Category Archives: Fun & Games

State Parks Take Star Turn For Oscars Week

The Oscars were years away when a young Syracuse native came to icy gorges and waterfalls outside Ithaca in the Finger Lakes as a silent movie star in 1917.

In a film entitled “The Great White Trail,” 20-year-old actress Doris Kenyon played the role of married woman falsely accused of infidelity fleeing to the wilds of Alaska to start a new life.

Poster for “The Great White Trail,” which was produced by Ithaca-based Wharton Releasing Corp. (Photo Credit- Wharton Film Museum)

Ithaca-based producers (and brothers) Leopold and Theodore Wharton thought that the area’s rugged winter beauty, highlighted by the frozen 115-foot Lucifer Falls, could stand in for Alaska. A few years later in 1920, this dramatic setting in Tompkins County became the 1,256-acre Robert H. Treman State Park. The first Oscars awards for the burgeoning motion picture industry, now firmly anchored in Los Angeles, finally arrived in 1929.

Ithaca played a critical role in the history of the silent movie industry when the Wharton brothers ran their studio in what is now the city’s Stewart Park from 1914 to 1919, making more than two dozen movies. There were stunts and antics, including when the brothers bought a trolley car from the city to film careening off a bridge, and the time when dozens of skunks from a local farm were rented for a scene, only to escape, spray the actors and crew, and shut down production.

Shooting in their studios and on location in the dramatic gorges around the area, the Whartons brought famous movie stars of that era to Ithaca, making it the unofficial capital of the silent film industry, as reflected in these early newspaper clippings from the Wharton Studio Museum.

Ithaca stockbroker F.W. Stewart was cast as the villain in The Great White Trail. Afterward, bitten by the acting bug, he became a professional actor and director in the early film industry. (Photo Credit- Wharton Film Museum)

“The Wharton brothers and Ithaca were pioneers in this emerging art form. Some very unique history happened here,” said Diana Riesman, executive director and co-founder of the museum.

One of the Whartons’ silent film stars, Irene Castle, lived in Ithaca after marrying local resident Robert E. Treman, the son of Robert H. Treman, a prominent upstate political and financial leader who later donated the land used for The Great White Trail that became the state park now bearing his name.

Many of the Wharton’s film reels were destroyed in 1929 when the highly-flammable nitrate film caught fire in their lawyer’s garage in Ithaca. However, the original Wharton studio building still exists in the park, and is used by the city public works department for maintenance.

In the years since the freewheeling Wharton brothers, the variety of landscapes found in State Parks have shared the spotlight many times in a wide range of films, television programs and other productions, from the well-known and prestigious to the obscure and unsung.

Some are little nuggets of film history. Did you know, for example, that iconic comedian Henny Youngman’s final film appearance came in 1995 at the former state Kings Park Psychiatric Center in what is now part of Nissequogue River State Park in Suffolk County?

The former Kings Park Psychiatric Center, closed since 1996. Trespassing is forbidden. (Photo Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

In the little-remembered “Eyes Beyond Seeing,” which was the story of a mental patient with religious delusions, the then 89-year-old “King of the One-Liners” played a brief cameo role as another patient who thinks he is … Henny Youngman. He must have cracked himself up. <rimshot>

Niagara Falls State Park has one of the most dramatic backdrops available anywhere, within numerous films using the thundering cataracts, including the 1953 film “Niagara.” This film noir thriller helped establish the sensuous image of 27-year-old actress Marilyn Monroe, who received top billing for the first time in her budding career.

Poster for “Niagara,” starring Marilyn Monroe, whose image is incorporated into the waterfalls. (Photo Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

In recent years, other films at the falls have included the comedy “Tammy” in 2014 with Melissa McCarthy, part of which was filmed at the always-torrential “Hurricane Deck” at the Cave of the Winds. The park also was featured in “Henry’s Crime” in 2010 with Keanu Reeves, whose falsely-accused-of-a-crime Buffalo toll taker has a romantic interlude at the falls.

Melissa McCarthy at Niagara Falls.
Keanu Reeves during shooting at Niagara Falls State Park.

Surf and sun always make for a good movie, with Jones Beach State Park and other shoreline parks in Long Island long popular as shooting sites. In 1949, middle-aged actor and future President Ronald Reagan filmed a romantic comedy at Jones Beach, aptly titled “The Girl From Jones Beach.”

“The Girl From Jones Beach” post, featuring future President Ronald Reagan, as well as Virginia Mayo and Eddie Bracken. (Photo Credit-Wikipedia Commons)

Other films of more recent vintage that have shot at this iconic oceanside park have included “Men in Black 3 (2012), “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2” (2016), and “Mildred Pierce” (2011).

The 2004 romantic film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” filmed in part at Camp Hero State Park on Long Island at Montauk Point, had one of the characters uttering the phrase “Meet me at Montauk,” which can still be found on t-shirts and promotional items for the area.

The lighthouse at Montauk Point State Park.
This scene on a frozen river with Kate Winslet and Jim Carey from “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” was shot in Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park about 40 miles north of New York City in Westchester County.

If skyline is what a filmmaker needs, the Big Apple has that in spades. Numerous films have been shot at State Parks in the city, including “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2012 at Bayswater Point State Park), the senior citizen heist comedy  “Going in Style” (2017 at East River State Park), and “Still Alice,” a 2014 film in which Julianne Moore plays a woman coping with an Alzheimer’s Disease diagnosis that was shot in Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park.

The 2015 short film “The Bench,” is set at a bench in Gantry Plaza State Park, with its spectacular views of the midtown Manhattan, where a suicidal man has a conversation with a passerby that changes his life.

This dramatic cityscape park has been used in many feature, foreign and student films, including the 2016 Ricky Gervais comedy “Special Correspondents,” the 2019 comedy “Holiday Rush” about a DJ dealing with losing his job, and “Here Today,” a 2019 May-September comedy with Billy Crystal.

Some thirty miles north of the city, the former estate of philanthropist John D. Rockefeller – now the Rockefeller State Park Preserve – has been used for many films and television shows, most recently the 2019 gangster epic “The Irishman” by director Martin Scorsese, who shot from the 13 Bridges Trail to film driving scenes on Route 117 below.

The office at the preserve stood in for the police station in the 2001 prankster cop comedy “Super Troopers.” A scene where a police car goes screeching into reverse down a highway was filmed on Route 117 in the park.

Scene from opening of comedy film Super Troopers, shot on Route 117 inside Rockefeller State Park Preserve.

Further up the Hudson Valley, the great lawn for the estate at the Staatsburgh State Historic Site along the banks of the river was used as a backdrop for the 2019 superhero movie “Avengers Endgame.”

The digitally-enhanced great lawn at Staatsburgh in “Avengers Endgame.”

In the Capital Region, Ang Lee’s “Taking Woodstock” (2009), a story of how the Woodstock music festival of 1969 came about, was filmed at Cherry Plain State Park in the rugged eastern hills of Rensselaer County. And parts of the 1998 film “The Horse Whisperer” were shot in Saratoga Spa State Park.

Out in western New York, the base-jumping scene in “Get Him to The Greek” (2010) was filmed in the spectacular gorge setting of Letchworth State Park, often called the “Grand Canyon of The East.”

The base-jumping scene at Letchworth State Park from “Get Him to The Greek.” (Photo credit- Parks & Trails New York)

And sometimes, an even more primeval look is what’s called for. That’s what producers of the low-budget 1983 caveman comedy film “Luggage of the Gods!” found in the rocky trails and mountains at Harriman State Park. Filming centered around the Claudius Smith Den, a rock shelter dating back to Native American times and used during the Revolutionary War by a notorious gang of Tories.

Finally, something altogether darker might be needed, and State Parks has places for that, too. The grounds of Glimmerglass State Park and the nearby 50-room, 18th century estate at Hyde Hall State Historic Site were the setting for a short horror film “A Nightmare Awakes.” The film tells a story of Mary Shelley, the young author of the book Frankenstein, as she begins to experience vivid hallucinations.

So, State Parks can offer aspiring filmmakers a setting for every story. Such films are part of the state’s efforts to attract such activity through the Governor’s Office of Motion Picture & Television Development, which has drawn productions that have contributed billions of dollars to the state’s economy.

And should you ever wish to see The Great White Trail, the silent film set at Robert H. Treman State Park, or another classic silent film, check the event page for the Wharton Studio Museum or Taughhannock Falls State Park . The film has been shown during summers at the park in recent years and is still drawing an audience. A silent movie screening is planned there for summer 2020.


Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for NYS Parks.


Learn more about the silent film era in Ithaca in the Finger Lakes at the Wharton Studio Museum.

Cornell University Press is releasing a book in April on the history of Wharton films in Ithaca entitled Silent Serial Sensations by Barbara Tepa Lupack.

The Wharton Studio Museum is part of the newly-created Finger Lakes Film Trail, which also includes the George Eastman Museum in Rochester, and the Case Research Laboratory in Auburn. The sites host film events, lectures, and screenings.

Gorge-ous Gulls of the Niagara in Winter

The Niagara River is well-known as an international destination for its tremendous waterfalls, which form spectacular ice formations during the winter. Perhaps a lesser known fact, however, is that the river is also a critical haven for migrating birds during this time of the year.

Gulls, in particular, are a common sight along the Niagara, with as many as 100,000 gulls stopping over the river during the winter and fall.

The river is attractive to gulls because it offers them food and shelter, and serves as a rest stop for long migrations from the arctic to the Atlantic coast. As well as providing plenty of small fish, the area also serves as protection from storms that can affect the Great Lakes during the wintertime.

Created in 1885, Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the United States, with hundreds of thousands of visitors annual drawn by the immense power and beauty of the thundering cataracts. Looking down from the edge of Niagara Gorge in autumn or winter, the air above the turbulent waters is at times white with wheeling and diving gulls.

In recognition of the river’s important habitat for feeding, nesting, wintering, and during migration, it has been designated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society.

Just down the river, Fort Niagara State Park on Lake Ontario also is recognized as part of this area.


“The site is particularly noteworthy as a migratory stopover and wintering site for Bonaparte’s Gulls, with one-day counts ranging from 10,000-50,000 individuals (2-10% of the world population). One-day Ring-billed Gull counts vary from 10,000-20,000, and one-day Herring Gull counts vary from 10,000-50,000. The river also hosts a remarkable diversity and abundance of waterfowl.”

Audubon Society on Important Bird Area in Niagara River Corridor

These gull populations peak in the winter, so going bird-watching is a great way to get outdoors during the cold season and see yet another wonder that the falls, the river and this region have to offer.

If you choose to go birding along the river this season, here are some gulls you might end up seeing:

Bonaparte’s Gull

A nonbreeding Bonaparte’s Gull in flight. (Credit- Wikipedia Commons)
A breeding adult Bonaparte Gull, with its distinctive black head. (Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

Bonaparte’s Gull is a small gull with a white underbelly, grey back, and thin, black beak. The top outer parts of its wings have wedges of white edged in black. Breeding adults have black heads but nonbreeding and young gulls have a white head with a dark smudge behind its eye. These gulls like to winter near people and, in fact, are the only gulls that regularly nest in trees!

Ring-Billed Gull

A Ring-Bill Gull stands on a rock. (Credit-State Parks)

Ring-Billed Gulls have yellow beaks with a black band, or ‘ring’, encircling it. The breeding adult has a gray back and black wingtips. In the winter, these birds develop tan streaking across the head. These yellow-legged birds may be found further inland.

Herring Gull

An adult Herring Gull. (Credit-State Parks)

Herring Gulls are on the larger side and are much like the quintessential seagull. They have yellow eyes, pale pink legs, and a red spot on the bottom of their yellow beaks. An adult has a grey mantle and black wingtips, much like the Ring-Billed Gull. These birds start of uniformly dark and then get paler and they grow older, their plumages varying over their first four years. Herring Gulls may be found year-round along the Niagara.

Great Black-Backed Gull

A Great Blacked-Back Gull in flght. (Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

The Great Black-Backed Gull is the world’s largest gull! It has black wings and mantle, a white underside as an adult, and red rings around its eyes. Like the Herring Hull, younger birds’ plumages change as they age; the younger Great Black-Backed Gulls can be differentiated because of higher contrast in their colors than the young Herring Gull. These gulls come to Niagara from the East Coast.

Iceland Gull

An iceland Gull in flight. (Credit-Audubon Society)

Iceland Gulls are slightly smaller than Herring Gulls. These gulls, when adults, have a pale gray mantle and wingtips that can vary in color, from white in the east to black in the west. The darker winged gulls used to be labeled ‘Thayer’s gulls’ and considered a different species, but the two were combined in 2017. These gulls come to Niagara from the Arctic.

Sabine’s Gull

A Sabine’s Gull in flight (Credit-Audubon Society)

This small gull has a spectacular wing pattern, long pointed wings, a notched tail, and a short black bill with a yellow tip . Generally a prized sighting for birders, because it nests on tundra of the high Arctic and migrates south at sea, often well offshore. Those from eastern Canada and Greenland mostly migrate eastward across North Atlantic and then south.

These are just six of the 19 different species of gulls have been spotted here. So, grab your binoculars and see for yourself!


Sources:

Cover Photo: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Audubon Society of New York: https://ny.audubon.org/

The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/

Important Bird Areas of Canada: https://www.ibacanada.com/

Ice, Ice Baby at Chenango Valley State Park

The Ice Age, which helped form Chenango Valley State Park in the Southern Tier about 12,000 years ago, is back in a big way.

After leaves are off the trees, but before the snow flies, park crews will create what is possibly the largest refrigerated outdoor ice rink in North America. And when they build it, hockey players young and old will come. 

At 24,200 square feet, this mechanically-generated ice sheet is more than 40 percent larger than the temporary outdoor facilities set up by the National Hockey League, which plays a handful of its contests outside each year.

Behold the frozen home of the Binghamton Pond Festival (called Pond Fest for short), a series of outdoor amateur hockey tournaments and youth events in the park that started in 2016, and now is drawing hundreds of youth and adult players to Broome County in January from as far away as California and Texas.

Teams compete at the Binghamton Pond Fest last year. Larger than an NHL rink, the Pond Fest refrigerated rink is divided into four sections.
Young skaters take to the ice.
A youth team member gets her game face on.

This year’s fest starts January 11 and again benefits the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier and its programs focused on youth suicide prevention and youth mental health awareness.

Pond Fest owes it creation and growing success to two men — Tytus Haller, its founder, and Mike Boyle, manager at Chenango Valley State Park — and to the reliability of mechanical refrigeration to create and keep ice even when Mother Nature is not cooperating.

“Our first two years, in 2016 and 2017, we were running the tournament on the lake. We’d be out there checking the ice all the time,” said Haller.

And both years, unusually warm weather during the tournament left the ice in poor condition, which reduced the appeal to potential players. Said Haller, “The first couple of years, it was mainly a local crowd.”

Tytus Haller, founder and executive director of Binghamton Pond Fest, and his wife, Libbie.

But that all changed when Haller — the assistant director of the SUNY Broome Ice Center in nearby Binghamton — decided if winter was going to be unreliable, it was time to free Pond Fest from the weather with a mechanical refrigeration system.

Such systems use glycol, tubes, pumps, and “chiller” machines to drop the temperature of refrigerated tubing beneath a rink into the mid-teens. This forms an ice sheet that can be maintained even in warm weather.

All Haller had to do was figure out a way to get the equipment, which was going to cost a couple hundred thousand dollars.

With the help of state Sen. Fred Askhar, who got a $150,000 grant to help Chenango Valley buy much of the rink system, the 2018 tournament was the first played played on refrigerated ice.

“Things really took off then and in 2019, when word got out what we had and what we were doing,” Haller said. “I have not found anyone else in North America that has a refrigerated outdoor rink as large as ours.”

Now, the tournament in the park is drawing youth and adult teams from states beyond New York including New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas, Georgia, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland, and California.

One of those coming in with a youth team in 2020 is Dallas resident Seth Turner. He has ties to Haller and the region after attending and playing hockey at Broome Community College some two decades ago.

He attended the initial Pond Fests without refrigeration, and saw how it all changed once the equipment was added. Now a youth hockey coach in Dallas, Turner pitched the idea of a January trip to upstate new York to local families, and eight are taking on the expense to send their kids to Pond Fest.

“Having refrigeration is the pitch,” Turner said. “I was able to tell parents that their kids would be playing, no matter what, whether it was raining, or sunny, or snowing. And that we would be playing in a beautiful park, in the woods. That made it an easy sell.”

Hockey is an increasingly popular sport in Dallas, he said, due to the presence of the city’s NHL team, the Stars. Local interest is even stronger now that the NHL will play its outside “Winter Classic” on a refrigerated ice sheet in that city’s Cotton Bowl in January.

At Pond Fest, adults have three-on-three and four-on-four tournaments. Youth teams have six and 16 players for a weekend of hockey and other fun in the park. Pond Fest also hosts a skills and skating clinic and will now offer private rentals of the ice sheet.

Fireworks reflect off the ice at Pond Fest.

Boyle said the festival draws fans and families into the 1,137-acre park along the Chenango River, which also features sledding and cross-country skiing in the winter. The park’s two lakes – Chenango and Lily – were formed as glaciers retreated at the end of the most recent Ice Age.

“We love this event,” Boyle said. “We hope this keeps going for years and years to come.”

The park has added a fire hydrant near the rink, to make it easier to spray water on the rink mat system. Water has to be sprayed repeatedly in thin layers to freeze in order to make the strongest ice, a process that can take about a week to get the proper thickness on such a large ice sheet.

“Our crew here at Chenango Valley State Park has been fantastic. We have learned a lot about making an ice rink,” said Boyle. “We could build an ice rink in Florida now, if we had to.”

An electrical power upgrade is also in the works, which will reduce the need for portable electric generators that Haller has been bringing to power his multiple chiller units and pumps that move the 2,750 gallons of chilled glycol through the rink’s tubing system. His not-for-profit organization, Broome Winterworks, devotes about $25,000 annually to cover equipment rental, which is just a small part of the expenses that go into the event.

The rink refrigeration system set up before layers of water are sprayed inside to form the ice sheet. The freezing process takes about a week.
The finished rink.

Haller said the tournament in the park has turned into an economic benefit for the county, as visitors need lodging and meals.

“There are not a lot of outdoor tournaments that have a refrigerated system like we do. We are getting visitors coming up here from southern states, because they know we are going to have ice, even if it is 60 degrees and sunny,” he said. “It is no different than when people from New York State go south to the beaches during the winter. We have something here that they want and many of our players refer to the Binghamton area as a hidden gem.”

In addition to creating the wintertime fun, the multi-weekend event donates money to various youth programs including more than $23,000 so far to fight youth suicide, said Joanne Weir, development director of the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier. The money supports the association’s DFID (Do It For Daron) program, named after a 14-year-old who died by suicide.

“We are thankful for the awareness that is provided to our association by this amazing event,” said Weir. “The Binghamton Pond Festival has continued to grow each year, and so have the conversations. Every step that we can take at breaking down the stigma associated with mental illness is a win – on or off the ice!”

Film and television star (and amateur hockey player) Steve Carell gets a look at a Pond Fest 2018 winner’s trophy with members of a women’s team from California after their return home.

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks.


All photos courtesty of Binghamton Pond Festival

Have a team interested in playing at Pond Fest? Registration information is available here.

Interested in ice skating available at other State Parks this winter? Check out this list.

YOU Were Seen Where? … At the New York State Fair!

The nation’s oldest State Fair has come a long way since it started in 1841 as a two-day event in Syracuse _ with highlights that included a plowing contest, which was no doubt of interest to an audience that was very familiar with farm life.

Drawing about 15,000 visitors then, the Fair has grown over the decades and last year, set a record with about 1.3 million visitors at the 13-day event.

This year’s fair will run from Wednesday, Aug. 21, through Sept. 2, and feature more than 80 live concerts spread across five stages, 200 food vendors, 70 rides, and more than 10,000 animals.

A $120 million plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to revitalize the fairgrounds wrapped up last year, when the 136,000-square-foot Expo Center, the largest indoor events space north of New York City between Boston and Cleveland, was unveiled.

Earlier work at the fairgrounds included a full-service RV park for 313 campers, a larger, relocated Midway area, a new Main Gate entrance, a new exhibit area for the New York State Police, and the Sky Ride, a 1,400-foot long chairlift ride. The Indian Village, a part of the Fair since 1928, also received renovations to its Turtle Mound, the home of cultural performances.. 

Last year’s turnout ranked New York as the fourth-largest state fair in the nation, behind Texas (2 million), Minnesota (2 million) and New England (1.5 million).

Present-day attendance is about double what the Fair was drawing during the 1950s and 1960s, as New York and the rest of the U.S. basked in a post-war economic boom tinged by a bit of Cold War angst.

So take a little trip in the time machine, and see the State Fair as it was then, contrasted with as it is today. All photographs courtesy of the New York State Fair. Click to the first picture to start the slideshow…

And will you be seen at the Fair this year?

Posted by Brian Nearing, deputy public information officer

Grab Your Phone – Take a Picture

This Saturday is National Nature Photography Day.  So, grab your phone, head out to your favorite state park and take some pictures.

rock-kring-pt.jpg
Along Morgan Island shoreline in Kring Point State Park.

Here are a few tips to help you take great photos with your phone:

  1. Get to know the different photo settings your phone offers.
    1. Burst Mode is great for capturing fast moving images like birds or insects in flight or chipmunks scurrying along the trail.
    2. HDR, or High Dynamic Range, helps to improve landscape photos that have contrasting levels of light between the sky and land. HDR evens out the light and shadows between the bright and dark areas.
    3. Practice changing the focus by tapping the screen in the spot where you want the camera to focus.
    4. Practice changing the exposure (image brightness) in case you want to take pictures of something that is in a dark spot or a bright spot.
  2. Before you start taking pictures, clean the lens. With all the use our phones get, the lens can get dirty with finger prints and more. Use a soft lens cloth or 100% cotton cloth dipped in distilled water to clean your lens.
  3. When you are out taking photos:
      • Be sure you have plenty of memory or storage available for your photos.
      • The Rule of Thirds guideline will help with composing the photo. The Rule of Thirds is based on dividing the image into nine equal parts and placing points of interest along the lines.  In the example below, the image on the right takes advantage of the Rule of Thirds by placing the rock spire on the left vertical line and the distant horizon centered on the lower horizontal line, making the image feel balanced. The image on the left centers the rock spire, not the whole scene, and the image feels unbalanced.   Research has shown that our eyes naturally go to the intersections of the lines rather than the middle of the photo.  Use the grid setting on your camera to help with the composition.

    Tadrart01- Pir6monderivative work Teeks99
    Rule of Thirds guideline, image by Tadrart01- Pir6monderivative work Teeks99
  • Take multiple pictures of the same image,trying some from a different angle or perspective, such as looking up to take pictures of trees or kneeling to take photos through the meadow.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

TreeHollowAllegany
Crouching down gives you a better angle for photos like this one of a tree hollow in Allegany State Park.

  • Keep your camera steady as you take your photos, especially for photos of fast-moving things. Place your phone on a rock or a wall to take your pictures or bring a tripod with a smartphone mount.

Tripod - accessed from Thingverse
Cellphone tripod, accessed from Thingverse.com

  • If your phone has macro mode, use it to take photos of flowers or bees in flowers. Just be really careful that you keep your camera steady as you take photos in macro mode, any tiny movement can ruin your shot. If you do move, you can try to take the photo again.

MagnoliaBud
Magnolia bud at Sonnenberg Gardens and Mansion State Historic Park. Used macro mode to capture the image.

If you take some photos this weekend, tag us #nystateparks, @nystateparks

References

8 Tricks to Take Better Photos With Your Phone

12 Mobile Photography Tips Every Photographer Should Know