David G. White
Program Coordinator
New York Sea Grant Extension


The sand dunes along the eastern shore of Lake Ontario are an integral part of a coastal barrier environment consisting
of beaches, sand dunes, embayments and wetlands. This barrier system, which extends for roughly 16.5 miles, contains
the largest and most extensive freshwater sand dune formations in New York State. In fact, the only dunes higher than
these in the entire northeastern United States are on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.


The bedrock formations and topography of the eastern Lake Ontario region have a geologic history of more than
400 million years. The surface formations and landforms, however, have a history no further back than the final
advance and retreat of the last glacier 10,000 to 20,000 years ago. As the last glacier (Wisconsin glaciation)
receded across the present Lake Ontario basin, melting water from the glacier formed Lake Iroquois, which
extended far south of the existing Lake Ontario shoreline. The Lake Iroquois time period (approximately 12,000
years ago) serves as one benchmark used in describing the formation of existing landforms, including the sand
dunes, in the eastern Lake Ontario region. Following the Lake Iroquois period, four distinct lake-level stages
(Sandy Creek, Skinner Creek, Dune, and North Pond) resulted in sand deposits of different types and in different
locations on the coastal and upland areas of the Lake Ontario basin. These geologic phases resulted in what many
consider the most dramatic feature of the eastern Lake Ontario coastal barrier system: the extensive formations of
sand dunes, some cresting at more than 70 feet above the surface of the lake.


Of the approximately 16.5 miles of Lake Ontario shoreline (measured between the Salmon River and Black Pond)
contained in the eastern Lake Ontario barrier system, an estimated 6.7 miles (41%) is publicly owned, and an
estimated 9.8 miles (59%) is privately owned. Of the publicly owned shorefront, 6 miles (90%) is contained within
three state Wildlife Management Areas, with the remaining 10% (less than one mile) within state park land. Of the
privately owned shorefront, roughly 7 miles (73%), is in residential use, less than a mile of shoreline is in
commercial campground use, and roughly 1.7 miles is undeveloped.


Four major resource areas can be identified within the coastal barrier system. These resource areas are defined
by the major aquatic habitat areas (wetlands and embayments) protected by the eastern Lake Ontario barrier
system. These are the: Black Pond Resource Area; Southwick-Lakeview Resource Area; North and South Sandy
Ponds Resource Area; and Deer Creek Resource Area.

Black Pond Resource Area

This area contains the northernmost of the major wetlands protected by the coastal barrier system. The barrier
contains a nature preserve owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy at El Dorado Shores and Black
Pond, the state's Black Pond Wildlife Management Area, and shorefront residential development. The barrier is
particularly notable for the well-developed and preserved high sand dune formations found in The Nature
Conservancy preserve and the Wildlife Management Area and for the regionally significant habitat provided for
large concentrations of shorebirds, waterfowl, and other migratory birds.

Southwick-Lakeview Resource Area

This area contains Southwick Beach State Park and the Lakeview Wildlife Management Area and is entirely
owned by the state of New York. The Wildlife Management Area contains two barrier sections separated by the
mouths of Sandy and South Sandy creeks. The northern section of the Wildlife Management Area, bounded by the
state park, is used for swimming and picnicking by people entering the area through the park; the southern section
is less accessible by foot and less disturbed by human use. When the natural outlet of South Colwell Pond is open
and flowing, marking the southern boundary of the Wildlife Management Area, the southern barrier section
becomes a barrier island.

North and South Sandy Ponds Resource Area

The Sandy Ponds Resource Area is characterized by two barrier spits: the shifting North Sandy Pond inlet and the
two sets of high dunes that flank it. The sand flats of each spit near the inlet provide regionally significant habitat for
shorebirds and migratory species. The northern portion of the south spit contains the largest undeveloped, privately
owned piece of land in the overall barrier system.

Found in this resource area are shorefront residential development and a commercial day-use beach site.
Because it is sheltered from the open waters of Lake Ontario, North Sandy Pond supports intensive recreational
activities (boating and fishing) during the summer months, and several boating and marina-access facilities have
been developed on the pond.

Deer Creek Resource Area

This resource area contains the Deer Creek Wildlife Management Area and privately owned sections of the Deer
Creek marsh. Included in the Wildlife Management Area is the barrier system's fourth set of high sand dunes and a
commercial campground.


These dunes are vital to the continuing integrity of the barrier system. The climatic and geomorphic conditions
under which the dunes were formed no longer exist. If destroyed, these dunes are unlikely to ever regain their
current natural resource values.


Special thanks to Dieter Busch, Lee Chamberlaine, Tom Cutter, John DeHollander, Diane Jackson, Diane Kuehn,
Pat Peterson, and Jennifer Pultz for their review and assistance with this publication.

This document contains information taken directly from New York's Eastern Lake Ontario Sand Dunes prepared
by L. R. Johnston Associates for the New York State Department of State, Division of Coastal Resources and
Waterfront Revitalization. June 1989.