Over the last months, George Payne and others have opened our eyes to the cultural, recreational and historic bounties found in the Lower Falls Park and Gorge, as well as the continued progress of the Lower Falls Foundation to make the Lower Falls gorge of the Genesee River a UNESCO World Heritage Site by 2020.
First, George described a Lower Falls cleanup. Then he provided a thorough and persuasive rationale on why and how the Gorge can be a World Heritage Site. As narrated by Austin Retzlaff, George gave us a guided hike to Rico’s Cave. And George was there when Dean told the mournful tale of our mishap near the Cave. George also analyzed the enduring influence of the Six Nations Iroquois Confederacy on American democracy and the U.S. constitution.
Casconchiagon and the Rochester Connection
Here in Rochester we have a special connection to the enduring legacy of the Six Nations Confederacy and a unique responsibility to preserve the Great Peace Maker’s teachings. For over a thousand years the O-non-dowa-gah, (pronounced: Oh-n’own-dough-wahgah) meaning “Great Hill People”) occupied the Genesee River Lower Falls Gorge.
Referred to as the “Keeper of the Western Door,” the O-non-dowa-gah are the westernmost of the Six Nations and they used the river and Lake Ontario for fishing, hunting, dwelling, and recreation. Lacrosse, it should be noted, was more than just a game for these people. It was a ceremonious activity which allowed them to cleanse their mind and give recognition to the Creator. Although many Rochesterians are familiar with the story of the “Great Hill People” and especially the heritage of lacrosse, many people do not realize that this history is accessible through an impressive network of well preserved, scenically beautiful, and historically interesting trails. One such site is called Casconchiagon and it can be located in Maplewood Park in the northwest sector of the city.
According to the website New York Historic:
To the west is Lorimer Hill, now the residential Maplewood neighborhood and home to Nazareth School and Sisters of St Joseph. The area is located west of Lake Ave and North of Lexington. The Seneca village known as Casconchiagon, after the Seneca name for the Genesee River, was located on this hill. The trail, located near the historic marker here, that leads down to the gorge was most likely the village’s access point to the Genesee River. It is also possible that some of the village crept into the area that is now Maplewood Park and Lower Falls Park.
The site adds:
The sign is now within Maplewood Park in Rochester, near the Genesee Riverway Trail entrance across from the park’s rose garden. This is a picnic area near a parking lot and restroom facility. The trail is used to reach Lower Falls Park to the south, or an unofficial trail to the north which leads into the Genesee Gorge.
Regarding the Gorge Trail, anyone who has been fortunate enough to experience this space on a guided hike (see Hike to Rico’s Cave: An Experience Of “Two Rochesters” by Austin Retzlaff, or who has ventured off on it alone (see Celebrating the roses of Maplewood. But like Sam Patch, Talker is Gorged, knows how blessed our community is to have such a remarkably well preserved series of Native American trails right in the heart of our urban backyard.
To walk on the Gorge Trail and Seth Green Trail (on the east side of the Genesee) is to be transported back to another era. It is to walk alongside our ancient ancestors and to experience some of the same trees that they did; to sit on some of the same rocks as they did; and to hear the same sounds of chipmunks scurrying on the forest floor, hares jumping through thick bushes, blue jays squawking, and walleye splashing on the water’s surface. These trails and the entire Lower Galls gorge is truly one of the most significant cultural and ecological sites in North America. It is a hiker’s dream and a historian’s playground!
Sadly, many of these trails are unknown, underutilized, undervalued, and in some cases under-protected. One of the goals of the Lower Falls Foundation is to raise awareness about the importance of keeping the teachings of our native ancestors alive through purposeful acts of social and ecological entrepreneurship.
We need to preserve these cultural landmarks not just because it is our civic duty to be good stewards of public land; we also need to stay emotionally and spiritually connected to the worldview of people who were much more sensitive to the needs of Mother Earth and much more responsible to the needs of fellow human beings. If we become totally isolated from their knowledge, we will lose thousands of years of highly sophisticated wisdom that we need now more than ever.
For more information about the work of the Lower Falls Foundation, or to get involved as a volunteer on one of our upcoming projects, please visit our website. Our ultimate goal is to make the Lower Falls gorge of the Genesee River a UNESCO World Heritage Site by 2020. For more information about UNESCO and our campaign, see A World Heritage Site in our Backyard: preserving and profiting from the history, culture, and ecology of the Lower Falls Gorge
We first knew you a feeble plant which wanted a little earth whereon to grow. We gave it to you; and afterward, when we could have trod you under our feet, we watered and protected you; and now you have grown to be a mighty tree, whose top reaches the clouds, and whose branches overspread the whole land, whilst we, who were the tall pines of the forest, have become a feeble plant and need your protection.
Chief Red Jacket