Carter Creek cuts between two steep hillsides that are dissected by small tributaries. The altitude rises from approximately 1200 feet at Carter Creek to 1940 at the top of Doll Hill. The vegetation is upland forest in different stages of maturity: old growth, second growth and young forest. The western tract is 120 acres, the eastern tract is 146 acres.
In the western tract, the land use history as well as the age, size and species composition of trees is quite variable. The community type is typical hemlock-northern hardwoods forest, with hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), beech (Fagus grandifolia), sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and white ash (Fraxinus americana) being the most common species. Where there is evidence of disturbance, red maple (Acer rubrum), red oak (Quercus rubra) and hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) are more common.
In the southwest of the property, beyond a small stream that cuts diagonally through the area, is a beautiful, pristine old-growth forest that is one of the showpiece forests in Tompkins County. Typical forest composition is as above. Typical species in the herb layer are partridgeberry (Mitchella repens), wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens), club mosses (Lycopodiaceae), goldthread (Coptis groenlandica) and Canada mayflower (Maianthemum canadense).
In the northwest part of the property is a stand of white pine (Pinus strobus) and hemlock with a very sparse understory. In the middle of the property is a lowland near the creek with rich forest dominated by white ash, basswood (Tilia americana) and black cherry (Prunus serotina).
In the eastern tract, the vegetation shows very much a history of human use – fire, farming and timber cutting. In 1929 D. Rankin produced a map of the vegetation, which provides a historical reference to successional changes here (reproduced in Cook 1975). The species composition of forest re-growth is notably varied. Aspen (Populus spp.), white pine, white ash and red maple are all abundant, any one of these species may dominate a stand. Also present are paper birch (Betula papyrifera), hemlock, beech, mountain maple (Acer spicatum) and shadbush (Amelanchier spp.). Understory species include low-bush blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium), hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) and striped maple (Acer pensylvanicum). Oaks are more common on the northern hilltop and the steep southeastern slope.
Cook, John Calkins. 1975. The Cornell Natural Areas: A Preliminary Inventory and Proposal for Management. M.S. Thesis, Cornell University.