A ladder is used to get to a place otherwise beyond reach. That kind of help is the idea behind the State Parks’ Ladders to the Outdoors program, which provides free recreational programs for youth in underserved communities in Niagara and Erie counties.
The goal of State Parks’ Ladders to the Outdoors program is to remove financial barriers to getting children to play outdoors, try new sports, take a hike or camp in State Parks that they might not have a chance to visit. Since this program started in the summer of 2021, more than 2,000 kids from a variety of school districts, community, church, and youth groups have attended more than 50 different sporting and recreational events, completely free of charge.
Examples of programs that have been provided include guided hikes in the Niagara Gorge, sledding at Buffalo Harbor State Park, snowshoeing at Knox Farm State Park and a hike at Niagara Falls State Park. The offerings are endless and be tailored to any group or season.
When a group attends a Ladders program, activities will be tailored to the park they wish to go to and they will have access to a complete inventory of gear, from soccer balls, baseballs, bats and gloves, and footballs, to snowshoes and sleds. Want to learn disc golf? To bike? Fish? Swim? Kayak? Hike? We have all that equipment and people to help show the way, and it is always free!
It doesn’t stop at providing just the gear. To date, $300,000 has been invested to improve playgrounds and sporting fields, such as the baseball diamond and playground accessibility at DeVeaux Woods State Park in Niagara Falls, and Beaver Island State Park in Grand Island.
A safe and sturdy ladder costs money and Parks is making this program work with the support of a $860,000 grant made to the Natural Heritage Trust by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Wilson was the former owner of the Buffalo Bills football team and a founding owner of the American Football League, who prior to his death in 2014, created one of the nation’s largest charitable foundations to benefit the people of the Western New York, Buffalo and Detroit areas.
Ladders to the Outdoors is looking to grow this summer, with programs available at the following State Parks: Buffalo Harbor, Beaver Island, DeVeaux Woods, Reservoir, Whirlpool, Fort Niagara, and Wilson-Tuscarora.
If your youth group would like to join in or has an idea for a program, please apply or contact us. An online form can be found here. More information is available through KeJuan.Harmon@parks.ny.gov
Start climbing your ladder and see what’s happening at State Parks in western New York!
Post by KeJuan Harmon, Coordinator, Ladders to the Outdoors Program
More About the WNY State Parks in Ladders to the Outdoors
Buffalo Harbor State Park is the first state park in the city of Buffalo. Boasting beautiful views of Lake Erie, the park is home to a 1,100-slip marina, a restaurant, boat launches, personal watercraft launches, fish cleaning station, restrooms, and a beach for strolling and sunbathing, and a nautical themed playground great for kids of all ages.
Beaver Island State Park is located at the south end of Grand Island in the upper Niagara River. The 950-acre park has a half-mile sandy beach for swimming, adjacent 80 slip marina with both seasonal and transient boat slips, fishing access, car-top boat launch, multiple canoe/kayak launches, bike and nature trails, nature center, playgrounds, picnic areas, athletic fields, horseshoe pits, an 18-hole championship disc golf course, an 18-hole championship golf course.
DeVeaux Woods State Park has a baseball diamond, a signature playground, picnic facilities, nature trails through a meadow and Old Growth Woods, and a path that leads across the Niagara Scenic Parkway to Whirlpool State Park with access to the Niagara Gorge trail system.
Whirlpool State Park has many scenic overlooks with spectacular views of the Whirlpool and rapids. Trailheads lead into the Gorge where challenging trails lead to one of the most spectacular landscapes in the country. There are also picnic facilities and a playground in this park.
Reservoir State Park has two tennis courts, seven softball diamonds, four basketball courts, a roller hockey court, and picnic facilities.
Fort Niagara State Park has two boat launches providing access to the Lower Niagara River and Lake Ontario, woodland hiking trails, a swimming pool, a view of Lake Ontario, picnic grounds, playgrounds and 18 soccer fields.
Wilson-Tuscarora State Park is a well-preserved natural area for many varieties of plants and wildlife, encompassing 476.5 acres of mature woods, open meadows, and marshland. Tuscarora Bay, divided from Lake Ontario by a strip of land called “The Island,” has a boat launch and emergency storm shelter docks. The park’s four-mile nature trail is also used for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Fishing for many varieties of pan fish and game fish, from boats or from shore, is extremely popular.
Did you know that New York State’s public lands and waters have had a charitable partner for more than 50 years? The Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) was established in 1968 as a non-profit, public benefit corporation with the mission to support parks, outdoor recreation, historic preservation and land and water conservation throughout state lands. During … Continue reading Getting to Know the Natural Heritage Trust→
On of my favorite childhood memories was going to an outdoor ice skating rink behind a warehouse in South Glens Falls in Warren County. It was only a field with a large frozen puddle but to me it was amazing. Years later now in my role as manager at Moreau Lake State Park, I wanted to give people near my park the same opportunity.
I started researching ice rinks and how to make them safe but also affordable for the park. While we do have the lake to work with, lake and pond ice usually is bumpy and cracked, thus making stumbles and falls more likely. As I continued researching online, an image of a homemade Zamboni apparatus popped up. Major ice rinks use large Zamboni machines to lay down smooth coats of ice on indoor rinks, but that kind of heavy machinery was not in my budget, so the hand-made model I saw looked like the way to go!
Using a steady flow of warm water to apply a continuous smooth ice surface just like the big machines, a small, human-powered Zamboni was my solution to make lake ice smooth and safe for skaters.
Our two homemade units were created by Aaron Aiken, a staffer at Moreau, who fabricated them after seeing the online photo. It was amazing. Aaron simply gathered all the materials he needed and finished in a day. We had most of the parts needed on hand at the park so there was little to no cost to us.
Aaron assembled a 55-gallon poly tank (used to hold the warm water), a 10-foot piece of 2-inch PVC pipe, a 2-inch PVC valve, a 4-foot piece of felt or wool (for trailing the water and flattening it out as smooth ice) and a sturdy wheeled cart. With that and a bit of ingenuity _ presto, a human powered Zamboni machine!
Zambonis work by slowly drizzling out warm water over the surface of existing ice. The warm water melts all the high spots and fills in all the lows before freezing to create a perfectly smooth surface perfect for skating. The operator judges how fast they want water to come out by adjusting the flow with the valve.
At Moreau, our crew pulls a Zamboni around the rink three times before it runs out of water, and then the other Zamboni takes its place. It is important to have two setups because ridges can form in the ice if you stop putting down warm water even for an instant. To create a smooth rink, it took about 110 gallons of water, applied by two Zambonis over six laps, for a total of about an hour of work.
Another service that Moreau Lake State Park provides to visitors is the Daily Ice Report. Parks staffers measure the thickness of the ice starting a day after rink ice is laid on, meaning when the ice totally covers the surface of the lake, we wait a day and then start the ice thickness report. Two staff members start at shore with an ice auger and drill through the ice and measure the thickness. If it is under 3 inches they stop at that hole. If it is over 4 inches, they move out 20 feet and drill another hole. They follow the same procedures until it is determined that the average thickness (average readings taken from multiple places on the lake) is at least 6 inches.
When that happens, the lake is opened to skaters, pedestrians and ice fishermen. These ice reports are published over social media every day at 8:00 a.m. until the ice is safe and then these reports are replaced by the open one.
All this comes together to make the lake a safe and enjoyable place to recreate in the winter. At our rink, located just off the beach, a campfire is usually going nearby so skaters can warm themselves. So grab your skates (or borrow ours) and give us a visit!
Cover shot – Moreau staffer Jay Hauser (foreground) pulls a homemade Zamboni around the skating rink at Moreau Lake State Park, as fellow staffer Donna Fortner comes along behind with the second Zamboni . All images NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.
Post by Al LaFountain, Park Manager, Moreau Lake State Park and Grant Cottage State Historic Site
More about Moreau Lake State Park
Covering some 6,250 acres in Saratoga County, Moreau Lake State Park features hardwood forests, pine stands, and rocky ridges. More than 30 miles of hiking trails are available, and can be used for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Snowshoe rentals are available.
Last year, Governor Kathy Hochul announced an 860-acre expansion of this park to include spectacular natural habitat along an undeveloped stretch of the Hudson River that will be known as Big Bend Point. This acquisition makes Moreau Lake State Park one of the ten largest parks in the state park system.
Learn about a Gilded Age ice skater who helped promote figure skating for women from this previous blog post by the curator at Staatsburgh State Historic Site.
Staatsburgh State Historic Site, formerly the Gilded Age estate of the very wealthy and socially-prominent Ruth Livingston Mills and her husband, financier and philanthropist Ogden Mills, sits along the eastern bank of the Hudson River in the mid-Hudson Valley. Commanding a view of the river and the Catskill Mountains, the estate’s Beaux-Arts mansion was once … Continue reading Gilded Age Ice Skater Carved Early Path→
Now, information and tips on your New York State Parks and Historic Sites are as close as your mobile device.
Help plan your visits this summer using the free, new New York State parks Explorer App, developed by staff at State Parks and the Office of Information Technology Services.
Information is tabbed by favorites by both visitors and staff, golf courses, state historic sites with a military heritage, some lesser-know parks that some treasurer as “hidden gems, and parks that feature historic lighthouses.
The app can help guide visitors to top destinations and new must-see locations with rotating curated content. It offers quick access to park information, including directions, hours, amenities, fees and rates, trail maps, helpful know-before-you-go details, and the ability to receive important updates and alerts.
Visitors can also link directly to online camping reservations and easily access select State Parks’ social media channels to share their experiences.
“This season more than ever, people are looking to spend time in the outdoors whether taking nature breaks, day trips or overnight getaways,” said State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid, “and this new Parks Explorer App is a helpful tool for families on the go to plan the perfect adventure with ease. To stay in the know and make the most of your park visit, I encourage New Yorkers to download the app today.”
New York State Executive Director of Tourism Ross D. Levi said, “With an unparalleled collection of parks, historic sites and recreation trails across the state, exploring New York’s State Parks system is a perfect complement to any Empire State vacation. The new State Parks Explorer App will offer information and suggestions that help keep New York a top travel destination for residents and visitors alike.”
Interim New York State Chief Information Officer Jeremy Goldberg, “The Office of Information Technology Services is proud to partner with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to share technology that makes it easier for residents to visit parks across New York State. The Parks Explorer App allows residents to plan new outdoor adventures prior to visiting parks and demonstrates how NYS is harnessing the power of technology to bring New Yorkers closer to nature.”
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.
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.
“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?
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
If you choose to go birding along the river this season, here are some gulls you might end up seeing:
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 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 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
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 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.
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!
Cover Photo: New York State Department of Environmental Conservation