Watkins Glen is a charming town situated at the southern tip of Seneca Lake—the deepest of the 11 Finger Lakes at 600 feet. It’s well known for its racetrack, and is also a hotbed for vegetarianism as Farm Sanctuary and Ithaca, “the Berkeley of the East,” are close by.
Watkins Glen International Racetrack got its start in the 1940s when some of the local boys were racing their cars around the town and somebody thought it was time to get a racetrack. The track is now known for nearly all classes of road racing in the summer. We were supposed to do a 90-mph pet-friendly loop around the track, but showed up too late (Cam took a wrong turn).
Lunch at Seneca Harbor Station overlooking beautiful Seneca Lake was delicious, and they allowed our dog, Baci, on the deck with us. If you don’t have your dog with you, take a two-hour magical sail on the Schooner True Love.
Hiking the gorges at Watkins Glen State Park is a must. We had Baci with us and she was not allowed on the Gorge trail, which is probably the most dramatic. The drop-offs (200 feet!) are scary and the dogs must be on a short leash on the trails. The hours vary and we were lucky to have it open at sunset. The 19 waterfalls in the glen (a Greek word for “secluded, narrow valley”) make it a very special place. The narrow gorge was carved by glaciers 10,000 years ago. On the evening we were there, it was not that crowded. I recommend good footwear, as the slate paths were slippery from the waterfalls.
Farm Sanctuary was started in 1986 when Gene Baur was doing research on slaughterhouses and found out that many factory-farmed animals were being horribly mistreated. He visited a dump pile of animals that had not survived the transportation (a regular practice) and a sheep stuck her head up! That sheep, “Hilda,” was the inspiration for the movement that has helped spread awareness for the sentient beings being harmed in factory farms across the world.
Unfortunately, 99% of all animals used for food in the US are from factory farms. The Sanctuary provides a loving home for animals that have been rescued from terrible fates, and gives educational tours to visitors. It’s very difficult to order a turkey sandwich after a “debeaked” turkey gently eats grass out of your palm. Since Farm Sanctuary was founded, the number of animals killed every year in the US has gone from 10 to 9 billion, and 15 million Americans have given up meat altogether.
Farm Sanctuary will forever hold special memories for me, of sitting next to a mammoth cow named “Thunder” and a mama pig that broke all the crates of her piglets to get close to them during the rescue and transport to Farm Sanctuary. It’s an important place for compassionate, curious folks and children, set on the beautiful rolling hills above the lake—and there’s a B&B that’s booked months in advance.
Nickel’s Pit BBQ on Franklin Street must seem like an odd item to follow Farm Sanctuary, but owner Nick Thayer is dedicated to family-run farms and local craft breweries. All of the meat is sourced from Autumn’s Harvest, a family-run farm that humanely treats its animals and welcomes visitors. The meat is slow-smoked with cherry- and maplewood. The historic renovated building was once the Watkins Glen Fire Department and is shared with Rooster Fish Brewery, one of 60 craft breweries in the Finger Lakes Region.
There are over 100 wineries in the Finger Lakes Region, but on this day we paid a visit to Finger Lakes Distilling, run by owner Brian McKenzie who is dedicated to making his products using traditional methods. His distiller—Thomas Earl McKenzie (unrelated)—shares his passion. The beautiful copper distiller is from Germany. We toured his facility and sampled his fine spirits, which included unique gins and his special whiskies. We took home a bottle of cherry liqueur. Finger Lakes Distilling offers tours and tastings—and is pet-friendly! Views from the eastside of Seneca Lake offer great sunsets.
Tune in next week as I continue my trip to the Finger Lakes Region and visit the wine country of Corning and soar in Elmira, New York.
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