Category Archives: Hiking

Hiking the Grasslands of Knox Farm State Park

Knox Farm State Park (Knox), located in East Aurora, is the former country estate of the celebrated Knox family. Seymour H. Knox, founding partner of the F.W. Woolworth Company, purchased the property in the 1890’s to train Standardbred and carriage horses. The Knox family made significant contributions to the business, educational, and cultural legacy of Western New York and owned the property until 2000 when it was sold to the state. Today the park consists of 633 acres, roughly 400 of which are grasslands and 100 acres of woodlots and wetland areas.

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Enjoying one of the many vistas in the park, photo by Claudia Rosen.

The grasslands provide a unique opportunity to enjoy a diversity of life that cannot be found in many other places in Western New York. Visitors can hike, ride horseback, cross-country ski, or snowshoe through the scenic trails. No matter the season, Knox always provides a memorable experience.

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Birding along the grassland trails, photo by Niagara Programs Office.

After the winter thaw, some of the most anticipated yearly arrivals to the park are the boisterous bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks. Both bird species only nest in grasslands and can be found in large numbers throughout the park. Bobolinks breeding in Knox may have migrated from as far away as Argentina, making them the longest migrator of any of the New World passerines, or perching birds! Males perform a captivating display flight making a series of buzzes and whistles that sound like R2-D2 from Star Wars.

Another grassland representative of the park, the eastern meadowlark, is usually heard before it is seen. They can be found along the trails singing their sweet, lazy whistles from atop a fence post or stalk of high grass. Like bobolinks, female eastern meadowlarks build their nests in a small depression on the ground, hidden amongst the tall grasses. Other grassland birds you may encounter are savannah sparrows, field sparrows, and eastern bluebirds.

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Eastern meadowlark, photo by Paul Bigelow

While walking the trails you may also encounter a striking resident of the park, the Baltimore checkerspot  butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton), named for the orange and black colors of George Calvert, the first Lord of Baltimore. The caterpillars of these beautifully marked butterflies can be found in wet areas of the park where they feed on white turtlehead (Chelone glabra). However, they are more frequently encountered along the grassland trails where they make use of English plantain (Plantago lanceolate). Adults can be found nectaring on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and other flowers in the designated butterfly meadow.

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A walk through the grasslands of Knox will always yield an exciting surprise. From incredible vistas to the theatrical display flights of male bobolinks, you’re guaranteed to walk away with a feeling of bliss. All trails in the park are easy to walk and some paths are even paved, making them accessible to all. If you haven’t made a trip to Knox Farm yet, be sure to mark it on your list and enjoy this unique and diverse park.

For those interested in learning more about the grasslands of Knox, guided hikes are offered through the Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office.

Matthew Nusstein, Park Naturalist – Niagara Region

Take a Stroll on the Interpretive Trail at Wilson Tuscarora State Park

Wilson Tuscarora State Park, located on Lake Ontario in northern Niagara County, is just 12 miles east of historic Fort Niagara State Park  and the mouth of the Niagara River.  Established in 1965, the park, encompasses 386 acres bordered by the east and west branches of Twelve Mile Creek, and has approximately four miles of trails.

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When you choose to hike the red Interpretive Trail at Wilson Tuscarora, you will experience several amazing things, particularly if you choose to visit in late spring. Along the trail, you will hike through many different habitats, including wetlands, successional fields (a field transitioning to a forest), shrub lands, ending in a mature beech-hemlock forest.

Your journey begins at the marina parking lot heading toward the large weeping willow tree, with its bright yellow green leaves drooping toward the ground.

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Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica)

Once past the old weeping willow tree you will find the trail and the real journey begins through a successional field and into shrub lands as you follow the east branch of Twelve Mile Creek.  Along the trail, you will notice red-osier dogwood shrubs forming thickets on each side.  Quaking aspen trees are found along the way as well, revealing their name’s origin as each breeze cause the tree’s leaves to quiver or quake in the wind.

Keep your eyes on the wetlands too. You may see a beaver, or at least signs that they are active in the area.  If you are lucky enough you may catch a glimpse of the pileated woodpecker. Look for pileated woodpeckers in the mature beech-hemlock forest area of the park.  Chances are you will hear them before you see them.  Listen for a deep, loud drumming and shrill, whinnying call. 

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East Branch of Twelve Mile Creek beaver chew

This trail is best known for its spring wildflowers; especially trillium.  New York’s largest flowered trillium, the white trillium, blankets the forest floor in May.  The name trillium refers to three, the number of leaves, sepals (bud covers), and petals.

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Carpet of white trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

If you haven’t gone down Wilson Tuscarora’s Interpretative Trail yet, be sure to head there this late spring to see these unique natural features!

Post by Tina Spencer, State Parks

First Day Hikes 2019

Whether it’s a much-needed elixir after a long holiday season or a first step in making (and keeping!) a resolution to be active in the new year, the 2019 First Day Hikes (FDH) are sure to draw thousands into New York’s great outdoors.

Each year on January 1, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) host these family-friendly events on public parkland across the State. This year’s line-up of 79 hikes includes some exciting new destinations in communities on the shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, and many more!

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Hikers at Two Rivers State Park, southern Finger Lakes

The popular, outdoor New Year’s Day tradition is in its 8th year. The first First Day Hikes were held in Massachusetts in 1992, but have since spread nationwide. This year marked the first time the FDH went ‘international’, with events held in neighboring Ontario, Canada.

Here in New York, the event has grown significantly since its inception. The 2019 First Day Hikes will be offered at more than 51 state parks and historic sites with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill level and locations. In addition, DEC will host 19 hikes at wildlife areas, trails and environmental education centers. Staff from State Parks and DEC, along with volunteers, will lead the walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location and weather conditions.

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Exploring the trails in Moreau Lake State Park, eastern New York

For last year’s event, Mother Nature really tested people’s mettle. With frigid temperatures and snowy conditions across the state last New Year’s Day, a number of parks, sites, wildlife areas and nature centers cancelled or postponed their First Day Hike program, but many soldiered on and welcomed participants all bundled up who were looking forward to heralding in 2018 in the outdoors.

In fact, a pair of intrepid First Day Hikers braved the elements and joined not one, but two (!) First Day Hikes out in western New York. A Miami couple honeymooning in Niagara Falls attended the morning First Day Hike at DeVeaux Woods State Park, and had so much fun they decided to join the afternoon ice-covered FDH program at iconic Niagara Falls State Park (shown below).

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A beautiful day for a hike in Niagara Falls State Park.

Some host locations welcome dogs on leashes and several have flat, even surfaces for strollers. Participants are encouraged to contact the park for information and pre-registration where noted. A sample of this year’s programs feature a seal walk, walking history tour, snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, bird count gorge walks, military musicology, canal towpath walk, and other fun options.

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HIkers pause for a photo in  Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley.

If conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing with equipment for rent if available, or participants can bring their own. Many host sites will be offering refreshments and giveaways. A map and details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are listed at parks.ny.gov and dec.ny.gov.

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This New Year’s Day, be inspired by the Florida newlyweds who attended two hikes in a single day in Niagara, or the hundreds of brave souls who joined the gorge walk at Taughannock Falls State Park in the Finger Lakes (shown above), or the families and friends who embrace the winter wonderland at state parks and DEC sites across our state… and start your own tradition today.

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First Saturday Hikes in the Finger Lakes Region

Each year in the Finger Lakes ten hikes are offered throughout the region on the first Saturday of each month.  Hikes are led by Parks staff or Parks interns and are offered at different locations each month and vary in length (3-5 miles) and difficulty.   As leaders, we try to keep everyone together during the hikes as much as possible but with group size ranging from 2-50, variable terrain and different fitness levels we sometimes get spread out until we take a rest and regroup.   We encourage everyone to attend, including but not limited to families, seasoned hikers, visitors to the region, locals, groups, clubs, well behaved dogs and anyone else you can think of. There is no First Saturday hike in January because of the January 1st  First Day Hike on offered at Taughannock Falls State Park and no hike in May due to I Love My Park Day always falling on the first Saturday of May.

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Jane Suhey from the 2017 First Saturday Educational Hike at Robert H. Treman State Park, photo courtesy of Gary Cremeens

The idea behind these hikes is to get people out exploring new parks and learning more about hiking parks while getting a little exercise.  Each hike is unique because there are sometimes different leaders and the mix of people who attend is always varied.  Both of factors shape how the hike unfolds.  We routinely discuss park history, geology, natural history, hiking basics and anything else that is relevant or sometimes topics that come from left field! Last month the temperature was in the low 40’s and there was a steady rain so we began with a discussion on hypothermia and how to tell if someone might be hypothermic.

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October 6th hike along the compact stone-dust Catherine Valley Trail (quick side trip to see Montour Falls)

The origin of this offering of hikes is linked to the 2014 First Day Hike when I first met Gary and Wendy Cremeens. After hiking five miles with me they said that they had such a good time that we should do it every month.  Their positive energy and willingness to help and support everyone around them sold me on the idea. We offered our inaugural First Saturday Hike at Buttermilk Falls State Park in February of 2015.  Gary is in the Cubs outfit in the photo below; he is usually wearing something fluorescent, almost always in shorts and when he attends, he runs around distributing the hike schedule, offering bug spray or tissues and welcomes everyone who shows up. Wendy is equally supportive and always acts as the hike sweeper so no one gets left behind.

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Aug 4th 2018 hike at Buttermilk Falls State Park, photo courtesy of Wendy Cremeens

Hikes are free (certain parks at certain times of year charge a parking fee) and reservations are not required but will be accepted via my email at josh.teeter@parks.ny.gov.  If you have questions about the hike location, difficulty or any other related questions, feel free to email me in advance.  The calendar of hikes can be found on the New York State Parks calendar or on Facebook by searching First Saturday Educational Hikes.

Post by Josh Teeter, State Parks

Leave No Trace on Trails

Did you know that in New York State Parks alone there are over 2,000 miles of trails? That’s a lot of hiking, biking, running, and riding!  From smooth paved paths, to steep rugged climbs, there’s a type of trail for nearly everyone. Often, trails are the only way we can get to special places like waterfalls, lakes, and mountain tops. Because trails are so popular, it’s important to know how to enjoy them responsibly so we can protect those special places for everyone.

Leave No Trace and the Seven Principles

The Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics is a non-profit organization that works to educate people on responsible ways to enjoy and experience the outdoors. To do this, they created the Leave No Trace Seven Principles (below) as guidelines you should follow every time you’re out in nature.

Leave No Trace Seven Principles

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

Here are some examples of how you can use the Leave No Trace Seven Principles next time you head out on a trail:

  1. Know Before You Go

Be prepared! Check the forecast and bring the right clothes for the weather. Use maps to make sure you know the route and you won’t get lost. Bring a water bottle and enough water to stay hydrated. Learn about the areas before you visit to make the most of your trip.

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Grafton Lakes State Park kiosk.
  1. Choose The Right Path

Follow the trail!  Going off the trail damages plants and can create trails where they shouldn’t be. Read signs and follow trail markers so you won’t get lost. If you’re camping, look for a designated site to camp rather than creating a new one.

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Remember to carry out your trash.
  1. Trash Your Trash

Pack out what you pack in! Don’t leave litter. Bring a baggie to store your trash and dispose of it properly when you leave. That includes food waste like apple cores and banana peels that don’t belong in nature.

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Carving in tree bark may harm a tree.

4. Leave What You Find

Leave plants, rocks, and other natural features as you find them for others to enjoy. Treat living things with respect; don’t pull plants, break limbs, or carve on trees.

 

 

5. Be Careful With Fire

Follow the rules and don’t build fires where they aren’t allowed. If allowed, use an existing fire ring, keep the fire small, and only use down and dead wood. When done, douse with water to make sure fires are completely out and check the coals to make sure they are cold.

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Check with the park office or park map to learn where you can have a fire.
  1. Respect Wildlife

Observe animals from a distance; never approach, feed, or follow them. Human food is not healthy for animals and feeding them starts bad habits. If you bring a pet, make sure to keep them on a leash.

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Watch a wood turtle from a distance, photo by Lilly Schelling
  1. Be Kind To Other Visitors

Share the trail and say hello! Have fun, but let others enjoy nature as well. Avoid loud noises and yelling. You’ll see more animals when you are quiet!

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Share the trails, photo by Jennifer Natali.

Trails are one of the best ways we can all get outside for fun, exercise, and adventure. Following the Leave No Trace Seven Principles is a great way to do your part and protect our trails and outdoor spaces for the future. To learn how you can plan for your next trail adventure, visit the State Parks Trail Tips page. For more information on Leave No Trace, visit their website.

See you on the trail!

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Reference: © 1999 by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics: www.LNT.org.