DSCN0076GRAYBy Alicia Dziak

When you’re driving north on Route 219, about halfway between Ellicottville and Springville, you will arrive in Ashford. Ahrens Road comes off on the left, leading drivers up a steep country road to one of the area’s most unique places — Griffis Sculpture Park.

If you’ve been there before, you’ll probably remember thinking, “Where on earth is this place?” You’ll drive for a few miles through the country, past some farms, and maybe even see an Amish buggy. Luckily, the way is marked pretty well with signs. By the time you arrive at the Mill Road entrance to the park, you feel like you’re worlds away from the main route.

A newly surfaced driveway leads you up to a small parking lot and a cute building with a small sculpture in front that houses your honor system donation. If you then continue on the driveway by foot, you will get a glimpse of the many new and exciting developments happening at the park.

This section of the park — bordered by the trailhead on the left and continuing up the hill toward the stage — is now known as Griffis Hill Gardens, a formerly undeveloped area situated on over 50 acres.

Regular visitors to the park will immediately notice the new driveway that leads up the hill. Resurfacing this was one of the first steps in making Griffis Hill Gardens accessible.

Before you arrive at the large house on the property, you’ll see a trail leading off to the right. Last year at this time, you’d never know there was a trail here, but now, it’s widened and easy to see. The trail winds along a stream and leads to a cluster of three cabins, newly outfitted with heat and electricity.

One of the three cabins is available to rent. It features three futons, sleeping six people comfortably. Outside, there’s a large fire pit so that guests can enjoy the woods and stream nearby while roasting marshmallows. Perhaps the most unique feature of the cabin is not in the cabin at all, but rather the sculpture in front of it that resembles a ladder running between two sections of a tree. The sculpture, like many others in the park, can be climbed and enjoyed. For cabin reservations, email GriffisHillGardens@gmail.com.

If you return to the driveway and continue on your way, an old horse barn is situated to the left of the house. This barn is in the process of being repurposed into an outdoor classroom.

“We plan to host outdoor workshops in one section,” explained Thomas Vannatter, administrative director of Griffis Hill Gardens. “Another section will be a seed-starting area  and a third section will be for composting.”

Continuing past the house, and further up the driveway, you’ll find two additional new outdoor classroom areas.

“We’ve dedicated the past eight months to an intensive forestry stewardship redesign that has committed focus on the habitat development and water resource management,” said Carley Hill, founder/executive director of Griffis Hill Gardens. “Newly established on the property are over 10 acres dedicated to sustainable forest gardens, with winding channels feeding crescent ponds and hidden pathways leading through fruit tree groves. There are also small vernal pools and fields of seasonally harvested wild edible foods and blossoming forest fauna.”

The tranquility of these new outdoor spaces naturally lend themselves to upcoming classes and workshops, as well as the free storytelling hour that will be offered throughout the summer.

“My goal this year is to continue to grow and develop our series of arts and environmental educational programs,” Hill said.

Youth workshops include wilderness adventures, kite making, orienteering, outdoor painting, and one entitled “Moss Magic” where participants will learn about the forest floor through hands-on experiences.

Adult workshops include painting and composting. There are also offerings in stump clustering, where students will learn how upended tree root systems can become the perfect planting bed for ferns and other fauna, as well as courses in growing your own shiitake mushrooms and medicinal gardens.

In addition, special events are planned that will include Edible Forest Foraging, where guests will learn how to identify and locate wild edible species, culminating with a distinctive fireside meal and gourmet wine pairing, and a summer concert series.

“The integral thread running through all of our programs is our mission to provide a platform to engage audiences with the intersection of art and nature,” said Hill.

While the website for Griffis Hill Gardens is still a work in progress, a lot of great information can be found on their Facebook page (facebook.com/GriffisHillGardens).

Learn something new while spending time in the beautiful surroundings of Griffis Sculpture Park and take advantage of the wonderful creative opportunities that await in Griffis Hill Gardens.