Category Archives: Family Fun

Trails Accessible To All

Early October is such a great time for families to get out and enjoy our parks: October skies are generally clear, colorful fall foliage enhances any scenic vista, and the cool fall days encourages all of us to explore the outdoors. State Parks has accessible trails (trails for people with diverse abilities) that all family members can enjoy autumn’s beauty.   If you are looking for an accessible trail to explore this fall, check out one of these trails!

The newest state park in Western New York (WNY) was created with a focus on providing access to the Buffalo waterfront and recreational opportunities for the whole community. In just four years, Buffalo Harbor State Park has become a popular destination with universally accessible shelters, docks, nautical-themed playground, and accessible van parking. The paved multi-use trail with shaded sitting areas and lighting, connects visitors with a beautiful view of Lake Erie and the path along the newly rehabilitated break wall provides one of the best views of the city. Buffalo Harbor is also a stop on the Shoreline Trail and the gateway to the Empire State Trail, the 750 mile trail that connects WNY to New York City along the Erie Canal.

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You never know who you will meet along the trail. At Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site, visitors chat with a War of 1812 reenactor along the trail.

Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail tells the story of Sackets Harbor and the pivotal role it played during the War of 1812 through ten interpretive panels along the three-quarter mile loop trail.  Additional panels highlight other historical aspects of the site including the 1860s Sackets Harbor Navy Yard and the importance of historic preservation. This accessible trail offers views of the 1860s Navy Yard structures, the 1913 War of 1812 Centennial 100-maple tree grove, the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps decorative stonewall, abundant birdlife, and unsurpassed views of Black River Bay on the eastern end of Lake Ontario. The three-quarter mile trail was listed as a National Recreation Trail in 2015.

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High atop Bear Mountain, along a 0.4-mile section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) is a popular trail enables everyone the opportunity to hike along the AT, that famous trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.  From the trail, visitors can see the Hudson Valley and if it is clear, the Catskill Mountains.

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Allegany State Park Red House Wetland Interpretive Trail at sunset.

Allegany State Park’s Red House Wetland interpretive trail, constructed in the fall of 2016, brings visitors right into the heart of a diverse and constantly-changing scrub-shrub wetland located near Red House Lake. With the construction of America Disability Act -compliant boardwalks and crushed stone trails, this overlooked and all but impassable wetland habitat has become a popular destination accessible to all. A large observation deck, wildlife blind, and earthen viewing mound frame beautiful landscape views and offer an up-close look at the plants and animals inhabiting this essential ecosystem. Visitor experience is enhanced by a year-round schedule of educational programs and a collection of interpretive features that emphasize important aspects of wetland biodiversity, ecosystem benefits, stewardship values, and more. Everyone is welcome to visit Red House wetland and experience a landscape that can change practically overnight…you never know what you’ll see!

If you are looking to explore the shore, then check out either the boardwalk and the bike path at Jones Beach State Park.  An entry to the five-mile bike path is on the east side of the park’s East Bathhouse parking lot.  The path travels along Zach Bay, where you can pause to watch the boats in the bay, look for migrating birds, and listen to chirping crickets.  If you are looking for an ocean view, then head over to the Jones Beach Boardwalk, a two-mile boardwalk on the beach.  There are two entrances to the boardwalk one in Field 1, the other in Field 6.

Before you head out, check out our trail tips.

State Park offer safe and enjoyable places to explore and discover New York’s great outdoors throughout the year. venture out and experience the vast network of trails across the state in every season. Don’t miss out on one of the best times to visit. Enjoy State Parks trails this fall.

Additional Resources

Accessibility in New York State Parks

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Bear Mountain State Park Accessible Trail

Be a Voyageur!

Since the 1980s, there has been a 36-foot long, 16 passenger (plus two staff), fiberglass Voyageur canoe at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center in Wellesley Island State Park. No one really knows where the canoe came from or exactly what year it arrived, but there are a few stories told about its origins.  Some say there used to be five Voyageur canoes located in parks along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario and some say the canoe was made by NYS Parks’ employees.  Ultimately, the mystery of its origin is part of its mystique.  What they will say is that every summer for about the last 30 years park visitors and Nature Center staff have headed out on daily trips in our canoe to learn about the history of the Voyageurs and to explore the ecology of Eel Bay, the Narrows, and Escanaba Bay.

Voyageur canoe trips leave the Nature Center docks at 9 am and return at 11 am, but there is plenty for staff to do before anyone ever steps foot into the boat.  If it has rained, staff must bail the canoe and dry the wooden seats for passengers.

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Novice voyageurs head out on their first journey, photo by State Parks.

They also move the boat into place on the docks so it is ready for the day.  When that day’s voyageurs come down to the dock house they are fitted with personal floatation devices (PFD’s) and paddles while being taught about the fundamentals of paddling before heading out to the canoe.  Loading the canoe with passengers can be quite tricky, as people who are likely to be stronger paddlers must be strategically positioned in the boat and the canoe must be balanced on the water to safely leave the docks.  Once the canoe is balanced and its passengers comfortable, staff jump in at the bow (front) and stern (back) and slowly steer the boat out into Eel Bay.

The staff member sitting at the bow of the boat begins the interpretation as the large boat gets underway.  They talk about how the canoe weighs 1,000 pounds empty and how it is made of fiberglass.  As the passengers paddle, they discuss the importance of Eel Bay as a large, shallow water bay on the St. Lawrence.  Then conversation shifts to the Voyageurs who were part of the French fur trading companies that existed in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The interpreter weaves a tale about the adventures Voyageurs had as they transported furs, predominately beaver, from Montreal to trading posts along the shores of Lake Superior.  As the boat rounds the sharp turn into the Narrows passengers learn what a day in the life of a Voyageur was like, from what they ate to how they were paid.  The staff member sitting in the stern who has been quietly working to steer the boat will ease it to a stop as the canoe coasts into Escanaba Bay.  Passengers will spend a little time admiring the plentiful water lilies that dot the bay before reversing course and heading back towards the Nature Center.  On the return trip to our docks, some time is dedicated to floating along in silence, taking in the sights and sounds of the majestic St. Lawrence River.

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Pat and Aziel Snyder standing next to the newly restored Voyageur canoe. Doesn’t it look beautiful? Photo by State Parks.

The canoe had begun to show its age in recent years but last winter Pat Snyder of River Restorations, a local boat restoration company, beautifully restored it to top condition.  A few sections of the gunnels were replaced, the gunnels and seats sanded down and refinished, the seats reinforced to help prevent deflection when people are stepping into the boat, and the fiberglass shell was repainted.  The canoe once again looks majestic and is ready to go out on the water!

Each July and August, look for the return of our sleek Voyageur canoe to the Nature Center’s dock.  For just $4 (anyone over 13) or $2 (under 13) you can join staff from the Nature Center on a memorable journey on smooth waters, travelling the shorelines of Wellesley Island.

For information on upcoming trips, please visit our Facebook page (Minna Anthony Common Nature Center- Friends).  To have enough paddle power to steer the boat, we must have at least 8 people over the age of 18 on board.  To reserve a spot on a trip, please call the Nature Center at 315-482-2479.

Post by Molly Farrell, July 2018

Learn more about Voyaguers:

Durbin, William; The Broken Paddle; Delacorte Press, NY, 1997.

Ernst, Kathleen; The Trouble and Fort La Point; Pleasant Company Publications, Middleton, WI, 2000.

Weekend Forecast: Heavy Meteor Showers

Each year when the second week of August rolls around, I know where my family will be. Loaded with blankets and camp chairs, we head to Lake Erie State Park to sit back, relax, and gaze at the stars. Why? Early August marks the peak of the Perseid meteor shower, one of the best displays of shooting stars every year.

This year, the predicted peak performance is on the night of August 12th (intensifying through the predawn hours, if you can stay up that long), though you may catch a glimpse of meteors any night between July 17th and August 24th. The Perseid meteor shower typically produces 50-100 meteors per hour, with outbursts up to a couple hundred meteors per hour in some years.

The meteors we see–particles ranging in size from a grain of sand to a small pebble—come from the debris of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Though this comet (think of a 16-mile-wide dusty snowball) orbits around the sun only once every 133 years, the Earth passes through its long-lasting trail of rocky and dusty debris around the same time every year, presenting us Earth-dwellers with the fiery flashes of the Perseid meteor shower.

As the tiny particles collide into the Earth’s atmosphere at a measly speed of 133,000 miles per hour (37 miles per second), they ignite due to the friction of the atmosphere. If you trace the paths of these meteors, they will appear to originate from around the same area; this point is called the radiant, and the Perseid meteor shower radiates from, you guessed it, the star constellation Perseus. Don’t worry though, you don’t need to know exactly where this constellation is to find the show; just look towards the northeast!

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Perseid meteors will appear to originate near the Perseus constellation, so look to the northeastern sky for the best view. Image from NASA

The number of meteors you see depends on several other factors as well, including lights, weather, location, and moon phase. The Northern Hemisphere is the place to be for these showers, and lucky for us, on August 12th the moon will be nearly brand new, which means that the night sky should be nice and dark. We can’t control the weather, so be sure to go out on a night with less cloud cover.

How do you throw a get-together for a meteor shower? You have to planet! The best way to see the Perseids is to find a safe, dark and secluded spot away from city lights – a local park perhaps? Be sure to check that the park will be open at night, and some State Parks are even offering programs for the big event! Leave the binoculars and telescopes at home, you will be able to see these meteors with just the naked eye, and the more open sky in your field of view, the better. Dress for the weather, bring blankets to lay on or comfortable chairs to sit in (reclining camp chairs are great for this), and don’t forget the snacks. The longer you sit out, the more meteors you are likely to see! It takes about 30 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the dark, and the number of shooting stars increases throughout the evening. So go outside, get settled, and enjoy the beauty of fiery space debris!

Click here to check out some upcoming star-related State Park events!

Post by Kelsey Ruffino, State Parks

Resources:

NASA Meteor and Meteorites Perseids In Depth

In The Sky Perseid Meteor Shower

Space.com Perseid Meteor Shower 2018: When, Where & How to See It This Month

DateandTime.com Perseid Meteor Shower 2018

Sky and Telescope The Best Meteor Showers in 2018

Stardate Meteors

Learn more about meteors:

Aronson, Billy; Meteors : the truth behind shooting stars; Franklin Watts, NY, 1996.

Rose, Simon; Meteors; Weigl Publishers, NY, 2012.

Featured image: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Babies Abound! Little Critters in State Parks

Spring is in the air and baby animals abound in our State Parks. Look and listen for some of these young critters in our parks. Remember, it is best to watch them from a distance so you do not scare the young animal or its parent. If you see a young animal that looks like it is abandoned, please leave it be. It is most likely fine on its own or has a parent close by and waiting for you to back away. It is fun to explore and watch, but don’t stay in one spot too long so that the animals can go back to their daily activities.

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A class gets a close-up look at a young box turtle at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. The turtle was handled briefly and then released where it was found. If you find turtles crossing the road or trail, you can move them to safety by putting them on the side where they were headed.
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A pair of young raccoons peek out from behind a tree at Fort Niagara State Park.
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Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is one of the monarch caterpillars preferred plants. You can find milkweed in along unmown trail edges and in meadows in many State Parks
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A red fox vixen keeps a watchful eye over a pair of kits at Letchworth State Park.
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Warm weather brings the honey bees back into action. Here, a drone honey bee (at left) is hatching from the hive at the Taconic Outdoor Education Center.
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Canada geese and goslings at Jones Beach State Park. Adult geese can be pretty aggressive about protecting their babies, so watch quietly from a distance. The goslings can be a lot of fun to watch as they scurry about.
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Mother mallard and her many ducklings.
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A white-tailed deer fawn hiding in the brush at Letchworth State Park. The mother is close by, watching you and waiting for you to move on. You have to look hard and move quietly to get a chance to see these youngsters in the woods.
Red Eft at Thacher -Photo by Lilly Schelling
Red efts are the young stage of the aquatic eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). You can hold this one gently, but keep it close to the ground as it will run right out of your hand. This one was seem at John Boyd Thacher State Park.
BarnSwallow Chicks-Photo by Lilly Schelling
Red efts are the young stage of the aquatic eastern newt (Notophthalmus viridescens). You can hold this one gently, but keep it close to the ground as it will run right out of your hand. This one was seem at John Boyd Thacher State Park.
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Black-capped chickadees nest in tree cavities or will use birdboxes as seen here.
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You might see Eastern cottontails in your back yard, local park or in the campground or picnic area in many of the state parks.
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Bald eaglet are really big baby birds. This one has been banded by wildlife biologists. The blue and silver leg bands help identify the bird when it is seen elsewhere over the course of its adult life.
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Young killdeer on the run at Allegany State Park. They have a really loud call and may be seen in open areas like lawns and parking lots! Killdeer are precocial birds, meaning they leave the nest shortly after they are hatched.
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Eastern phoebe nestlings getting a little too big for their nest. Time to try out those wings.
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Northern rough-winged swallow fledgling.
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Young snapping turtle covered in duck weed from its pond. Remember that bigger snapping turtles bite, so keep your distance.
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A very tiny wood frog, identifiable by the dark mask on its face. It’s ok to hold them gently for a bit, but let them go so they can grow up in their home in the woods.
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Woodchuck mom and her pups in Allegany State Park. The white one was known as “Marshmallow.”
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A young American woodcock hides in the underbrush, so well camouflaged and thus seldom seen.
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A young dusky salamander found in a wet log at Allegany State Park. It is great to explore and find young animals. Keeping hands off can keep them safe and allow you to observe their behavior in their natural habitat.

Take time this spring to enjoy our State Parks little critters!

Thank you to all staff who contributed to this post.

Staff Favorite Ski Trails

If there is six inches or more of snow on the ground, get those skis ready to hit the trail in a State Park.  Across New York, there are 105 state parks and state historic sites that have cross-country ski trails.  If you are looking to try a new cross-county ski trail, try one of State Parks staff member’s favorite trails.

Nicandri Nature Center staff member Tracy mentions that there are over five miles of trails wind through the woods and along the St. Lawrence River in Robert Moses State Park, Massena, NY. The center offers free ski and snowshoe loans for all ages as well as ski instruction. Post ski, skiers can head into the nature center to enjoy a hot beverage, check out interactive exhibits, and warm up in front of the fire.

State Parks volunteer Judy notes that all of the trails at the Higley Flow State Park  just west of the Adirondacks, have their own unique scenic character and are popular with different ability levels for different reasons. The Overlook Trail is the most heavily used trail at the Park because it is a comfortable length (1.3 miles), relatively flat with a few smaller hills, and passes through a pine and spruce forest.  Skiers are never further than ¾ miles from the Lodge if they want to cut their ski short.  It links with the Woods’ backcountry trail (1.9 miles) and the Warm Brook trail (1.6 miles) for those wishing to challenge themselves further.

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A skier enjoys new snow in Higley Flow State Park.

With over 20 miles of groomed ski trails located in the Art Roscoe Trail system at Allegany State Park in western New York, State Parks staffer Adele finds it hard to pick a favorite, but for a fun fast ski, recommends Christian Hollow.  This 1.5-mile loop starts .7 miles from the trail head. After a mild uphill to get the heart pumping, the trail mellows into a long level area where a skier can find that sweet smooth rhythm – ride and glide, ride and glide- click on this link to learn the ride and glide technique.

A short heart-pounding downhill leads to the well-marked entrance of Christian Hollow. This old logging road rolls past hemlocks, maples, beech and oak. Look for squirrel, mice and deer tracks  and other animal signs along the way.

Although it is marked as an intermediate trail, there is something for everyone. Easy descents lead to short steep uphills where the herringbone or duck-walking technique is key! This video can help you master going uphill on skis.

The reward for the hill climb is a gorgeous view of the Allegany plateau from highest picnic table in the park (2,242 feet). Back in the tracks, the loop continues with a long fast downhill and more rolling terrain with views along the ridge before winding back to Ridge Run. It’s an easy one mile ski back to the trail head. Taking only an hour which includes time for photos and a snack, this trail is exhilarating for both body and soul. Find out more about the trails www.alleganynordic.org.

Minnewaska State Park Preserve, located in the bucolic Hudson Valley, offers over 16 miles/26 kilometers of cross-country ski trails, groomed for both classic and skate skiing.  Skiers of all levels of ability will find a route they can enjoy, with breathtaking clifftop views and scenic carriage roads that meander through pristine forests featuring two sky lakes. You won’t find more picturesque and exciting skiing this close to New York City and Albany anywhere else. State Parks staff member Laura notes that the prices make skiing here affordable for the family, at $10 per adult, $9 per senior and $7 per child.

We have the perfect cure for the winter blues at Fahnestock Winter Park – 20 km of ski trails for beginner to expert extend out in every direction from our lodge.  Fahnestock is the perfect location for your first skiing experience. You can rent you all the gear you need and right out the door of the lodge is our most popular trail the Lake Trail.

Ice conditions permitting, we groom two kilometers of trails on our lake, a perfect place to learn to ski as it is flat and safe. Advanced skiers also love it because they can go fast on the groomed trail.

The trail will take you by a beaver lodge, over the dam built by the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and past many small islands. Ice fishermen, skaters and snowshoers can also be found on the lake.

State Parks staff member Declan finds that gliding west towards the sun on a January day is spectacular way to experience the park in winter in a safe environment.

Skiing on the beach in the winter, and then returning to swim at the beach in the summer, is one of the best ways to experience all the seasons in Fahnestock!

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Family fun at Fahnestock Winter Park.