Whether you’re enjoying one of the numerous recreational opportunities of the season, or keeping warm by the cozy fire, one thing is on every New Yorker’s mind- snow! This frigid ice blanket provides more than a slick surface to ski, sled, and snowboard on; it can also create a hazard on our roadways and sidewalks. New York State, along with several other northeastern states, has historically used salt to melt any existing ice, prevent further ice from forming, and improve traction. While this method of salting has greatly improved the safety of our roadways, it has an acute impact on the environment- particularly on New York State’s reputable freshwater lakes, ponds, and streams.
During the washout period of the spring, when snow and ice melt due to increasing outdoor temperatures, residual salts (and other chemicals) wash off of roadways and into our freshwater waterways. In large amounts, these salts can be toxic to aquatic organisms by altering the chemical composition of our waters. Several of our favorite fish, amphibian, and plant species aren’t adapted to these saltier environments, which can lead to substantial changes in the aquatic food web.
Currently, innovative alternatives are being studied to reduce the amount of road salt needed in the winter. This includes the use of granular volcanic material, beet molasses, and fireplace ashes to minimize or even replace road salts. Innovative infrastructure designs, such as pervious (porous) concrete roadways have also been suggested to reduce the amount of water (and ice!) accumulated on street and sidewalk surfaces. These innovative alternatives could ultimately eliminate the need for road salt use during New York’s winters, while still providing safety for drivers and walkers alike!
In order to decrease the environmental impacts of using road salt, while also ensuring the safety of our patrons, NYS Parks adopted a policy to minimize the use of road salt in our parks. By focusing the use of road salt on high-risk park roadways, and using other materials to improve traction (such as sand and gravel), NYS Parks reduces the amount of salt needed, which has further protected our park enthusiasts and our beloved freshwater resources!
Post by Nate Kishbaugh, photos by Dan Munsell and Kate Haggerty.