A tour of Ithaca’s souvenir shops reveals no shortage of pride in its natural scenery – namely in the phrase “Ithaca is Gorges,” a clever pun emblazoned on everything from T-shirts to coffee mugs, to bumper stickers to grafitti on a rock outcropping at the bottom of the gorge itself. And while many of the gorges are prohibited to swimmers because of their dangerous rapids, Six Mile Creek remains a (relatively) safe alternative for nature lovers to enjoy the water.
Nestled between Ithaca Commons and Cornell’s Collegetown, Six Mile Creek contains two main dams, aptly named First and Second Dam, that are a popular spot for locals and students alike. Both dams offer convenient natural ledges and cliffs for the more adventurous to jump off of, with First Dam sporting a 15-foot drop from the top of the waterfall into the refreshing pools below. For the more casual visitor, the waterfall feeds in to a shallow brook that forms the perfect fishing spot, or just a place to observe the abundant wildlife.
First Dam is especially intriguing for the abandoned water mill that quietly sits on the cliff face. While nature has begun to reclaim the structure, its boarded windows and antique architecture nevertheless act as a reminder of modern civilization in an otherwise rustic oasis. Many a person has tried to explore the structure, though the door has long since rusted shut. Regardless, the mill still adds a certain touch of mystery and uniqueness to First Dam, suggesting a more interesting and complex history than now meets the eye.
To reach the dams still takes a bit of effort – the path down at times contains haphazardly boarded paths and old ropes attached to tree logs to help visitors rappel down small rock cliffs, but the view from the bottom is truly worth it. For those looking for a little old-fashioned adventure, Six Mile Creek is the place to explore.