All posts by New York State Parks

Take a Friend Snowmobiling Day

Want to learn how you can explore New York’s more than 10,000 miles of snowmobile trails this winter? The New York State Snowmobile Association and Grafton Trail Blazers snowmobile club are teaming up with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation at the Grafton Lakes State Park 30th Annual Winter Festival Saturday, January 24th, for “Take a Friend Snowmobiling” day.  The event is a demonstration of the basics of snowmobile operation and ownership.

The New York State snowmobile trail system crisscrosses 45 counties through woods, fields, towns and our State Parks.  Snowmobiling is a fun, family-friendly way to enjoy winter scenery and wildlife, especially for those with physical conditions or disabilities preventing more strenuous activities like skiing and snowshoeing.  The “Take a Friend Snowmobiling” event is a great introduction to the sport for new riders or reintroduction for those who haven’t been on a snowmobile in years, and an opportunity for current snowmobilers to meet and share their interests.

Representatives from the New York State Parks Snowmobile Unit, the State Snowmobile Association, and the Grafton Trail Blazers snowmobile club will be on hand to answer all of your snowmobiling questions and provide short demonstration rides, conditions permitting.

The event will be held at the playground near the main parking lot from 11:00am to 3:00pm.  Necessary equipment will be provided, but participants are urged to dress appropriately for outdoor weather conditions.  Anyone age 16 and older is welcome to join (if conditions permit snowmobile operation, youth ages 16-17 must have a valid safety certificate to operate). Another “Take a Friend Snowmobiling” event will be held at Delta Lake State Park on February 8th, with more details to be announced.

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Jim MacFarland and Bennett Campbell from the OPRHP Snowmobiling Unit hit the trails near Old Forge.

Click here to view the full Winter Festival schedule of events.

Click here for more information on other Take a Friend Snowmobiling events. 

Click here to visit the NYS Parks website for more information about snowmobiling in New York, including a free Snowmobiler’s Guide.

NYSOPRHP recommends all snowmobilers attend a certified New York State snowmobiling safety course, and never drink & ride!

Post by Bennett Campbell, photo by John Rozell.

Deciphering Winter Animal Tracks

Have you ever come across animal tracks in fresh snow? Deciphering the mystery of what types of animals inhabit the places we visit can be a fascinating, and relatively simple task if you have some basic knowledge of animal gaits and patterns.

First, it is important to keep in mind that snow conditions can make a significant difference in the way that a track looks. For example, a print may appear quite clear in wet snow, whereas prints in drier, powder-like snow may be harder to analyze because they are not as clearly defined.

The next step is to think critically about the gait of the animal; the manner in which it walks or moves. There are four types of gaits that most animals employ throughout their daily (and in many cases, nightly) activities.

The first type of gait is the most common – the walk. Animal tracks left behind by a walk show alternating evenly spaced prints in parallel rows with a short stride and wide straddle. The second type of gait is the trot.  When an animal is trotting, each hind foot moves at the same time as the opposite front foot. As the animal’s speed increases, the prints are spaced farther and farther apart. Next, we have the gallop, which is the swiftest form of movement for a mammal. Because an animal must expend a significant amount of energy to gallop, it usually won’t employ this method of movement for very long unless it is being chased by a predator. The straddle of a gallop is much smaller than that of a trot or a walk. Lastly, jumping is the most energy consuming gait. During jumping, there is at least one stage where all four feet leave the ground entirely.  Examples of jumping animals include squirrels and rabbits.

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Above: Squirrel tracks feature four toes on the front feet and five on the back, with claws visible. When squirrels run, their back feet land in front of their front feet, so this track is evidence that this squirrel was running. This print was left in shallow wet snow, hence the distinct print outline.
Above: Snowshoe hare tracks have a clear Y-shaped pattern because the back feet always land in front of the front feet and are 2-4 times longer. This print was left in deep powder-like snow, making it more difficult to identify. Snowshoe hare have large feet proportionate to their body size so that they do not sink into the snow, hence their name.
Above: Snowshoe hare tracks have a clear Y-shaped pattern because the back feet always land in front of the front feet and are 2-4 times longer. This print was left in deep powder-like snow, making it more difficult to identify. Snowshoe hare have large feet proportionate to their body size so that they do not sink into the snow, hence their name.

In addition to determining the gait of the animal whose print you are examining, the shape of the track helps to identify what family or group of critter you are dealing with. For example, tracks from animals in the cat family are roundish and show four toes on both the back and front feet.  You won’t see any claw marks on cat prints because cats walk with their claws retracted. Members of the dog family (coyotes and foxes) leave prints with four toes showing on both the back and front feet. You can distinguish these prints from those of the cat family because the print is less rounded, and claw prints are typically visible. Deer tracks are prevalent throughout the state and are easy to identify. These prints are heart-shaped with a line down the middle. Moose tracks are similar in appearance; however they are considerably larger in size. Tracks from members of the rodent family as well as the weasel family can vary widely. Reference the key below for help with these types of tracks.

Above: Key for identifying animal tracks. These are just some of the tracks you may encounter in New York State Parks and Historic Sites.
 Above: This is a deer trail through the woods. The area with exposed leaves is evidence of foraging activity, where the animal was likely in search of acorns, beech nuts or evergreen foliage to feed on.

Above: This is a deer trail through the woods. The area with exposed leaves is evidence of foraging activity, where the animal was likely in search of acorns, beech nuts or evergreen foliage to feed on.

Watch this video produced by our friends at the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to learn more analyzing winter animal tracks and winter wildlife viewing:

Information sourced from the New York State Conservationist (February 2001).

Post by Megan Phillips, photos by Lilly Schelling (OPRHP).

Ice is Nice!

In winter, New York’s gorges and waterfalls turn into frozen ice sculptures that are no less beautiful than their summertime counterparts. These pictures of frozen waterfalls at Thacher State Park are iconic of New York’s natural beauty at any time of the year. Don’t let the cold and snow keep you cooped up inside all winter long. Thacher, and many of our other state parks in New York, offers wonderful opportunities for outdoor recreation, including hiking and snowshoeing.

First Day Hikes

There’s no time like the present to incorporate a new tradition into your holiday celebration! New York State Parks will be hosting more than two dozen “First Day Hikes” on New Year’s Day at Parks and Historic Sites ranging all the way from Long Island to the Thousand Islands to Western New York. This effort is a part of a nationwide initiative to connect children and families to the outdoors.  To date, over 400 hikes have been scheduled across the country!

Parks on Long Island, including Montauk Point State Park and Jones Beach State Park, will host beach hikes to explore marine geology as well as observe varies species of winter birds.  Participants will also have the chance to observe up to four different species of wintering seals that are common near Long Island this time of year, including the grey seal, harp seal, ringed seal, and hooded seal.

Moreau State Park Snowshoe Hike

Above: Snowshoeing at Moreau Lake State Park.

If you live in the Buffalo area, be sure to pay a visit to New York’s newest State Park, Buffalo Harbor! This “First Day Hike” will feature a 2-mile route along the Gallagher Beach Bike Path, with views of the historic waterfront, towering grain elevators, shipping ports, and the Buffalo River Lighthouse. Participants are encouraged to bring cross-country skis if there is snow on the ground.

No matter which hike you choose, “First Day” hikers can expect to be surrounded by the tranquil beauty of our State Parks in wintertime, with views and lookout points unimpeded by dense foliage. Hikers are advised to dress in warm layers, bring appropriate footwear or snowshoes/skis and water for your group. Most hikes range from one to three miles in length.

Click here for a complete listing of “First Day Hike” events and registration instructions.

Post by Megan Phillips. Photo by John Rozell.


Camera Trapping

Camera trapping is one of the methods scientists use to keep track of wildlife in New York’s parks. To set a trap, researchers place a hidden camera in a location where an animal is likely to pass by, and sometimes they even leave bait to make the trap extra enticing. The bait in all these photographs is road-killed deer salvaged under permit for this purpose. At NYS Parks, we use infrared-sensing cameras. When an animal passes in front of the camera, the infrared-sensor is activated and the camera snaps a pic. Later, the researcher comes back to the camera to find out what he or she “captured” on film. In this way, researchers can observe and survey wildlife without frightening them or interfering with their natural behavior. It’s also one of the best ways to find out if certain rare, nocturnal, or particularly shy animals are living in our parks, such as bobcats, which are rarely sighted in the daytime.

This trap at Harriman State Park (Rockland and Orange Counties) was set up where golden eagles had been sighted in winter, 2013. We were thrilled to discover that we captured not only the golden eagle, but a coyote and bobcat as well! The observations of the golden eagle from this camera are being contributed to a database kept by the Appalachian Eagles Project, an effort to survey wintering golden eagles.

These next pictures were taken by the Taconic Outdoor Education Center at Fahnstock State Park for the purpose of better understanding the diversity of wildlife and their behavior. For example, we were surprised to capture an image of a great horned owl in our camera trap, as this species is not known to scavenge for meals. Other animals featured in these photos are turkey vultures, red tail hawk, crows, coyote, bobcat and bald eagle.