Cayuga Wetlands Restoration Project

The Cayuga Wetlands Restoration project was born in 2016 based on the initiative of students in a senior science class and wisdom shared by Sachem (Chief) Samuel George of Cayuga Nation. After piloting sustainable indigenous practices, New Roots was awarded $48,745 in grants from the Park Foundation ($10,000) and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ($38,745) in 2019. The grants stem from New York State’s clean water initiative and are intended to empower students, hired for our Wetlands Restoration Corps, to restore and expand wetlands in the Cayuga Lake watershed by planting and maintaining native wetland plant species. In response to water quality testing and research about indigenous land and water management practices, students petitioned the City of Ithaca for permission to establish a pilot wetlands site by planting cattail, calamus, and arrowhead. Subsequent water testing by science classes at the test site demonstrated improved water quality due to biofiltering of harmful pollutants, including phosphorus that may lead to harmful algal blooms. Today, students can apply for summer jobs, funded by the grants to learn ecosystem restoration and bioremediation skills while providing the labor to expand the wetlands sites as part of the DEC’s initiative to protect and improve our waterways in New York State. Puddledocker’s Kayak Shop, shares their boats and docks with students and staff through a partnership that was established in the summer of 2019. Give thanks for each and every community partner who has helped launch this essential project! Water is LIFE!


youth ecological restoration corps mission statement
weaving together indigenous ecological knowledge and contemporary science to deepen our understand of our region's enviornmental balance and promote stewardship of earth
david streib in the cayuga wetlands
seven students wading in the water of the cayuga wetlands
young man standing in the cayuga wetlands

A letter of student reflection to the community on the experience of the Cayuga Wetlands Restoration Project

Dear Ithaca Community, 

We would like to share a message from the Youth Ecological Restoration Corps.
We acknowledge that this is native land of the Gayo’goho:no’.
We would like to give a special thanks to Paddledockers for partnering with us and hosting us this summer. 

We write this as a collective unit and want to share what we witnessed and learned. Our project lasted from July 19th to July 30th, from the hours of 9:00am to 4:00pm through New Roots Charter School, funded by the Department of ENVS Conservation with resources supplied by Paddledockers. 

Part of our intention is to bring the land back to its original ecosystems using the wisdom and teachings of the native Gayo’goho:no’. During our time, we reintroduced native wetlands plants, cleaned up trash from the Cayuga Inlet, removed destructive invasive species and collected water samples to test. 

Through this experience, we have learned more than we expected from the process of giving back to Cayuga Lake and our community. We write this letter to spread awareness. Working with the water, we have received a sense of environmental justice for all. By working closely with the wetlands ecosystems, we built a loving community through working together. 

Our group reintroduced native cattail from other wetland areas in the region back into the inlet. Cattail filters nitrogen and phosphorus from the water. This is a way of combating harmful algal blooms caused by industrialization and the lack of protective wetlands ecosystems. In the last 30 years, big box stores were built on traditional wetland ecosystems. We feel burdened by the industrialization of this wetland ecosystem and condemn the decision made by local government to build on these wetlands. We also acknowledge that at large, Ithaca is a city that is built on top of traditional medicinal ecosystems of the Gayo’goho:no’. 

Through this letter, we are making a call to action. While we are honored to move this important work forward, we recognize that every human being has a responsibility to dedicate ourselves to the health of the water and Earth. We are asking our community and local government to invest in programs that heal our regional ecosystems. By engaging in this work, the nine of us have reclaimed a connection with nature and a connection with others. We believe that by being of service to the Earth, this action heals relationships between peoples. 

With Love and Honor, 

Youth Ecological Restoration Corps
New Roots Charter School