Woodruff Outdoor Learning Center

Woodruff Outdoor Learning Center logo

This Outdoor Learning Center is dedicated to Robert B. Woodruff, principal and teacher, who devoted his 40 year career to the students of the Owen D. Young Central School District.


The Outdoor Learning Center of the Owen D. Young Central School consists of more than 50 acres in a natural setting in the gorge of the Otsquago Creek, adjacent to the school in Van Hornesville, New York.

The OLC is located on the site of an 18th century trail, which became the road between Fort Plain and Cooperstown in the 19th century. George Washington was said to have used the trail in 1783 while on route to Cherry Valley. Washington was searching for sites to establish new grain mills to replace those that were badly damaged by the British. Shortly thereafter, the valley was settled by the Van Hornes who saw the magnificent potential power of the many waterfalls which frequented the creek. As the village grew, so did the dams, mills, and factories which produced, flour, cheese, cigar boxes, caskets, distilled spirits and furniture.

In the summer of 1984 through the efforts of the late Janet Nevins Young, work was begun to open the gorge to the public, and particularly to the students of the school. After considerable research by Charles Watkins, an ODY faculty member, work crews of students and community volunteers, began the delicate task of making the site accessible without unduly disturbing the natural environment.

Besides environmental concerns, preservation of artifacts connected with the early industries also guided the workers. Bridges were built, paths cleared, picnic tables constructed, and difficult terrain was made accessible.

What to See

Nature At Work

The area is a four-season opportunity for all. Nature lovers can see new life beginning each spring as the wild flowers and plants break forth out of their winter sleep and the trees start their budding ritual.

As you walk the 1¼ mile trail to the deep woods, you can observe a variety of wild, many species of trees and babbling brooks racing downward to join the creek. In the early morning, the observant walker may be able to see and hear the wildlife, the white-tailed deer, the gray squirrels or even the gobble of wild turkey on the hillside. As the seasons change, so do the many scenes within the nature center.

Winter visitors can enjoy cross country skiing or snow-shoeing. If you are a hearty soul, the ice formations at the waterfalls offer some breathtaking photo opportunities.

Rock Formations

The geologist or the amateur rock hound will be interested in seeing how the creek has cut it's path, dividing the steep shale cliffs on one side from the limestone formations on the other side.

The Cave Trail branch of the main trail will lead you to the caves. A visit to the limestone caves is a must, especially for the younger visitors. Although not very large, they are impressive and serve as a play area as well as a learning environment for all. There is also a picnic area here.

From the caves there is an easy walk down a constructed walkway to the waterfalls. These falls have been a delight to artists, photographers, bathers and fisherman for many years.

The Past

The amateur archaeologist will want to visit the old sawmill site to see the remains of the dam and some of the machinery used in the operation of the mill. The site and foundation of the cheese box factory are also accessible.

This self-guided facility is open during daylight hours, year-round. If you wish to meet someone upon arrival to obtain more information, please call in advance. If you are bringing students or a special group and would like instruction in a special area of interest, please let us know and we will try to accommodate your request.


The facilities of the Outdoor Learning Center

  • Picnic Tables

  • Charcoal Grills

  • Handicap Accessible Toilet Facilities

  • Trails, Access to Waterfalls

  • Herb Garden

  • Limestone Caves  - Depicted on a mural at the 1939 Worlds Fair

  • New York State Registered Brook Trout Stream

  • Amphitheater

Enjoy peace, the quiet sounds of nature...stop along the trail and listen. Bring a book to read on a quiet summer afternoon.

Help Us Protect the Natural Beauty

  • Remain on the trails

  • Protect all plants and animals

  • Observe the ban on hunting, camping, use of alcoholic beverages, cutting, vehicular use, and fires (except in designated areas)

How to Find Us

The Robert B. Woodruff Outdoor Learning Center is located in the village of Van Hornesville on New York State Route 80. Access to the facility is via the driveway at the north side of the Owen D. Young Central School. Turn into the driveway, head down the hill and bear to the left; it is a short distance to the parking area and entrance by the bridge.