Category Archives: Family Fun

Best Loved Hikes in New York State Parks

When quizzed about some of their best loved hikes in State Parks, our staff had to choose from amongst the hundreds of miles of hiking trails along shorelines, through mountains and open fields, overlooking lakes, rivers and gorges, and meandering through old growth forests.

Here are some of their favorites. (Note: trail maps can be found at each park’s website)

Mike’s favorite: Mine Kill State Park, located in the scenic and historic Schoharie Valley, is about an hour southwest of Albany.  The park boasts almost 10 miles of trails, the most well-known being definitely the five-mile section of the Long Path.  The Long Path (LP) is a 358 mile-long hiking trail running from New York City to John Boyd Thacher State Park just south of Albany. This particular section of the LP was designated as a National Recreation Trail by the Department of the Interior (National Park Service) in 2014 due to its unique flora and fauna, diverse history and incredible scenery.  Along this stretch of trail, a hiker may wander past active bald eagle nests, the picturesque Mine Kill and Schoharie Creek, the historic Lansing Manor and its namesake, the 80-foot high Mine Kill Falls.

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Pausing along the Schoharie Creek at Mine Kill State Park, photo by State Parks

Nancy’s favorite: The Indian Ladder Trail (0.40 miles long) in Thacher State Park near Albany is like a hike through geological history. You get an up close look at the 1,200 foot high limestone escarpment as you climb metal staircases to start (and end) your hike along the bottom of the escarpment. Layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale, lifted and eroded by wind, water, and other elements, formed the escarpment over 100 million years ago. Prehistoric people used nearby areas as hunting camps, possibly as early as 6,000 B.C. Native Americans traversed the escarpment via footpaths and logs (acting as ladders) between the Mohawk/Hudson and Schoharie Valleys, hence the name ‘Indian Ladder’ Trail. Along the hike, you can see waterfalls (if it’s not too dry a season), marine fossils, small caves, and stand near the crowns of mature trees growing below the escarpment. Best of all are the views from the Indian Ladder Trail, and the Escarpment Trail above, of surrounding valleys, the urban landscape, and further in the distance, the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont.

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A mother and daughter travel through time along the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park, photo by State Parks

Nick’s favorite hikes at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley include the Lake Minnewaska Carriage Road, a two-mile gentle loop trail around the glacially formed Lake Minnewaska. It’s an historic carriage road left over from a Victorian Era mountain resort. This hike features many views of Lake Minnewaska, a peak at the Catskill Mountains from several spots, and views of the greater Hudson Valley. This hike is popular due to the lake (people love water!), the ease of access, and the rock perches and cliffs that overlook the lake and Hudson Valley.

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A couple on Red Carriageway around Lake Minnewaska, adjacent to the parking area in New York’s Minnewaska State Park Preserve, photo by State Parks

Nick’s other favorite hike is Gertrude’s Nose Trail, an approximately seven mile hike on a mixture of historic carriage roads and footpaths traversing some of the most rugged terrain in Minnewaska State Park Preserve. These footpaths are loaded with evidence (signs) of the last glacial event, featuring glacial polish, glacial erratics (large rocks deposited by glaciers), chatter marks (any of a series of grooves, pits, and scratches on the surface of a rock, usually made by the movement of a glacier(from Dictionary.com)), sharp cliffs and massive talus blocks (rock debris below a cliff face). This hike is very popular mainly because this cliff edge trail gives panoramic views of the Shawangunk Mountains along the way.

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A foggy, fall day along the Gertrude’s Nose Footpath, photo by Duane Kolaya

Tom’s favorites: Green Lake and Round Lake Trails, located in Green Lakes State Park, are favorite hikes near Syracuse. They follow around the shores of these two glacial meromictic lakes. Meromictic lakes are lakes where there is no mixing of surface and bottom waters and they remain thermally (temperature) and chemically stratified (in layers) throughout the year. Other unique features of the lakes include their brilliant blue green appearance and the presence of “thrombolitic microbiolite marl reefs.” This basically means that a living organism is creating a rock out of material in the water. More specifically a cyanobacteria or algae is taking calcium compounds that entered the lake with groundwater seeping through the surrounding limestone bedrock and making it into a solid as part of cellular respiration. The United States Department of Interior designated Round Lake as a National Natural Landmark in 1975.

Green and Round Lake Trails are generally flat, 8-10 feet wide, and easy hiking trails. The full loop, including both trails, is approximately three miles long with benches located periodically for resting and enjoying the scenery. A swimming beach, playground and boat rentals are located at the north end of Green Lake. These trails are part of a 17-mile trail system in the park that also takes you through or to old growth forest, wetlands, grassland bird habitat, cliff edge overlooks, camping areas, a golf course, and connects to the 36-mile Old Erie Canal State Historic Park.

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Strolling on the Green Lake Trail at Green Lakes State Park, photo by State Parks

Nicole’s favorite: As the largest State Park in the Long Island region, hiking at Connetquot River State Park Preserve can feel secluded even in the middle of densely populated Long Island. The beautiful scenery and diversity of life within the park make it her favorite hiking spot. Starting from the parking lot, the Greenbelt Trail (indicated by the white and yellow blazes) takes you directly to the fish hatchery, where you can get up close and personal with trout being raised. From there, the Red Trail can take you back along the Connetquot River to Main Pond. The Red Trail merges with the Blue Trail at the pond and the hike ends at the historic Grist Mill and Main House. Then it’s a short distance down the road back to the parking lot. This loop is a little over two miles but flat and even throughout, making it perfect for all age groups. Don’t forget to check in with the Nature Center at the Main House on the way out to find out about all of the amazing programs they have there.

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Traveling along the Greenbelt Trail at Connetquot State Park Preserve, photo by State Parks

Molly recommends hiking at Wellesley Island State Park in the Thousand Islands Region. A favorite is to start at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center and hike along the Eel Bay Trail (1.1 miles) to the Narrows Trail (0.45 miles). From there you can head back the same way or follow along another trail to loop back to the Nature Center. Sitting on the exposed granite outcroppings and watching the St. Lawrence River Eel Bay and passing glacial potholes are highlights of this hike. The Narrows is a narrow water passageway located between Wellesley Island and Murray Isle connecting South and Eel Bays. Along the Narrows Trail you can watch boats pass through the channel and see a variety of birds while picnicking on an open rock area. These trails are generally easy hiking but have some steeper rock climbing areas. Don’t forget to check out the Nature Center!

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Checking out the trail map at Wellesley Island State Park, photo by State Parks

FORCES stewards Nick and Adriana recommend two hikes in the Finger Lakes Region.

Buttermilk Falls State Park is a located in the heart of the Finger Lakes to the south of Cayuga Lake and has much to offer avid hikers, families, and visitors to the area. Hike the Rim and Gorge Trails together for a 1.5-mile loop, or hike each separately. Starting either trail from the lower parking lot will require a strenuous uphill walk (Rim Trail) or climbing of a long staircase (Gorge Trail). The Gorge Trail has much to offer and you will encounter many waterfalls, and beautiful rock formations along the 0.65 mile trek up the gorge.  Mosses, liverworts, and ferns coat entirety of the gorge, providing a vivid green walk that is topped by a hemlock hardwood forest along the ridge. As you come out of the gorge, you will cross a bridge to take the 0.82-mile Rim Trail back to the parking area. This walk takes you through a beautiful hemlock hardwood forest filled with eastern hemlock, chestnut oak, and witch hazel, along with many other species. This loop can be done in about an hour, but more time may be needed for taking in all the sights along the way. Hiking these two trails as a loop is a relatively easy hike after you complete the initial stairs, or uphill climb.

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Along the trail at Buttermilk Falls State Park, photo by State Parks

The Upper Loop in Robert H. Treman State Park is a one mile round trip on sections of the Gorge and Rim Trails. The trail is situated above Treman Gorge and offers spectacular views of the many waterfalls including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. The trail begins at the upper section of the park (the Old Mill Parking area) at the entrance to the Gorge Trail and takes visitors through the upper gorge. The trail highlights the scenic beauty of the gorge, amazing rock formations, stone bridges, and the many water features along Enfield Creek through the ravine. The trail takes you to the top of Lucifer Falls and then down the side. At the bottom is a wooden bridge over the stream that will take you to the Rim Trail and the second portion of the hike. This begins with a climb up the “Cliff Staircase” – it is the most difficult section of the loop but it also offers some of the best views in the park. At the top is an overlook of Lucifer Falls and then a moderate downhill slope back to the upper parking lot. Multiple overlooks from high vantage points make the trail perfect for photo ops and for viewing the gorge below. Although the hike is short, some visitors may find to be strenuous due to the elevation change and the many staircases.

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Visitors pause at Robert H. Treman, photo by State Parks

This weekend, try one of these hikes or find your own ‘best-loved hike’ in a park near you.

 

— Post compiled by Nancy Stoner, State Parks

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
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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
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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