The Ganondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY boasts a historically accurate 17th century longhouse and will be opening a new Seneca Art and Culture Center this fall. However, there is a hidden gem at this historic site that not many realize exists! It is the Grassland Management Area at the corner of Boughton Hill Road and School Road which covers around 80 acres (over 60 football fields!) and is one of the most intriguing interpretive areas at the site!
In 2009 OPRHP restored 67.4 acres of the Grassland Management Area to represent oak opening communities in both plant composition and spatial arrangement. The Grassland Management Area has since spread to fill around 80 acres with the native plants seeded back in 2009.
The idea behind creating an oak opening came from Ganondagan’s past. Journal entries from French and English visitors to the site in the mid to late 1600’s described the landscape they saw when visiting the flourishing Seneca town of Ganondagan. Their descriptions of oak openings were used to create a scene that can transport the viewer back in time to when the Seneca were living at Ganondagan 400 years ago!
Oak openings are fire-dependent savannahs (grasslands) dominated by oak trees and are rare ecological areas, especially in upstate New York. The oak opening created at Ganondagan consists of warm-season grasses (grasses that thrive in the heat of the summer), wildflowers and large oak trees along the surrounding wood edge. Spring fire management promotes lush growth of warm-season grasses and oak trees. Controlled fires also suppress grassland succession (gradual changes in plant species in an ecosystem), provide fertilizer in the form of plant ash, reducing plant height to allow sunlight to reach new (young) plants and hinder the development of invasive species. The fire management of oak openings such as the Grassland Management Area have historically maintained their species composition mainly due to wildfires, to utilize this historic management technique OPRHP will be conducting a prescribed burn. A prescribed burn is a well-planned fire managed by trained firefighting professionals with specific plans in place to keep smoke high and away from the public.
Proper permits and permissions have been received for OPRHP staff to conduct a prescribed burn at the Grassland Management Area in spring of 2016. The burn will cover 20 acres in the first year and help maintain the plant communities of the Grassland Management Area that are representative of the Town of Ganondagan in the 17th century.
When you visit Ganondagan’s oak opening, look for native plants include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), tall white beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), smooth blue aster (Aster laevis), New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), zigzag aster (Aster prenanthoides), and Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum).
Throughout the year, the grassland at Ganondagan are a delight to visit. In spring, it is a lush open area of low, green grasses where chirps and buzzes can be heard above anything else. In the late summer it transforms itself into a beautiful 8-foot tall wonderland of wildflowers and golden brown grasses with different seed head patterns, where you can watch even the slightest of breezes wave through all 80 acres!
Post by Whitney Carleton, OPRHP. Photos by Whitney Carleton and Alexis Van Winkle, OPRHP.