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Get to Know the Genesee

Genesee River flowing by the Interfaith Chapel

The University of Rochester’s River Campus was named after the bordering body of water running alongside its edge. The Genesee Riverway Trail serves as a popular path for runners, walkers, and bikers from the University community to enjoy. Yet, few people know much about the geography, history, and qualities of the Genesee.

The river stretches 160 miles from Pennsylvania to Lake Ontario. It interrupts multiple times on its journey, creating a multitude of waterfalls within the City of Rochester and beyond. High Falls, for instance, located on Platt Street in Downtown, is not merely a tourist destination, but was also once the source of commercial and economic success for the city. Mathew and Francis Brown built the Genesee’s first riverside canal in 1815 that harnessed the water power of the 90-foot falls. That energy was subsequently used to power local flour mills, which transformed Rochester from “a backwater village into a major flour-milling boomtown,” establishing Rochester’s nickname as the “Flour City.”

Though the Genesee is quite polluted from years of agricultural and industrial runoff, the community is making many efforts to improve its water quality. A group of environmental scientists at The College at Brockport have recently initiated a project named the “The Genesee River Watershed Project” that digitally tracks sediments and other chemicals to uncover the river’s main sources of pollution. A local nonprofit organization, The Center for Environmental Initiatives, plans to use this information to help streamline river cleanup efforts. Cleanup efforts have also occurred here at the University. In the fall of 2014, the student organization Grassroots teamed up with the local nonprofit The M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence to gather waste along the Genesee. Together, the collaborators gathered 56 pounds of waste along the riverbanks.

The river serves as a source of beauty for the community members. Many of the Genesee River’s large waterfalls are located in Letchworth State Park and have drawn in many visitors for hiking and walking around the natural area. Students and faculty alike frequently visit this destination, as it is only about an hour from the University.

The Genesee Valley Park, located directly across from the River Campus, also hosts many walkers, runners, bikers, and picnickers from the University community. The large park, created by the famous Frederic Law Olmsted, is located at the intersection of the Genesee and the Erie Canal. University sports teams such as men and women’s rugby often use the park space for practice. Students frequently hold study group sessions at the picnic tables alongside the River.

The Genesee has also served as a beautiful attraction for local restaurants. Restaurants in the nearby Corn Hill Landing, such as the Rochester Taproom, offer outdoor patio seating on warmer days for patrons to overlook the Genesee as they eat. In addition, the Genesee Brew House, located along the Genesee River Path, offers a terrace and patio that allows customers to overlook High Falls and the Genesee River gorge. The spot is often populated with members of the University community, as it is within walking distance from the University.

But perhaps some of the best views of the Genesee River can be found right from within the University’s own buildings, including the Interfaith Chapel, Rush Rhees Library, O’Brien Hall, and Riverview Apartments. We encourage students, staff, and visitors alike to utilize our campus’s natural environment, by bike or foot, along the Genesee Riverway Trail running parallel to Wilson Boulevard.  Ultimately, the Genesee River is a natural piece of Rochester’s history that can be enjoyed by all who visit the University of Rochester.

Written by Julie Elliot, Class of 2015

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