Hiking the Grasslands of Knox Farm State Park

Knox Farm State Park (Knox), located in East Aurora, is the former country estate of the celebrated Knox family. Seymour H. Knox, founding partner of the F.W. Woolworth Company, purchased the property in the 1890’s to train Standardbred and carriage horses. The Knox family made significant contributions to the business, educational, and cultural legacy of Western New York and owned the property until 2000 when it was sold to the state. Today the park consists of 633 acres, roughly 400 of which are grasslands and 100 acres of woodlots and wetland areas.

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Enjoying one of the many vistas in the park, photo by Claudia Rosen.

The grasslands provide a unique opportunity to enjoy a diversity of life that cannot be found in many other places in Western New York. Visitors can hike, ride horseback, cross-country ski, or snowshoe through the scenic trails. No matter the season, Knox always provides a memorable experience.

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Birding along the grassland trails, photo by Niagara Programs Office.

After the winter thaw, some of the most anticipated yearly arrivals to the park are the boisterous bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks. Both bird species only nest in grasslands and can be found in large numbers throughout the park. Bobolinks breeding in Knox may have migrated from as far away as Argentina, making them the longest migrator of any of the New World passerines, or perching birds! Males perform a captivating display flight making a series of buzzes and whistles that sound like R2-D2 from Star Wars.

Another grassland representative of the park, the eastern meadowlark, is usually heard before it is seen. They can be found along the trails singing their sweet, lazy whistles from atop a fence post or stalk of high grass. Like bobolinks, female eastern meadowlarks build their nests in a small depression on the ground, hidden amongst the tall grasses. Other grassland birds you may encounter are savannah sparrows, field sparrows, and eastern bluebirds.

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Eastern meadowlark, photo by Paul Bigelow

While walking the trails you may also encounter a striking resident of the park, the Baltimore checkerspot  butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton), named for the orange and black colors of George Calvert, the first Lord of Baltimore. The caterpillars of these beautifully marked butterflies can be found in wet areas of the park where they feed on white turtlehead (Chelone glabra). However, they are more frequently encountered along the grassland trails where they make use of English plantain (Plantago lanceolate). Adults can be found nectaring on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and other flowers in the designated butterfly meadow.

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A walk through the grasslands of Knox will always yield an exciting surprise. From incredible vistas to the theatrical display flights of male bobolinks, you’re guaranteed to walk away with a feeling of bliss. All trails in the park are easy to walk and some paths are even paved, making them accessible to all. If you haven’t made a trip to Knox Farm yet, be sure to mark it on your list and enjoy this unique and diverse park.

For those interested in learning more about the grasslands of Knox, guided hikes are offered through the Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office.

Matthew Nusstein, Park Naturalist – Niagara Region

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