Category Archives: Cool Science

Parks Won’t Let Invasive Species Get Its Goat

Invasive plant species are a huge problem in modern conservation at our State Parks. These plants can overrun areas and if left unchecked, push out our native species, disrupt natural systems, and negatively impact human activities.

Controlling large infestations is challenging, and sometimes requires using chemical herbicides, which can come with unforeseen costs and undesirable consequences.

But there can be another way that is easier on the environment. To deal with invasive plants at Heckscher State Park on Long Island, we are experimenting with a greener and much cuter alternative – a small army of hungry and quite friendly invasive plant-eating goats.

A little goat can be a big eater of invasive plants. Goats can eat up to a quarter of their body weight each day.

The goats came from Green Goats, a company from Rhinebeck in Dutchess County that for more than a decade has hired out its goats to combat these invaders at various public parks. Their herd has traveled to seven states, as far away as West Virginia and as close by as Riverside Park and Fort Wadsworth in New York City.

Last year at Heckscher, we released goats into a fenced-in, five-acre site overtaken by an invasive plant called Chinese Silvergrass (Miscanthus sinensis). The goal is for the goats to eat the silvergrass so there will be room for our native plants to again take hold. The goats also have been eating other invasives, including Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica), common reed (Phragmites australis), and Japanese angelica tree (Aralia elata).

Chinese Silvergrass (Photo credit Western New York PRISM)
The hungry herd takes on the Chinese Silvergrass.

However, since goats will eat pretty much everything, we did not want them to eat the handful of native shrubs left in the enclosure, including eastern baccharis (Baccharis halimifolia), highbush blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum), and common elder (Sambucus canadensis). So, we put up fences around these native plants to protect them so that when the goats leave, these shrubs will be able to spread into cleared areas.

Last year, we had a bit of a late start and only received the goats in September, but by the end of the growing season in October, we had 70 goats moving and eating through the area. When the goats left for the season, there was significant thinning of the silvergrass and quite a few individual plants were eaten down to the ground. The goats also ate a lot of the Japanese honeysuckle and, surprisingly, killed several angelica trees by eating their bark. The bark and leaves of the angelica tree are covered in many sharp thorns and spines to dissuade herbivores from eating it, but that didn’t stop the goats, who happily stripped the bark right off the invasive trees!

This year, our goats arrived in June and as of this month, we have 61 goats working in the area with more on the way. We have used a drone to fly over the site to track their progress, and expect to do another flight shortly.

A goat stretches for its meal of Silvergrass.

A hungry goat can eat up to 25 percent of its body weight each day, said Larry Cihanek, owner of Green Goats with his wife, Ann. An adult goat can weigh between 140 to 180 pounds, so that works out to up to 45 pounds of invasive plants a day. For our herd at Heckscher, that is up to 2,700 pounds of plant invaders being eaten every day!

And the goat “droppings” are a good source of nutrients for the soil as well.

“Using goats like this is like mowing your lawn over and over,” said Cihanek. “You keep the goats on site for a season, and they keep eating as the plants continue trying to regrow. But the goats keep eating the new growth and eventually they starve the roots bit by bit, and the plants will die.”

Ann and Larry Cihanek, owners of Green Goats in Rhinebeck, Dutchess County. They have about 200 goats in their herd. (Photo courtesy of Green Goats)

The Cihaneks now have about 200 goats in their herd, with nearly all the animals being donated by former owners who had been using them for milking, for show purposes, or as pets.

“Eight years is about the maximum for milking, but goats can live for 12 to 14 years. So, this is their second career with us,” he said. “Our goats are living the American Dream: They eat for a living.”

In addition to helping project the environment, the goats are also a good way to draw more people into the park. “In some of our past projects, we have seen that attendance at a park can go up by about 20 percent after the goats come in,” said Cihanek.

Officials at Riverside Park in New York City even held a celebration after the goats finished working there this summer, making the goats the stars of a $1,000-a-ticket fundraiser at a lawn party in August. More than 800 people showed up and there was a contest to vote for the most popular goat, with the winner being Massey, who was presented with a medal and an elaborate bouquet of weeds.

Riverside Park President & CEO Dan Garodnick honors Massey at the winner of the public “Vote the G.O.A.T” contest in August. (Photo by Riverside Park Conservancy)

If you would like to see the goats in action, they are staying through October in the eastern section of Heckscher State Park, to the north of the cottages. The Long Island Greenbelt Trail briefly passes a section of the enclosure when it turns westward.

If you see goats with numbered collars, these are the goats that were honored at Riverside Park.

The goats are quite friendly and like being petted. But please, stay outside the fence and do not feed the goats. They are already surrounded by all the food they need!

A Parks visitor encounter with one of the Green Goats.

All photographs by New York State Parks unless otherwise credited.


Post by Yuriy Litvinenko, New York State Parks Regional Biologist for Long Island

Big Hopes for Little “Army” in Parks’ Fight against Hemlock Invaders

As the third most common tree in New York, hemlocks fill our forests and are found in many New York State Parks. Located along hiking trails, streams, gorges, campsites, and lake shores, the evergreens can live to be hundreds of years old, providing vital ecosystem services and supporting unique habitats.

In addition to providing homes and food for many forest creatures, hemlocks also keep fresh water resources cool and clean by moderating water temperature and acting as a natural filtration system along streams. Since hemlocks are such a critical component of eastern forests, they are known as a “foundation species.”

Hemlocks in New York have been under attack by an invasive forest insect pest that originated from southern Japan, the hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA), which after being found in Virginia in the 1950s has spread to kill untold millions of hemlocks from Georgia to Maine.

Hemlock Woolly Adelgid infestation in the Eastern U.S. (U.S. Forest Service)

Adelgids are tiny insects that insert piercing-sucking mouthparts into hemlock twigs, causing damage to woody tissue that inhibits water and nutrients from reaching emerging hemlock buds. This limits the growth of new twigs and eventually kills the tree.

First detected in New York in the 1980s, the insects have spread through the Hudson Valley, Catskills, Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions. Infested hemlocks can be found at state parks including Harriman, Minnewaska, Taughannock Falls, Watkins Glen, Letchworth, and Allegany.

At about 6/100ths of an inch long, the flightless adelgids are hard to spot, but in the winter through early summer leave distinctive white “woolly” egg masses on hemlock twigs. In an infestation, developing buds are killed first, then in a few years, the weakened tree loses its needles and dies.

Left, a dead hemlock after being killed by HWA. Right, a healthy tree.
A map of New York State towns and counties where HWA had been found in the Hudson Valley, Capital Region, and Southern Tier by 2017. The HWA has yet to move into the Adirondacks or the Tug Hill Plateau. (State Department of Environmental Conservation)

The threat posed by HWA is dire, especially since the state’s ecosystems lack natural controls _ known as biocontrols _ such as predators or tree resistance that could fend off some infestations and avert widespread hemlock destruction.

Currently, insecticide treatments are our only sure option for saving trees, but trees must be treated on an individual basis, so it can be costly or impractical to treat large swaths of hemlocks. In parks with thousands of trees and important or rare ecosystems to protect, biocontrol is the only solution to counter a pest like HWA.

But biocontrol against the invading adelgid may be on the way. It is the form of a small dark beetle and a small silvery fly, nicknamed “Little Lari” (Laricobius nigrinus) and “Little Leuc” (Leucopis spp.), respectively, by researchers at the New York State Hemlock Initiative at Cornell University.

Led by forest entomologist Mark Whitmore, the program operates a biocontrol lab researching the introduction of HWA predators throughout New York, hoping to protect hemlock trees by slowing the spread of adelgids into new areas.

The NYSHI collects these predators in the Pacific Northwest where HWA is native and has many predators controlling population growth so the hemlocks are not damaged. The collected beetles and flies are shipped to the quarantine facility at Cornell  to be certain none of the western adelgids are accidentally introduced into New York with the predators.

Knowing where to release these “good bugs” can be a challenge, but we are helped in this by State Parks staff, who provide critical data from ground surveys to find emerging infestations, assess potential biocontrol sites, and monitor for whether the biocontrol insects are thriving and growing in their new homes.


Read this post in the State Parks blog by Abigail Pierson, state Parks Forest Health Specialist, to learn how crews search for and document the presence of HWA.


Since 2009, the Cornell initiative has released more than 4,500 Laricobius beetles in State Parks including Harriman in Rockland County, Letchworth in Wyoming County, Mine Kill in Schoharie County, and Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls, and Robert H. Treman in Tompkins County. Additionally, parks staff at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Ulster County helped survey for Laricobius beetle establishment, and mapped hemlocks to help identify hemlocks stands and prioritize HWA surveys in the park. 

Since 2015, when Leucopis silver fly releases began, researchers have released more than 3,300 flies at several state park sites including Taughannock Falls and Buttermilk Falls state parks in Tompkins County.

“Little Lari” (Laricobius nigrinus) (New York State Hemlock Initiative)
“Little Leuc” (Leucopis spp.) (New York State Hemlock Initiative)

While there has been no evidence of the biocontrol bugs suppressing HWA populations on a large scale, it takes time for predator populations to build. There has been recovery of Laricobius beetles at some sites, indicating establishment. By continuing to release more “Little Laris” and “Little Leucs” to bolster those established populations, we will be able to build on that initial success.

The list of parks that have reported HWA infestations is growing, especially in the Capital Region. Thacher State Park in the Capital Region reported adelgid infestations in 2017 and while insecticide treatments reduced the local problem, the insects continue to threaten the Adirondacks, which so far remains uninfested.

In State Parks, preventing dead trees from injuring park visitors or damaging park infrastructure including campsites and trails is crucial. Additionally, preventing the loss of a critical foundation tree species in forest habitats is another major priority.

Park visitors can play an active role in slowing the spread of the adelgid in New York by keeping an eye on hemlocks. Reporting any infestations that you find provides researchers and land managers with invaluable data for improving our management efforts.



How You Can Help

If you believe you have found HWA:

  • Take pictures of the infestation signs (include something for scale such as a coin or ruler).
  • Note the location (intersecting roads, landmarks or GPS coordinates).
  • Fill out the hemlock woolly adelgid survey form.
  • Email report and photos to Department of Environmental Conservation Forest Health foresthealth@dec.ny.gov or call the Forest Health Information Line at 1-866-640-0652.
  • Contact your local Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM) by visiting http://www.nyis.info/.
  • Report the infestation at iMapInvasives.
  • Slow the spread of HWA in our forests by cleaning equipment or gear after it has been near an infestation, and by leaving infested material where it was found.

The New York State Hemlock Initiative has produced a variety of educational videos on the threat posed to hemlocks by the HWA.


Cover Photo: A hemlock branch showing the woolly white egg masses of Hemlock Woolly Adelgid. (New York State Department of Environmental Conservation)


Post by Charlotte Malmborg, Education and Outreach Technician, New York State Hemlock Initiative, Cornell University Dept. of Natural Resources

The Glory of Goldenrod

With fall almost here, now is the perfect time to enjoy the brilliant goldenrods and discover the array of interesting insects that visit them. There are many different kinds of goldenrod, but most are late-bloomers that don’t come into full bloom until late summer and fall.

Goldenrod continues blooming until the frost, which in New York ranges from late September to October, depending on location. As one of the few groups of wildflowers in peak flower at this time, many insects depend on these plants for food, feasting on the nectar and pollen.

There are more than two dozen species of goldenrod native to New York State. They are a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) and most are in the Genus Solidago, but a few are in the Genus Euthamia and Oligoneuron. All but one species are deep golden yellow (silverrod, Solidago bicolor is white), with hundreds of tiny flowers making up the “inflorescence” or flower head.

If you are interested in learning more about insects, this is one of the easiest ways to get an up-close look at all different kinds.

Giant or swamp goldenrod (Solidago gigantea) is very showy and grows up to seven feet tall. Common eastern bumble bee (Bombus impatiens, shown here) is the most common bumble bee in New York State and the species you are most likely to see feeding on the tiny golden flowers.

You can find goldenrods in a variety of habitats from roadsides, fields, alongside open trails and bike paths, in the dunes of the ocean and Great Lakes shores, and on rocky summits. In almost every State Park you can find goldenrods, and perhaps you will discover you have some in your backyard, neighborhood garden or vacant lots.

State Park’s pollinator habitat initiative has also helped create areas for goldenrods, asters, milkweeds and native grasses by reducing mowing along some roadsides and fields


Common flat-topped goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia) growing with boneset (Eupatorium sp.) in a coastal grassland at Heckscher State Park.

Many insects are attracted to the goldenrod flowers. Take a close look and be patient. You may find a variety of bees from bumble bees, carpenter bees, tiny mason bees and sweat bees. On a cool morning, the insects are often a bit sluggish which means they are less likely to fly away while you get in close. In fact, in morning or evenings, look for bumblebees sleeping upside-down under the goldenrod flower branches!

Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is among the species with a tidy cone-shaped top, this one complete with sleeping bumble bees.

Beetles are another common visitor, like the ladybugs, lightening and flower beetles. Perhaps you will find an inch-worm or another kind of caterpillar.

A close-up look at the goldenrod flowers and one of a species of long-horned flower beetles.

On sunny days, goldenrod patches are a good place to watch for butterflies like painted lady, monarch and viceroy across the state. On the coast, large numbers of monarch butterflies follow the path of the seaside goldenrod that grows in abundance on the dunes and upper edges of the beach. Without this vast food supply, many of those monarchs would not survive their long journey of up to 3,000 miles.

A Monarch butterfly feeding on seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens).
Seaside goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), common at state parks like Orient Point, Jones Beach, Napeague and Hither Hills in Long Island, is a key food source for Monarch butterflies migrating south along the Atlantic coast on the way to wintering grounds in Mexico.

In addition to protecting the habitats where goldenrod thrives in the wild, this hardy perennial can also be a beautiful and important part of a pollinator garden or habitat, where birds and small mammals also benefit from the seeds. If you want to add some to your garden or landscape, some plant nurseries carry them, but check the New York Flora Atlas to make sure that the species is native to New York state and not listed as rare or invasive in New York.

Learning to appreciate goldenrods is a great way to support a whole suite of native flora and fauna.


Resources:

NY Flora Atlas http://newyork.plantatlas.usf.edu  (search for Solidago or Euthamia)

GoBotany (a good source plant identification) https://gobotany.nativeplanttrust.org

Check out the other pollinator blogs at NY State Parks Blog too.

Post and photos by Julie Lundgren, New York Natural Heritage Program (nynhp.org)

21st century technology Recreates 18th century Luxury

When Alexander Hamilton was married at Schuyler family mansion in Albany, the residence was a pinnacle of style in Colonial America.

Home to one of the region’s richest families, the Georgian-styled mansion was decorated with luxurious wallpaper, rich fabrics, and even an ornamental papier maché ceiling that had been custom made and imported from England around 1760.

This ornate ceiling graced the mansion’s Best Parlor, where Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler in December 1780, as the Revolutionary War raged into its fifth year.

Alexander Hamilton and his wife, Elizabeth Schuyler. The couple have new-found popularity from the successful Broadway musical play Hamilton. Source: Friends of Schuyler Mansion

To get his decorative ceiling, Philip Schuyler had simply selected designs from a catalog, provided room dimensions with his order and a complete ceiling was shipped ready to install.  Schuyler could have chosen from birds, flowers, shells, moldings, festoons, musical instruments — images that represented his interests and image.

This was not made with the papier maché that people might recall making in school — no newspaper and white glue. This was cotton rag pulp and papier maché that was mixed with water into a oatmeal-like slurry, and then pressed into a variety of hand-carved wooden molds to dry and set. 

The resulting super-light and slightly flexible ornaments were inexpensive to ship and easy to install. After a little glue and few tacks to set the ornaments in place, a ceiling was ready for painting.   Once done, it gave a stylish look similar to more expensive plaster ornamentation.

During the years, the parlor ceiling at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site was removed and lost for reasons unknown. But Historic Site Manager Heidi Hill wanted it back after part of efforts to restore mansion for its 100th anniversary as a State Historic Site. 

The challenge to the Peebles Island-based Bureau of Historic Site and Park Services, part of the NY State Parks Division for Historic Preservation, was how to recreate something that has not been commercially produced in 150 years.

Making new hand-carved molds was out of the question; it would take too much time and cost too much money.

However, the team at State Parks had an amazing resource — an existing, rare and wonderful example of a mid-18th century papier maché ceiling at the Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers, Westchester County. This mansion has the only complete surviving example of this type of ceiling in the United States.  

However, this ceiling was too significant and too fragile to risk being damaged by the pressure and stress of taking contact from a traditional mold. This is where laser-based, 3D imaging technology came to the rescue.

In a pioneering project, State Parks partnered with Ithaca College’s Physics and Astronomy Department and the Friends of Schuyler Mansion to have the Philipse Manor Hall ceiling 3D scanned by portable laser units that fire pulses of light up to one million times a second. Light is then reflected back to a receiver, which measures how long the light took to return, using the data to create high-resolution scans that captured details down to 100 microns or 4/1,000th of an inch.

Headed by Professor Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers, the Ithaca College team 3D scanned nearly the entire interior and exterior of the historic Philipse Manor Hall, said Charles Casimiro, an historic site assistant there.

Professor Michael “Bodhi” Rogers, right, with Ithaca College students Evan van de Wall and Ryan Fedora, using laser scanner at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.

“This effort for Schuyler Mansion was a very exciting project to work on … we were using this technology to do something that had never been done before,” said Rogers, who recently became the new chairman of the Physics Department at the University of Colorado at Denver.

It took three visits to Philipse Manor Hall between 2015 and 2017 to get all the scans, he said. With the newest scanner, students could use a hand-held device, wave it around the room and watch the image on the computer as it filled in, “kind of like painting with your hand,” said Rogers.

Ithaca College student Demitri Hector sets up a laser scanner at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers.
Lasers scan a ceiling bust of Sir Issac Newton. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi’ Rogers
The scans are rendered into an image on the computer. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.
Ithaca College student Kevin Pomer uses a hand-held scanner on the ceiling at Philipse Manor Hall. Courtesy of Michael “Bodhi” Rogers.

In 2015, Rogers’ team also 3D scanned the Grant Cottage State Historic Site in Wilton.

The scanning of Grant’s Cottage, where Civil War General Ulysses S. Grant spent the final six weeks of his life writing his memoirs, is now being used to help protect the 1870s structure from fire, said Ben Kemp, site manager for the Friends of Grant Cottage. He said the data is being used to help design a modern fire detection and suppression system.

Rogers said this kind of scanning technology also will help in the rebuilding of fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, which was scanned in 2015.

When the laser scans at Philipse Manor Hall were completed, State Parks had computer images that revealed every paint brush stroke, age crack and tiny detail on the manor’s 250-year-old ceiling, which features images of lute players, bagpipers and singers, as well as busts of Sir Isaac Newton and poet Alexander Pope .

A drawing based on the 3D laser scan of the ornate ceiling design at Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site

To reproduce this ceiling in Schuyler Mansion, the original idea was to use the scans for a 3D printer to create each unique ornament in plastic. The Bureau of Historic Sites would then use traditional molding and casting methods to make new molds, which would then be used to produce the papier maché ornaments.

But Rogers’ team then figured out how to use the 3D imagery to create computer commands for the State Parks printer to instead make the concave molds used to receive the papier maché .  A total of 55 unique molds were needed to recreate the Philipse Manor ceiling.  

These molds were printed in Peebles Island’s Architectural Conservation lab at the Bureau of Historic Sites & Park Services. A printer works using a spool of bioplastic filament, which is heated into a liquid and then fed through a printer head that created the molds layer by layer.

State Parks Architectural Conservator Erin Moroney making molds on a 3D printer at her Peebles Island offices.

Many molds were too large to fit the printer bed, and so were digitally rendered into smaller pieces and then physically welded together later with a high-temperature 3D pen.  

With molds ready, we started making papier maché. Traditional cotton rag papier pulp was pressed  into the molds and the water squeezed out  with large sponges. 

A section of papier maché ornament with its mold.

More than 300 pieces were cast to make the ceiling, using over 500 pounds of paper pulp. The edges of each casting were hand trimmed. Each piece of ornament was then primed and boxed up for installation.

More than 98 percent of the ceiling was installed by three State Parks staffers in under a week. Hot glue was used to adhere the ornament to the ceiling. The ornament edges were then caulked where necessary and the entire ceiling painted. Once finished, the ornamental ceiling now looks like it has always been there.

Now installed at Philip Schuyler Mansion, this is only the second complete papier maché ceiling in the Unite States.

Erin Moroney and Bill VonAtzingen install the new ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
Erin Moroney paints the new ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
Bill VonAtzingen, a State Parks restoration carpenter, paints papier maché ornaments for installation.
See the complete process, from 3D printing of molds, to installation of the ceiling.
A detail from the ceiling at Philip Schuyler Mansion.
A 360-degree view of the restored ceiling.

Over the next few weeks the Parlor also received a crystal chandelier, an imported English loomed carpet and new custom-made drapes. The result is amazing.  For the first time in over a century—the grandeur of the Best Parlor is restored to the time of the Hamilton wedding, from the floor to the ceiling.

Philip Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site.

Post by Erin E. Moroney, architectural conservator, Bureau of Historic Site & Park Services.

Seneca Lake surrenders its watery secrets

The cold, dark depths of Seneca Lake are revealing a rare glimpse of the state’s early maritime history to a high-tech research vessel as it finds long-lost shipwrecks in the deepest of the Finger Lakes.

Armed with a multibeam sonar array, researchers from Middlebury College and the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum are producing accurate three-dimensional images of the bottom that also pinpoint wrecks from Seneca’s heyday of commercial canal shipping nearly two centuries ago.

Starting in late June, the Research Vessel David Folger was based in the newly-rebuilt marina at Sampson State Park for a two-week survey, headed by Thomas Manley, an assistant geology professor at Middlebury College, and Art Cohn, co-founder and director emeritus of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.

The crew of the David Folger at Sampson State Park at the start of the two-week survey.

Called bathymetric mapping, the team’s work is providing valuable insights into an era when canals drove the state’s economy. The mission is being supported through a $15,000 grant from NYS Parks Historic Preservation Office and also by the NYS Canal Corp.

“On our first day on Seneca Lake, we found several shipwrecks,” said Cohn, pointing at a color-coded computer display that showed the crisp outline of one such vessel on the bottom. After a sighting, researchers sent down an unmanned, remote-operated vessel (ROV) to video, identify and document the scene.

“The vessels being found are intact ships, many with cargo, that have not been seen for more than 150 years,” he said.

Art Cohn speaks at the dedication of the new Sampson State Park marina.

Multibeam sonar works by sending sound waves in a fan shape into the water beneath a ship’s hull. The amount of time it takes sound waves to bounce off the bottom and return to a shipboard receiver is used to determine depth, with that data then used to produce detailed, color-coded maps.

These findings add to the eight shipwrecks located during a preliminary survey by the team in summer of 2018. So far, that brings the total number of confirmed shipwrecks to 14, with more potential finds still being analyzed, said Cohn.

A 3D multibeam sonar scan of the Seneca Lake bottom clearly shows the outline of a shipwreck. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
The clear outline of a shipwreck. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
Once a potential shipwreck is located, a remote-operated vessel (ROV) with a video camera is sent down to investigate. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report

The David Folger mapping project also will update lake navigation maps that date to the 1870s, when depth measurements were taken from ships by crews who dropped a lead weight from a metal chain into the lake until it hit bottom.

The newly-discovered Seneca Lake wrecks are canal boats that date from the mid-1820s to the 1850s, after the opening of the Erie Canal and construction the 20-mile Cayuga-Seneca Canal in helped make the lake part of the “superhighway” of the era.

The Erie (1825), Chemung (1833) and Crooked Lake (1833) canals helped make the lake commercially accessible from north, south and west, with hundreds of canal boats each year plying the 38-mile lake carrying cargoes of corn, coal, lumber, whiskey and other goods. But winds and storms on Seneca Lake posed a threat to such lake traffic, sometimes sending canal vessels to the bottom.

Canal traffic was a common sight on Seneca Lake from the 1820s to the 1850s. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
The 38-mile lake is the longest and deepest of the Finger Lakes. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report

Seneca Lake is up to 625 feet deep, and water temperature at such depths is in the mid- to low-30s, said Cohn, making it the perfect low-oxygen environment for preserving wooden shipwrecks. In the ocean, salt water and aquatic organisms quickly corrode such wrecks

“The shipwrecks in Seneca Lake are in many way time capsules of the 19th century,” said Mark Peckham, a former maritime history expert with State Parks and now a trustee with the Hudson River Maritime Museum in Kingston.  “I dove on some wrecks in the 1990s and was struck by their state of preservation.  Some still had glass in their cabin windows and household items remaining inside.”

Underwater images taken by the David Folger of a sunken canal vessel. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
The bow of a sunken canal vessel. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report

“These discoveries are especially significant as we are in the midst of the 200th anniversary of the construction of the NYS canal system.  2025 will mark the anniversary of the opening of the Erie Canal,” said Peckham. “More than anything else, the canals of the 1820s spurred economic development, settled broad swaths of the state, made New York State first in population and made the port of New York one of the greatest shipping ports in the world.  

The David Folger reached the lake from its home port on Lake Champlain by taking the Champlain, Erie and Cayuga-Seneca canals in the New York State Canal System.

The multibeam sonar array aboard the David Folger also allows researchers to understand the composition of the ground beneath the bottom of Seneca Lake, said Manley. Those sub-bottom images look almost like a slice through a layer cake.

Some images might offer clues into a long-running lake mystery _ the source of mysterious booming noises that seemingly come from the water itself. The sounds have been known locally as Seneca Guns, Lake Drums or Lake Guns.

One modern theory is that such sounds might be caused by the sudden collapse and depressurization of caverns or tunnels underneath the lake, which has a history of salt mining being done around and beneath it.

Middlebury College researcher Thomas Manley explains underwater mapping imagery to NYS Parks Police Capt. Michael Daddona

Manley pointed to a lake bottom image that shows such potential collapses _ a nearly-circular depression that is some 40 feet deep, and another such depression nearby that is shaped like a horseshoe.

As Seneca Lake shipwrecks are located, they will be protected as public resources under the Federal Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987. All shipwrecks located under this survey’s permit issued by the New York State Museum will be reported to the Museum and integrated into the state’s archaeological inventory.

Said Peckham, “These sites are subject to environmental degradation, such as silt deposit, erosion, organic deterioration, and the effects of mussel encrustation, and human intrusions like anchoring, diver handling, theft of artifacts, and construction of bulkheads, marinas, pipelines, and cable crossings. The latter threats can be addressed through improved public education and interpretation, law enforcement and by providing appropriate submerged heritage diving sites that foster and support responsible recreation and tourism.”

In Lake Erie, recreational diving on such historic wrecks has proved to be a popular tourist attraction. That could make Sampson State Park’ s rebuilt $7.5 million marina the perfect jumping-off point for such trips.

But not all mysteries have been uncovered yet _ researchers aboard the David Folger spotted no trace of potential relatives of a mythical Seneca Lake sea monster that was supposedly deliberately run over by the captain of a steamboat in 1899, according to a Rochester newspaper account at the time… But stay tuned.

A newspaper headline on the alleged monster encounter. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report
An artist imagines the legendary beast. Source: Seneca Lake Archaeological Survey 2018 Final Report

Posted by Brian Nearing, NYS Parks deputy public information officer