiopods 1/3 mile from the intersection of Sweet Road and Burke Road (I guess it is Jamesville)…

    From the Sweet Road & Burke intersection, you proceed on Sweet Road going away from Pratts Falls Road. It is the only rock cut. Every flat rock lifted reveals a brachiopod — sometimes a slate chockful of them.

    At the intersection of Route 20 and Route 80, at Lord’s Corners in the drainage ditch (a dry creekbed) there were many dozens of horned corals, some very well-defined. (Although that place no longer will be a fruitful place to look, that general area likely would be good to look (for example, I’ve read references to nearby Abbey Road).

    I don’t know much of anything about fossils but would be interested in sharing precise locations so that we can get those rock gardens looking impressive.

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