Be a Voyageur!

Since the 1980s, there has been a 36-foot long, 16 passenger (plus two staff), fiberglass Voyageur canoe at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center in Wellesley Island State Park. No one really knows where the canoe came from or exactly what year it arrived, but there are a few stories told about its origins.  Some say there used to be five Voyageur canoes located in parks along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario and some say the canoe was made by NYS Parks’ employees.  Ultimately, the mystery of its origin is part of its mystique.  What they will say is that every summer for about the last 30 years park visitors and Nature Center staff have headed out on daily trips in our canoe to learn about the history of the Voyageurs and to explore the ecology of Eel Bay, the Narrows, and Escanaba Bay.

Voyageur canoe trips leave the Nature Center docks at 9 am and return at 11 am, but there is plenty for staff to do before anyone ever steps foot into the boat.  If it has rained, staff must bail the canoe and dry the wooden seats for passengers.

Unknown photographer 2003
Novice voyageurs head out on their first journey, photo by State Parks.

They also move the boat into place on the docks so it is ready for the day.  When that day’s voyageurs come down to the dock house they are fitted with personal floatation devices (PFD’s) and paddles while being taught about the fundamentals of paddling before heading out to the canoe.  Loading the canoe with passengers can be quite tricky, as people who are likely to be stronger paddlers must be strategically positioned in the boat and the canoe must be balanced on the water to safely leave the docks.  Once the canoe is balanced and its passengers comfortable, staff jump in at the bow (front) and stern (back) and slowly steer the boat out into Eel Bay.

The staff member sitting at the bow of the boat begins the interpretation as the large boat gets underway.  They talk about how the canoe weighs 1,000 pounds empty and how it is made of fiberglass.  As the passengers paddle, they discuss the importance of Eel Bay as a large, shallow water bay on the St. Lawrence.  Then conversation shifts to the Voyageurs who were part of the French fur trading companies that existed in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The interpreter weaves a tale about the adventures Voyageurs had as they transported furs, predominately beaver, from Montreal to trading posts along the shores of Lake Superior.  As the boat rounds the sharp turn into the Narrows passengers learn what a day in the life of a Voyageur was like, from what they ate to how they were paid.  The staff member sitting in the stern who has been quietly working to steer the boat will ease it to a stop as the canoe coasts into Escanaba Bay.  Passengers will spend a little time admiring the plentiful water lilies that dot the bay before reversing course and heading back towards the Nature Center.  On the return trip to our docks, some time is dedicated to floating along in silence, taking in the sights and sounds of the majestic St. Lawrence River.

Molly Farrell
Pat and Aziel Snyder standing next to the newly restored Voyageur canoe. Doesn’t it look beautiful? Photo by State Parks.

The canoe had begun to show its age in recent years but last winter Pat Snyder of River Restorations, a local boat restoration company, beautifully restored it to top condition.  A few sections of the gunnels were replaced, the gunnels and seats sanded down and refinished, the seats reinforced to help prevent deflection when people are stepping into the boat, and the fiberglass shell was repainted.  The canoe once again looks majestic and is ready to go out on the water!

Each July and August, look for the return of our sleek Voyageur canoe to the Nature Center’s dock.  For just $4 (anyone over 13) or $2 (under 13) you can join staff from the Nature Center on a memorable journey on smooth waters, travelling the shorelines of Wellesley Island.

For information on upcoming trips, please visit our Facebook page (Minna Anthony Common Nature Center- Friends).  To have enough paddle power to steer the boat, we must have at least 8 people over the age of 18 on board.  To reserve a spot on a trip, please call the Nature Center at 315-482-2479.

Post by Molly Farrell, July 2018

Learn more about Voyaguers:

Durbin, William; The Broken Paddle; Delacorte Press, NY, 1997.

Ernst, Kathleen; The Trouble and Fort La Point; Pleasant Company Publications, Middleton, WI, 2000.

Weekend Forecast: Heavy Meteor Showers

Each year when the second week of August rolls around, I know where my family will be. Loaded with blankets and camp chairs, we head to Lake Erie State Park to sit back, relax, and gaze at the stars. Why? Early August marks the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, one of the best displays of shooting stars every year.

This year, the predicted peak performance is on the night of August 12th (intensifying through the predawn hours, if you can stay up that long), though you may catch a glimpse of meteors any night between July 17th and August 24th. The Perseid meteor shower typically produces 50-100 meteors per hour, with outbursts up to a couple hundred meteors per hour in some years.

The meteors we see–particles ranging in size from a grain of sand to a small pebble—come from the debris of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Though this comet (think of a 16-mile-wide dusty snowball) orbits around the sun only once every 133 years, the Earth passes through its long-lasting trail of rocky and dusty debris around the same time every year, presenting us Earth-dwellers with the fiery flashes of the Perseid meteor shower.

As the tiny particles collide into the Earth’s atmosphere at a measly speed of 133,000 miles per hour (37 miles per second), they ignite due to the friction of the atmosphere. If you trace the paths of these meteors, they will appear to originate from around the same area; this point is called the radiant, and the Perseid meteor shower radiates from, you guessed it, the star constellation Perseus. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to know exactly where this constellation is to find the show; just look towards the northeast!

Direction_of_the_Perseids
Perseid meteors will appear to originate near the Perseus constellation, so look to the northeastern sky for the best view. Image from NASA

The number of meteors you see depends on several other factors as well, including lights, weather, location, and moon phase. The Northern Hemisphere is the place to be for these showers, and lucky for us, on August 12th the moon will be nearly brand new, which means that the night sky should be nice and dark. We can’t control the weather, so be sure to go out on a night with less cloud cover.

How do you throw a get-together for a meteor shower? You have to planet! The best way to see the Perseids is to find a safe, dark and secluded spot away from city lights – a local park perhaps? Be sure to check that the park will be open at night, and some State Parks are even offering programs for the big event! Leave the binoculars and telescopes at home, you will be able to see these meteors with just the naked eye, and the more open sky in your field of view, the better. Dress for the weather, bring blankets to lay on or comfortable chairs to sit in (reclining camp chairs are great for this), and don’t forget the snacks. The longer you sit out, the more meteors you are likely to see! It takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark, and the number of shooting stars increases throughout the evening. So go outside, get settled, and enjoy the beauty of fiery space debris!

Click here to check out some upcoming star-related State Park events!

Post by Kelsey Ruffino, State Parks

Resources:

NASA Meteor and Meteorites Perseids In Depth

In The Sky Perseid Meteor Shower

Space.com Perseid Meteor Shower 2018: When, Where & How to See It This Month

DateandTime.com Perseid Meteor Shower 2018

Sky and Telescope The Best Meteor Showers in 2018

Stardate Meteors

Learn more about meteors:

Aronson, Billy; Meteors : the truth behind shooting stars; Franklin Watts, NY, 1996.

Rose, Simon; Meteors; Weigl Publishers, NY, 2012.

Featured image: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The Ellenville Fault Ice Caves – A National Natural Landmark

The most popular features of the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve are the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves. This remarkable system of crevice caves fills up with ice and snow each winter, and retains some of its ice well into the summer. Even when the ice is completely gone, the caves remain cool all year round. This unusual phenomenon has drawn people to the caves for generations.

Postcard
A postcard from c. 1909 showing the snowed-over entrance to one of the caves. The man in the image is an illustration, and slightly exaggerates the scale.

The significance of the caves has even been recognized by the National Park Service. In 1967, the NPS designated the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves as a National Natural Landmark. This designation is given to natural sites that exemplify the special or unique biological or geological features of a region.

Geologically, the Ice Caves are unlike other caves in the Northeast. Most cave systems are made of limestone, which is easily eroded and dissolved by water. This results in the large, open caverns that most people imagine when they think of caves. The Ellenville Ice Caves, on the other hand, are formed out of extremely hard and insoluble quartz conglomerate. When underlying rock layers were folded by tectonic movement, the hard conglomerate separated along existing joints in the rock.

jackfagan.png
Cutaway images demonstrating two forms of crevice cave formation. Source: Jack Fagan, Scenes and Walks in the Northern Shawangunks

The caves remain cold because of the natural refrigeration system that exists within them. When air moves across the top of the crevices, the colder, heavier air sinks down into them. The cold air then becomes trapped in the caves, keeping them at a comfortable temperature even during the hottest days of the summer.

While they received the National Natural Landmark designation because of their unique geologic importance, the Ice Caves have a great deal of ecological impact as well. The NY Natural Heritage Program recognizes the ice cave talus community as globally uncommon and rare in the state and a priority for protection. Because of their cold microclimate, the Ice Caves are home to several species that are infrequent in the region. These include goldthread (Coptis trifolium), mountain ash (Sorbus americana), and black spruce (Picea mariana), among others. Scientists have also taken interest in the presence of a species of cave-dwelling crustacean (Stygobromus allegheniensis) that is only found in four states: New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. This little arthropod lacks eyes, as it does not need them in complete darkness. It is also able to survive being frozen, a necessary attribute for surviving winter conditions in the caves.

Espinansa et al. (2015)
Strygobromus allegheniensis. Note the pale coloration and lack of eyes, typical features of cave-bound organisms. Image source: Espinansa et al. (2015)

The Ice Caves have local cultural significance as well. Many residents of the Shawangunks remember the days of “Ice Caves Mountain,” when the Sam’s Point area was managed very differently than it is today. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, much of Sam’s Point was privately owned and operated as a tourist attraction. Visitors could drive their cars right up to Ice Caves, while a pre-recorded cassette tape described the various features encountered along the way. Doors were placed over the caves to keep the ice inside year-round, and the ice was lit up by multicolored flood lights. A rock wall was built on the cliffs of Sam’s Point to dissuade visitors from getting too close to the edge. While it may have been somewhat kitschy by today’s standards, it cannot be denied that “Ice Caves Mountain” was an important step in allowing the greater public to experience this previously obscure natural wonder.

Minne_Sam_sPoint11_IceCaveEntrance_GJE
Gully with snow at Sam’s Point, photo by Greg Edinger, image courtesy of the New York Natural Heritage Program

Many things have changed since the Ice Caves Mountain days. While Sam’s Point is still managed for recreation, there has also been a large shift in focus towards conservation. Visitors may no longer drive through the park, and the cave doors have been removed in favor of letting the natural ice cycle of the caves take place. Interpretive displays within the park focus on the natural history of the caves, rather than just their physical spectacle.

While National Natural Landmark status highlights the importance of a site, it is up to the owners of that landmark to manage and protect it. Fortunately, Sam’s Point is part of a Park Preserve, meaning that all of the plant and animal life within it is protected. As such, those who appreciate the cultural, geological, and ecological significance of the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves are able to experience them to the fullest extent.

Tim Howard, NYNHP
Ice and trees in leaf – a late spring exploration of the ice caves. Tim Howard, NYNHP

Want to explore the Ice Caves? State Parks staff offer guided hikes to both Shingle Gully and the Sam’s Point Ice Caves; click here for the Sam’s Point Area calendar of events.

References:

Fagan, Jack (2006).  Scenes and Walks in the Northern Shawangunks (3rd Ed.). Mahwah, NJ: The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

Espinasa, L., McCahill, A., Kavanagh, A., Espinasa J., Scott, A., Cahill, A. (2015).  A troglobitic amphipod in the Ice Caves of the Shawangunk Ridge: Behavior and resistance to freezing.

NatureServe Explorer Allegheny Cave Amphipod

Ice Caves Talus Community Conservation Guide

Featured image courtesy of Mike Adamovic, from Ice Caves of the Shawangunk Ridge

Post by David Hendler, SCA Education and Stewardship Intern

 

 

 

THE HART OF THE MATTER: AMERICAN HART’S-TONGUE FERN IN NYS PARKS

Tucked away in cracks and crevices along the steep, rocky ravines and plunge basins of Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls State Parks resides one of the rarest and most endangered ferns in the United States; the American hart’s-tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium var. americanum). In fact, 94% of all hart’s-tongue ferns in New York are contained within these two Central New York State Parks!

The name “hart’s-tongue” was given to this unique plant due to the resemblance of the fronds (leaves) to the tongue of an adult red deer, also known as a “hart.” The “American” moniker was placed in front to distinguish the North American variety from its closest relative, the European hart’s-tongue fern, which is common throughout much of Europe and the United Kingdom.

AHTF at Clark M Serviss
American hart’s-tongue ferns at Clark Reservation State Park. Note the resemblance of the frond to that of the tongue of a deer, also known as a hart.

Few people are likely to ever encounter this unusual looking fern in the wild due to the rugged nature of its unique habitat. Those who are fortunate enough to gaze upon the strange fronds of a hart’s-tongue might have a reaction similar to that of American photographer Dr. H. E. Ransier in 1926:

“Richer than millionaires! Happier than Kings! Envied by multitudes! May be said of hobnobbers with Hart’s-tongues.”

Dr. Ransier’s enthusiasm for the hart’s-tongue fern is one that has been shared by countless students, botanists, pteridomaniacs (fern enthusiasts), nature lovers, and park patrons alike over the 211 years since its discovery just outside of Syracuse, NY in 1807. Additional hart’s-tongue populations have since been discovered in Ontario, Canada, the upper peninsula of Michigan, and a few unusual relicts in southern Tennessee and northern Alabama. However, the loss of several populations due to limestone quarrying, deforestation, urban expansion, and illegal collection resulted in the placement of the fern on the United States Endangered Species List in 1989. Currently, drought induced by climate change and invasion of the habitat by non-native plants also threaten many hart’s-tongue populations.

Hart’s-tongues are extremely sensitive to changes in climate and have very specific habitat requirements. They are most often found on steep, rocky, moss-covered slopes with north to east aspects in partial to full shade. The soils are well-drained and rich in calcium and magnesium. Hart’s-tongue researchers in New York have found that these habitats remain significantly cooler and more humid than immediately adjacent forests. The availability of quality habitat is critical to the growth and reproduction of the ferns. Very few of these types of habitats exist in New York State, which is why conservation of the habitat of the ferns is essential for their recovery.

AHTF Habitat M Serviss
Steep, rocky ravines and plunge basins provide the typical habitat for hart’s-tongue fern in New York.

New York State Parks has become increasingly involved with hart’s-tongue fern conservation over the last 10 years. Seasonal teams of FORCES stewards (Friends of Recreation, Conservation, and Environmental Stewardship), affectionately referred to as “The Fern Crew”, have carefully dug out hundreds of thousands of invasive plants from Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls State Parks in an ongoing effort to protect the fern’s very sensitive and rare habitat. The Fern Crew is largely made up of college interns pursuing degrees in conservation biology or related fields and is overseen by Park staff.

In 2015, after 100 years and several failed reintroduction efforts by various organizations, researchers were successful in reintroducing greenhouse-propagated hart’s-tongue ferns into the wild! As a result, two existing populations were expanded and New York State’s first new hart’s-tongue population was created! Reintroduction efforts were led by the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, NY and New York State Parks, working closely with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the NY Natural Heritage Program. The FORCES program contributed many hours of labor to make this project a success.

Forces
The FORCES Fern Crew transplanted 2,000 greenhouse propagated hart’s-tongue ferns in 2015 (left). A hart’s-tongue fern transplant looking spectacular after 3 years in the field (right).

Future plans to continue propagation of hart’s-tongues are currently in the works at one of only two greenhouse facilities within the New York State Park’s system, Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park in Canandaigua, NY. In a remarkable historical twist, the greenhouses at Sonnenberg Gardens were built by the very same woman who donated Clark Reservation State Park to New York State in 1915, Mary Clark Thompson. Keep your eye out for the amazing American hart’s-tongue fern at Sonnenberg Gardens in the coming years, as it may be your only chance to catch a glimpse of the fern that has enchanted generations of enthusiasts!

Clark_Sonnenberg
Mary Clark Thompson (left) donated Clark Reservation State Park (top right) to New York in 1915, including several hart’s-tongue fern populations. She also built the greenhouses at Sonnenberg Gardens (bottom right) that will soon be used to propagate hart’s-tongue ferns for reintroduction back into Clark Reservation.

Click here to learn more about this rare fern.

Blog post by Mike Serviss, Conservation Project Coordinator for Clark Reservation and Chittenango Falls State Parks.

All photos by Mike Serviss (New York State Parks), except the photos of Mary Clark Thompson and Sonnenberg Gardens, which were obtained from https://www.sonnenberg.org/

Help Keep Wildlife Wild

A busy squirrel scurries through a picnic area.

 A sparrow hops around on the ground near the campsite fire pit.

 A small herd of deer graze on the short grass near the playground.

New York State Parks provide a home to countless species of wildlife. They also provide a way for us visitors to experience and enjoy endless wildlife encounters. It is important to remember that wild animals live in balance with their habitat, eating foods that provide them with the best nutrition. There are different reasons people may want to feed wild animals such as ducks, chipmunks, deer, or raccoons, but feeding wildlife can cause much more harm than good.

Reasons not to feed wild animals:

 It leads to poor nutrition.

Feeding wild animals “people foods” like bread, marshmallows, or popcorn impacts their health in several ways. Animals have specific diets and these human foods do not contain the nutrients needed to keep the animal healthy. Like with people, poor nutrition in baby animals may even lead to health problems as the young animals grow. Young ducks and geese, for example, may develop a defect in their wings if fed an improper diet. This syndrome, commonly called “Angel Wing,” is incurable in adults and likely leads to an early death because the bird is unable to fly. In addition, when animals are continuously fed people food, they could become dependent on that food source and stop feeding on their natural foods. Young animals may not learn how to feed normally and could become less able to survive in their natural habitat.

It changes their behavior.

Have you ever had seagulls try to steal your French fries? Wildlife that are accustomed to being fed lose their natural fear of people. They might learn to associate all people with food, which leads them to become bolder towards humans. This could become a safety issue and unfortunately the animal may need to be permanently removed. Animals that are fed human food may also become more aggressive towards each other as they compete for food scraps. Feeding can influence migration as well; animals dependent on an unnatural food source may not migrate during the normal time of year.

It can increase the chance of disease.

Food provided by people can cause wildlife to gather in greater numbers than normal, which can increase the spread of disease. Some of these diseases can even be spread to people. This is another important reason to leave wild animals be.

State Park Signage.JPG

As you can see, feeding wildlife has many serious consequences. Animals do not understand the negative impacts of feeding; with your help, we can keep our park animals wild and healthy by not feeding them. And, it is State Parks’ policy to prohibit the feeding of wildlife by the public at all state parks and historic sites.

You do not need to feed the wildlife to enjoy their presence. Instead, try quietly watching the ducks from a nearby bench at the shore, snap some pictures of a deer from a safe distance, or break out the binoculars at a bird blind to get a better look at wildlife. If you don’t have binoculars, your local park nature center may have some available to share!

Ossining Grd 5 A Swaim
Ossining Fifth Graders watch birds at Rockefeller State Park Preserve. photo by Anne Swaim, Saw Mill River Audubon.

Post by Kelsey Ruffino, State Parks

Featured image: Petr Kratochvil – http://www.freestockphotos.biz/stockphoto/5756, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13281242

The official blog for New York State Parks & Historic Sites

%d bloggers like this: