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Washington Grove

Washington Grove Forest Looking Good  

Take a walk in the Grove and admire ancient giant trees, many over 200 years old. Enjoy the peace, tranquility and sounds of wildlife. Six years ago I was encouraged by the City of Rochester to form a group of concerned citizens to formulate a management plan to help restore and protect the old-growth forest at Cobbs Hill Park, known as the Washington Grove. This early group was supported by the Rochester Regional Group of the Sierra Club. The group of citizens has grown and incorporated as a non-profit 501(c) (3) so that they can raise funds and apply for grants to support the work. Six years later, and after many hundreds of hours of volunteer work, there are lots of signs of progress.

Over 600 invasive Norway maples have been removed by the City and volunteers creating openings in the canopy for native species to be planted. These include various species of oaks, flowering dogwood, shadbush, cucumber trees (a native magnolia),and sugar maples. With the removal of the Norway maples, the group is now focusing on invasive Autumn olive shrubs and herbs such as Lilies of the Valley and black swallow-wort.

Many trails have been stabilized by spreading woodchips on them.

The volunteers who have made this progress possible have been attracted from area neighborhoods, colleges such as RIT, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, and a group of employees of Southwest Airlines. So… join the other volunteers next Spring on Clean Sweep day to help continue the amazing work being done there. See the facebook page, Friends of Washington Grove, Inc.

Nestled behind the reservoir atop Cobb’s Hill lies a beautiful grove of giant old oaks, commemorated as Washington Grove after our First President. This is nature’s cathedral and many come here to stroll, exercise, walk their dogs, or watch for migrating birds. As beautiful as it is the forest is showing signs that all is not well. Humans have introduced invasive plants such as the Norway maple that are crowding out native trees. Trails have widened and are eroding with heavy traffic. Some native species of plants and animals are declining or have disappeared in the last twenty years. But help is on the way. 

A dedicated coalition of people and neighborhood groups have joined a project sponsored by the Sierra Club in partnership with the City of Rochester, to restore and protect the Grove. After 10 months of work, they have produced a Master Plan which has been submitted and approved by the City of Rochester.

A variety of actions have been proposed to address the problems faced by the Grove. The Project is looking for volunteers to help with actions such as modifying existing trails to prevent erosion and repair damage. Invasive species will be tagged and eliminated gradually. Native species will be planted to replace those that are aging and dying. Pac Tac teams will be trained and begin walking the Grove to educate others about the Project, encourage cooperation with Project efforts and discourage misuse of the Grove. On June 6, and June 20, a scientific study of the Grove will be done by a graduate student at SUNY Brockport to determine the structure and composition of the forest.

If you are looking for a community project that will enhance our neighborhood and City, and would like to work with other visionary and committed people on a multi-year project that will make a difference, please call Peter Debes, the Project Leader (585) 234-1056 or contact him at  

Washington Grove TreeBig thank you to our most recent volunteers!

On our last Tuesday volunteer date, our group removed more than 60 Autumn olive shrubs-- great progress controlling this invasive shrub that was introduced as a landscape plant to the U.S. in 1830.  

The new “Oak Bridge” in the kettle

You may also notice that the volunteers have begun working on controlling erosion on the two "kettles" in Washington Grove. These rare and important glacial features are the two deep depressions on the North side of the Grove, near the old water tanks. In recent years the edges of these pits have been compromised, in part by mountain bikers.  In order to reduce this activity a city forestry crew felled a white oak that had died when someone girdled it with a chainsaw several years ago.  Though fallen, the beautiful tree now has new life as “the oak bridge” that runs across the bottom of the smaller kettle. In the near future, the edges of these kettles will replanted with native plants to further reduce the impact of erosion.  

New grant! 

The Friends of Washington Grove is please to announce that we have received another mini-grant from the Sierra Club Online Community grant program. This will help with more replanting on our next volunteer date.  Plus, we are busy working to secure more grant dollars to continue this important work.  

History note:

The Cobb’s Hill Reservoir and Park were opened in 1908. The woods we call “Washington Grove” was purchased in 1912 from the Beckwith family who had farmed extensively on the east side of the hill. Private citizens raised some of the money to make this purchase. In those days, the Grove was simply called “the Cobb’s Hill Woods.” or the “Dingle” or the “Dingle Dell,” old British words that describe magical shady woods with hills and secluded hollows, especially like the area where the kettles are located.  2012 marks the 100th Anniversary of this park.   Thank you!   The Friends of Washington Grove  



Itinerary of the Washington Grove Committee
  • Winter Life in Washington Grove Saturday, January 17, 10:00 - 11:00 AM Winter is tough if you live outdoors. How do plants and animals survive it? Naturalist Peter Debes of the Friends of Washington Grove will lead you on a scavenger hunt for signs of life and secrets of survival in the woods, and if we’re good, we’ll spot a few creatures there. Meet at the top of the reservoir road, Cobb’s Hill Park by the pine trees. Adults and children 7 and older. Dress for the weather. Binoculars useful. Hand warmers will be available. Cancelled if there are high winds. For questions or to confirm cancellation, call Peter Debes at 585-820-2018.

About the Friends of Washington Grove The Washington Grove is a woodland area nestled on the eastern edge of Cobb's Hill Park.

The Friends of Washington Grove is a volunteer group that provides a range of activities supportive of Washington Grove and the City of Rochester’s management plan for the Grove.

In 2008, a coalition of organizations and interested individuals came together to develop a management plan for the Washington Grove under the guidance of City officials. 

The group worked to identify the users of the Grove, their needs and interests, and the problems facing the area. Out of these efforts, The Forestry Division developed a trial management plan.

The City held a public meeting on May 20, 2010 to present this plan and solicit community input.

 Following the meeting, City foresters and The Friends of Washington Grove began work in the Grove.