Category Archives: Family Fun

Walk Through History On the Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail

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National Trails Day speakers at the site’s National Recreation Trail dedication included: NYS Parks Statewide Trails Program Planner Chris Morris, District Manager for NYS Assemblymember Addie Russell Kate Wehrle, Village of Sackets Harbor Mayor Vincent Battista, site manager Connie Barone, NYS Parks 1000 Islands Region Director Peyton Taylor, and Deputy District Director for NYS Senator Patti Ritchie Mike Schenk. Also attending were the Town of Hounsfield Supervisor Tim Scee and representatives from the Adirondack Mountain Club Black River Chapter, Ontario Bays Initiative, and Indian River Lakes Conservancy. Guests followed the trail in perfect weather and enjoyed refreshments donated by Walmart and Price-Chopper.

In June 2015, the United States Department of the Interior designated Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail at Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site (Sackets Harbor) as one of ten new National Recreation Trails. The 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.

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Sackets Harbor Battelfield History Trail interpretive panel, photo by Constance Barone

The trail unifies the core of this 70-acre property. The trail is accessible and 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.

From mid-May through Labor Day, amenities near the trail include public restrooms, a picnic pavilion, interpretive programs, and living history demonstrations. On the trail visitors walk, jog, or bicycle. Just off the trail guests practice yoga, rest on benches, picnic, fly a kite, or bird watch. The non-motorized trail is open year-round, free of charge. Sackets Harbor staff maintains the trail’s stone dust surface and reproduction mid-19th century wooden boardwalks.

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Bicycles are one of the many ways to explore the Sackets Harbor Battlefield Recreation Trail, photo by Constance Barone

Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail connects to the Village of Sackets Harbor’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Recreation Trail. That trail consists of stone dust paths, converted rail line, village roadways, and sidewalks. The six-mile loop through the historic village includes the former Army post Madison Barracks, two historic cemeteries, and farm fields where the 1813 Battle of Sackets Harbor took place. In July 2014, during the War of 1812 Bicentennial celebration, two granite monuments erected in the fields along the trail to honor the American forces who died defending Sackets Harbor and British-Canadian forces who were killed during the 1813 battle.

The National Park Service recognized the grounds at Sackets Harbor as one of the top War of 1812 sites in the nation.  Sackets Harbor is the only deep-water United States port along eastern Lake Ontario.  In June 1812 and again in May 1813 Americans successfully defended the Navy shipyard at Sackets Harbor from invading British and Canadian forces.  WCNY featured Sackets Harbor battlegrounds in the 2014 documentary Losing Ground: The Race to Preserve War of 1812 Battlefields in New York State, funded by the National Park Service Battlefield Protection Program.

Come check out this newly recognized National Recreation Trail at Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site!

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The Commodore’s House at Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site, photo by Constance Barone

State Parks Welcomes a New Nature Center

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Exploring Letchworth State Park geology at the Humphrey Nature Center, photo by Doug Kelly, State Parks

Interpreting might seem like a strange way to describe what the naturalists and historians at Letchworth State Park do.  Instead of interpreting one human language to another, they tell the stories of the people who came before and of the beings with no languages; the rocks, trees and animals that make the park such a special place.

This need to educate the public about the park started even before there was a park. William Letchworth (1823 – 1910) assembled the Council Grounds and a museum to engage the strangers who came to his property on railroad excursion trains. He had trails and carriage paths which visitors could walk and enjoy the clean air and shady trees.  He brought orphans from Buffalo to enjoy the country and learn vocational skills from his farmhands and household servants.

Following Letchworth, the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society created the Letchworth Arboretum and built the William Pryor Letchworth Museum.  The society intended there to be a research and educational aspect to the work they did. Most of their efforts were directed to building roads and facilities for visitors and transforming the park into a public space.

New York State took over management of the park in 1930.  In the 1970s there was a statewide effort to mesh parks with schools and use the parks as educational tools for students. Interpreters were hired and nature and history programs started. By 1974, the National Audubon Society joined in a partnership with the Genesee State Park Region Commission to investigate building nature centers at Letchworth and Hamlin Beach State Parks. Although nothing came of this venture, the idea for a nature center at Letchworth never went away.

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Humphrey Nature Center, photo by Elijah Kruger, State Parks

In 2016, the Humphrey Nature Center at Letchworth State Park opened on June 20 and was made possible by a joint fundraising effort of the Letchworth Nature Center Campaign Committee, which includes representatives of the Genesee Regional Parks Commission, the Open Space Institute’s Alliance for New York State Parks, and the Natural Heritage Trust.  The campaign raised private funds that were matched 2 to 1 by New York State thanks to Governor Cuomo’s economic development initiatives.  The Letchworth Nature Center Campaign Committee was chaired by Peter Humphrey who also, along with his wife, provided an extremely generous donation to kick start the fundraising campaign.  The Humphrey Nature Center at Letchworth State Park was named in his honor, recognizing the great role Peter Humphrey played in making the project a reality.

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State Park educators lead a tour of the Humphrey Nature Center, photo by Doug Kelly

The goal of the Humphrey Nature Center is to deepen the visitor experience of Letchworth State Park, which was voted the #1 state park in the nation in 2015.  The 5,000 square foot, year-round, sustainable facility will help to enhance the exceptional educational and interpretive programming already offered to visitors.  Meeting and classroom space, state-of-the-art, hands-on exhibits, a butterfly garden, bird observation area and trails that leave right from the building enrich the visitor’s understanding of the unique history, geology, and environment found in Letchworth State Park.

The next time you are in Letchworth, be sure to visit the Humphrey Nature Center for a program, to explore the exhibits, or just to talk with one of the knowledgeable naturalists.  Remember, the Humphrey Nature Center is just your launching point into the fascinating natural history of Letchworth State Park!

Post by Elijah Kruger and Steph Spittal, Letchworth State Park educators

Celebrate Your Freedom In a State Park!

Fourth of July weekend is a great weekend to spend in a State Park or Historic Site.  You can build sand castles at Hither Hills State Park to camp on the banks of Lake Erie at Evangola State Park, fish in the St. Lawrence River at Wellesley Island State Park, listen to a reading of the Declaration of Independence at Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site, take a hike, enjoy the forest and more.  Find out all that State Parks has to offer this weekend at nysparks.com.

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Take a hike on the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park, Photo by OPRHP
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Hear the cannons firing at Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site, photo by OPRHP
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Try your hand at fishing at Wellesley Island State Park, photo by OPRHP
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Play one of George Washington’s favorite games at Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, photo by Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site
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Tour the gardens at Lorenzo State Historic House, photo by OPRHP
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Check out the Farm Market at John Jay Homestead State Historic Site, photo by OPRHP
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Enjoy a cool gorge in the Finger Lakes Parks or at Whetstone Gulf State Park – photo by OPRHP
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Build a sand castle at Hither Hills State Park, photo by John Williams, OPRHP
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Picnic by the lake, Glimmerglass State Park, photo by OPRHP
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Get to know the residents, salamander program at Allegany State Park, photo by Tom LeBlanc OPRHP
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Try your hand at golfing at Rockland Lake State Park, photo by OPRHP
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Go biking at Grafton Lakes State Park, photo by OPRHP
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Camp at Cherry Plain State Park, photo by OPRHP
Finger Lakes Boating
Go boating in the Finger Lakes, Allan H. Treman State Park, photo by OPRHP
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Marvel at old-growth trees in Allegany State Park along the Conservation or Eastwood Meadows Trails – photo of old-growth ash tree in Allegany State Park by J Lundgren, NYNHP
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See the fireworks at many parks across the state, photo by OPRHP
Sunset, Golden Hill
Or enjoy a quiet evening sunset, Golden Hill State Park, photo by OPRHP

News Flash! Fireflies Are Flashing In Allegany State Park

On June 1st in Allegany State Park, the first fireflies of the season were spotted, bringing great excitement. Why? Lots of parks have fireflies, but not the Synchronous Firefly – once thought to exist in only a handful of places in the world, but now known in scattered locations from Georgia to southwestern New York.  The (Photinus carolinus), flashes only from late June to mid-July and prefers dark mature forests, over 1200 feet with low vegetation and a water source. Fireflies or lightening bugs are actually a beetle that can produce its own luminescent light.  Each species of firefly (there are over 170 species in the US) has its own unique flash pattern. Colors differ too. The male Synchronous Fireflies flash 8 to 10 times all in unison, then they stop for 10-15 seconds depending on the temperature. They wait for the female to flash back, then they repeat the display again and again into the wee hours of the morning. The best time to see this phenomenon is between 10 pm to 2 am.

Once they find each other, they mate, the females lay eggs, and then the adults die. The larvae hatch in a 3-4 weeks and devour worms and slugs. These small, blackish caterpillar-like predators inject their prey with a fluid which causes numbness, then they suck out the gooey innards. The larvae hibernate in small burrows in the soil and emerge as adults in a few months.

Some people ask, “Why don’t we see as many fireflies as we did as children?” Are we just not noticing? Or not outside as much? Unfortunately, firefly populations have declined, mainly due to light pollution, habitat destruction, and pesticides. How can you help? Check out www.firefly.org to find to more information or take part in a Firefly Watch though the Boston Museum of Science.  To see what the firefly display looks like, check out Radim Schreiber’s website.

Catching fireflies is a fun summer activity, you can put them in a jar to get a close-up look. But then let them go so they can find their mates and contribute to the next generation for us to enjoy next year.

Allegany State Park will be offering special programs to provide visitors with the opportunity to view the Synchronous Fireflies this June. Please check our Facebook page in mid-June for more information. In the event of severe thunderstorms, the event will be cancelled. However, the fireflies do display in rain and you may still observe them on your own if you wish. Displays of the Synchronous firefly are best observed in a dark mature forest in order to experience the full effect. And if you miss these, you can watch for other more common species of fireflies in your back yard, campsite, or parks across the state from June to August.  For information on this and other programs, please check Allegany State Park’s activity schedule on Facebook or call 716-354-9101 ext. 232.

Post by Adele Wellman, OPRHP, Allegany State Park, Lead Naturalist

A Day in the Life of a CAP Volunteer (Camper Assistance Program).

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Camper Assistance Program volunteers, OPRHP photo

Each week during the summer, volunteers at 34 State Parks campgrounds across the state assist novice and experienced campers with their camping experience through the Camper Assistance Program, CAP.  This help varies from teaching new campers the ways of the woods, assisting with camper check-in, and helping campers learn about activities they can do while camping.

Below describes what could be a typical day for a fictional CAP volunteer:

7:00 am:  Quiet hours are over.   Some campers are up early, fires are getting started and the air smells good with all of the coffee brewing.  I get my breakfast going as it will be a full day ahead.

10:00 am: Patrons that are ending their stay are typically packing to go home at this time.   I take a morning walk to offer any assistance, and this morning I help a man and his dog get ready to leave.  His dog likes to help him fold his tent, which is not very helpful, so I hold his leash until the tent is packed up.

11:00 am: The park manager asks if I can assist with visitor check-in later in the day.  Typically, the busiest time is between 3 and 5 p.m.  So for now, she would like me to clear out a flower bed at the entrance of the campground.

The maintenance staff arrives with rakes and shovels and we work together clearing away leaves and weeds.  We have new flowers to plant in a wonderful design which creates a very welcoming display to campers at the entrance.

12:30 pm: Time for lunch!   I head back to my trailer to clean up, grab a bite to eat, and relax at my camp site, enjoying the lovely day.

1:30 pm: Time for another walk around the campground loops.

Most campers have done this all before.  However, today I helped a family who has arrived with a new camping trailer.   Dad tries to back it in, but it’s clear that this is not a simple procedure, so I offer my assistance. After 20 minutes, we have successfully backed the trailer to the most level spot on his site.   He thanks me for the help and they begin their week-long vacation at the campground.

3:00 pm: I head to the camping office and help with check-in.   While the campers wait their turn, it’s my job to make sure they have their paperwork ready.  This will help with a quick check-in, to get campers on their way to enjoying their stay.

I answer many questions; Yes, we sell ice.  I can verify you have a reservation.  Here is your site number.  Patrons with dogs… Do you have the rabies certificate?   Swimming begins at 10am each day.  No, we can’t guarantee the weather but we do post the forecast each day.

5:00 pm.  The rush is over and I walk back to my site and start my cooking fire for the evening.

5:30 pm.   But wait.  A patron walks over to my site and asks if I can help.  They’ve broken one of their tent poles. I can help!  I grab my tool bin and find duct tape…anything can be fixed with duct tape!   Another camping disaster avoided.

6:15 pm settle in to my site for the evening.

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The Camper Assistance Program (CAP) offers seasoned campers an opportunity to share their expertise and love of the outdoors with other people at campgrounds in parks throughout New York operated by State Parks. In return, CAP volunteers receive a free camping site.

You too can participate in the CAP program if you are a seasoned camper, at least 18 years of age, enjoy helping others, and are able to spend a minimum of two weeks at one of the participating state park campgrounds. CAP volunteers serve for a minimum of two, maximum of four weeks, usually between Memorial Day and Labor Day at the park manager’s discretion. They are on duty five days per week, including weekends and holidays. CAPs will be asked to work only two to five hours per day, but they may be on call at all times. In return for their services, they receive a free camping site during their duty. Additional campers may accompany the volunteer, within normal park rules.

CAP volunteers receive an orientation where they learn more about the State Parks and the CAP program and receive suggestions as to how they best can serve campers.

Learn more about the CAP program here.