Category Archives: Hiking

The Ellenville Fault Ice Caves – A National Natural Landmark

The most popular features of the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve are the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves. This remarkable system of crevice caves fills up with ice and snow each winter, and retains some of its ice well into the summer. Even when the ice is completely gone, the caves remain cool all year round. This unusual phenomenon has drawn people to the caves for generations.

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A postcard from c. 1909 showing the snowed-over entrance to one of the caves. The man in the image is an illustration, and slightly exaggerates the scale.

The significance of the caves has even been recognized by the National Park Service. In 1967, the NPS designated the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves as a National Natural Landmark. This designation is given to natural sites that exemplify the special or unique biological or geological features of a region.

Geologically, the Ice Caves are unlike other caves in the Northeast. Most cave systems are made of limestone, which is easily eroded and dissolved by water. This results in the large, open caverns that most people imagine when they think of caves. The Ellenville Ice Caves, on the other hand, are formed out of extremely hard and insoluble quartz conglomerate. When underlying rock layers were folded by tectonic movement, the hard conglomerate separated along existing joints in the rock.

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Cutaway images demonstrating two forms of crevice cave formation. Source: Jack Fagan, Scenes and Walks in the Northern Shawangunks

The caves remain cold because of the natural refrigeration system that exists within them. When air moves across the top of the crevices, the colder, heavier air sinks down into them. The cold air then becomes trapped in the caves, keeping them at a comfortable temperature even during the hottest days of the summer.

While they received the National Natural Landmark designation because of their unique geologic importance, the Ice Caves have a great deal of ecological impact as well. The NY Natural Heritage Program recognizes the ice cave talus community as globally uncommon and rare in the state and a priority for protection. Because of their cold microclimate, the Ice Caves are home to several species that are infrequent in the region. These include goldthread (Coptis trifolium), mountain ash (Sorbus americana), and black spruce (Picea mariana), among others. Scientists have also taken interest in the presence of a species of cave-dwelling crustacean (Stygobromus allegheniensis) that is only found in four states: New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. This little arthropod lacks eyes, as it does not need them in complete darkness. It is also able to survive being frozen, a necessary attribute for surviving winter conditions in the caves.

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Strygobromus allegheniensis. Note the pale coloration and lack of eyes, typical features of cave-bound organisms. Image source: Espinansa et al. (2015)

The Ice Caves have local cultural significance as well. Many residents of the Shawangunks remember the days of “Ice Caves Mountain,” when the Sam’s Point area was managed very differently than it is today. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, much of Sam’s Point was privately owned and operated as a tourist attraction. Visitors could drive their cars right up to Ice Caves, while a pre-recorded cassette tape described the various features encountered along the way. Doors were placed over the caves to keep the ice inside year-round, and the ice was lit up by multicolored flood lights. A rock wall was built on the cliffs of Sam’s Point to dissuade visitors from getting too close to the edge. While it may have been somewhat kitschy by today’s standards, it cannot be denied that “Ice Caves Mountain” was an important step in allowing the greater public to experience this previously obscure natural wonder.

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Gully with snow at Sam’s Point, photo by Greg Edinger, image courtesy of the New York Natural Heritage Program

Many things have changed since the Ice Caves Mountain days. While Sam’s Point is still managed for recreation, there has also been a large shift in focus towards conservation. Visitors may no longer drive through the park, and the cave doors have been removed in favor of letting the natural ice cycle of the caves take place. Interpretive displays within the park focus on the natural history of the caves, rather than just their physical spectacle.

While National Natural Landmark status highlights the importance of a site, it is up to the owners of that landmark to manage and protect it. Fortunately, Sam’s Point is part of a Park Preserve, meaning that all of the plant and animal life within it is protected. As such, those who appreciate the cultural, geological, and ecological significance of the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves are able to experience them to the fullest extent.

Tim Howard, NYNHP
Ice and trees in leaf – a late spring exploration of the ice caves. Tim Howard, NYNHP

Want to explore the Ice Caves? State Parks staff offer guided hikes to both Shingle Gully and the Sam’s Point Ice Caves; click here for the Sam’s Point Area calendar of events.

References:

Fagan, Jack (2006).  Scenes and Walks in the Northern Shawangunks (3rd Ed.). Mahwah, NJ: The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

Espinasa, L., McCahill, A., Kavanagh, A., Espinasa J., Scott, A., Cahill, A. (2015).  A troglobitic amphipod in the Ice Caves of the Shawangunk Ridge: Behavior and resistance to freezing.

NatureServe Explorer Allegheny Cave Amphipod

Ice Caves Talus Community Conservation Guide

Featured image courtesy of Mike Adamovic, from Ice Caves of the Shawangunk Ridge

Post by David Hendler, SCA Education and Stewardship Intern

 

 

 

The Niagara Gorge at Low Water

When autumn arrives, what comes to your mind first? Many say the changing foliage or enjoying a hike along a trail, savoring those crisp days given to us during this time of year.

However, here in the Niagara Region of New York, autumn holds an annual event that is well-worth a journey down into the Niagara Gorge! It is the time of year when in addition to viewing the raging rapids, you can also see the river at low water. This is all made possible because of additional water being diverted  for the New York Power Authority and the Ontario Power Company to produce hydroelectricity.

Regulated under The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 (revised in 1950), the US and Canada are allowed to divert water for the purpose of power generation as long as they agree to preserve the scenic beauty of the Falls and the Niagara River. Thus, the erosion rate of the falls is reduced significantly. The cliff face is more stable and it makes it easier to maintain the viewing areas at Niagara Falls State Park.

Summer Flow occurs from April 1 until October 31, with 50% of the river water diverted above the Falls during the day and 75% diverted during evening hours to produce electricity.

Photo by Nicole Czarnecki

Winter Flow occurs from November 1-March 31, when 75% of the water above the Falls is diverted, thus we get to see only a quarter of the water flow over the falls.

Gorge at Low Water

This offers opportunities to explore part of the exposed Whirlpool Sandstone rock layer in the Niagara Gorge during the winter flow. The Whirlpool Sandstone layer is underwater during the summer flow.

NIA gorge low water

There are guided hikes available with the Niagara Region Park Programs Office in November; in 2017 they are Saturday, November 11 & Saturday, November 18. The hike will take you beyond the Whirlpool to the site of the rapids viewing area. At one time, the exposed rocks were a scenic stop for the Great Gorge Route, an electric trolley line that ran from 1895-1935, running from Niagara Falls to Lewiston, NY. The route also journeyed over to Canada (1899-1932) on what was known as the Niagara Belt Line.

Great Gorge Viewing

At this trolley stop, passengers were able to walk down the stairs to better view the incredible “giant wave” as seen in the historic postcard below.

Giant Wave Postcard

Post by Carol Rogers, State Parks.

Featured image:  Niagara River Backdrift, accessed from Wikicommons

Hiking Hidden Gems

Planning a hike this fall? State Parks staff recommend you try one of these hidden gems:

At Golden Hill State Park in Niagara County, Renee recommends the Interpretive RED Trail. The 1.7-mile-long trail provides a magnificent view of the 30 Mile Point Lighthouse as you hike along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.  The lakeshore habitat is very important for migrating birds. They use this area to rest and refuel before making their way across Lake Ontario. The hike will take you through diverse habitats including shrublands, grasslands, deciduous woodlands, a variety of evergreen forests, and an oak grove with 300-year-old trees.   The trail follows Golden Hill Creek where an abundance of wildlife can be seen. Watch for herons, kingfishers, warblers, great horned owls, white tailed deer, red fox, chipmunks, and woodchucks. This hike is rated easy to moderate.

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If you are looking for a moderate four-mile hike, Mike suggests the Fire Tower Ramble which features scenic views in Sterling Forest State Park in Orange County.  Climbing the fire tower, you can see Sterling Lake, Cedar Pond, Greenwood Lake, Schunnemunk Mountain, and the surrounding Hudson Highlands. On a clear day, New York City is visible in the distance. This 60-foot fire tower was built in 1922 by the Department of Conservation. It was one of the first all-steel fire towers built outside of the Adirondack and Catskill Preserves.

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Mark notes that the trail system at Robert V. Riddell State Park in Delaware County provides a diversity of experiences and opportunities. Once a dairy farm, Riddell has many trails which traverse both fields and forest and has access to Schenevus Creek, a tributary of the nearby Susquehanna River. Nature enthusiasts regularly enjoy the trails on the north side of I-88 not only for the scenic views but also for the diverse wildlife along the creek. History lovers can also see the remnants of the former dairy along the trail, including the slate-roofed dairy barn built in the 1830s. The southern part of the park (south of I-88) has a different trail experience with longer, more rugged trails, access to a waterfall, and the spring-fed Mud Lake. Mud Lake is a bog surrounded by spruce and tamarack (larch) trees, low shrubs and a floating mat of peat moss along the edge of the open water. This fascinating habitat makes Mud Lake a destination for local nature enthusiasts.  Plans are in the works to expand the trail system in the southern side of the park to enhance hiking opportunities in the area.

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One of the most popular attractions at Long Point State Park in Chautauqua County is the Point Trail, according to Tom.  Approximately 1/2-mile-long, the trail loops through a forest of maple and oak trees and rewards hikers with fantastic panoramic views of Chautauqua Lake once they arrive at the “point.”  There are a few benches and interpretive signs along the way to sit on and learn about the park and history of the lake.  This level trail is accessible to everyone and state park staff recently put down a new layer of crushed stone to make the walk a bit nicer on rainy days.

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Before you head out, check out our trail tips. See you on the trail!

Want to try snowshoeing? Park experts tell where to go

Don’t let the snow deter you from exploring State Parks – just grab or borrow a pair of snowshoes and head out to the trail.  Go snowshoeing on a trail in a nearby park or try one of State Park staff’s favorite snowshoeing spots.

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A group pauses during a snowshoe trip at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, photo by State Parks

In western New York, Tina’s favorite snowshoeing spot is at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park located on Lake Ontario in northern Niagara County in Wilson.  This is where you will find the Red interpretive trail nestled along the east branch of Twelve Mile Creek.  As you snowshoe through the changing landscapes, you’ll pass through successional fields, marshland, and finally through a mature forest of old growth beech and hemlock trees.  Keep your ears open for calls of the pileated woodpecker.

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Snowshoe to this historic tower at Allegany State Park, photo by Adele Wellman, State Parks

At Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Adele recommends the Bear Paw Trail located across the road from the Art Roscoe cross-country ski area on the Red House side of the Park.  Bear Paw Trail is the newest trail built for the snowshoeing enthusiast.  The 2.4-mile long, easy to moderate trail has 15 interpretative sights and runs along the ridge above Salamanca to historic Stone Tower. The trail loops through large stands of Black cherry and White ash trees. Look for small secret plants such as wintergreen and princess pines along the trail. Each Monday evening in January and February, the park offers sunset snowshoe hikes. The Environmental Education Department has a few pairs of snowshoes to borrow during programs.

In central New York, Katie’s favorite part about snowshoeing is how the landscape constantly changes during the winter. Even if you snowshoe at your favorite local park, in her case Clark Reservation State Park in Jamesville, everything looks different in the winter.

After the leaves fall off the trees, you can see so much farther into the woods. You will be snowshoeing along at Clark Reservation, and suddenly notice that the ground drops away not far from the edge of the trail into a steep ravine. You might never notice the ravine in the summer because rich greenery hides it from view. Winter’s arrival reveals forests secrets. Soon though, they are covered up again, this time with ever changing blankets of snow. Nature’s snow sculptures change daily, so you really need to hit the trails often so you don’t miss out!

About once a year, the park gets special permission to host a moonlit snowshoe hike it’s amazing how bright the forest is with the light from a full moon reflecting off the snow. You can even see your shadow! Keep your eyes on the calendar to find out when this year’s Moonlight Snowshoe Hike will be, or come out on your own any day to check out this special place.

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Family fun at Wellesley Island State Park, photo by State Parks

At the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center at Wellesley Island State Park, Thousand Islands, Molly notes that there are four trails open to snowshoeing.  Probably the most heavily snowshoed trail is North Field Loop.  Only a half mile long, it meanders through a forest full of white pine trees, passes through a seasonal wetland, and into a forest of towering red oak trees.  School groups explore this trail on snowshoes and the nature center staff lead moonlight snowshoe hikes on the trail throughout the winter months.  There is nothing prettier than snow covered woods on a moonlit night.  The park has both children and adult snowshoes available for rent for $3 a pair.

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Snowshoeing through Grafton Lakes State Park, photo by State Parks

In the Capital Region, Liz at Grafton Lakes State Park suggests the Shaver Pond trail loop. Just under two miles, it offers picturesque views of Shaver Pond, with a trail winding through forest of hemlock and maple trees over easy terrain.  Inquisitive visitors may see mink or fox tracks along the way.  Trail maps are for sale & snowshoe rentals are available at park office on a first-come, first served basis for $5 for four hours.

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Family snowshoe program at Moreau Lake State Park, photo by State Parks

At Moreau Lake State Park, Rebecca mentions that the park has 30 miles of trails and there are new places to explore as the seasons change.  The parks offers snowshoe hikes and classes for all ability levels, including first timers.  The park also has snowshoes available for rent to hikers or people who want to go out and try it on their own for $5 for a half day and $10 for a full day rental.

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Fun times with friends at Thacher State Park, photo by State Parks

At Thacher State Park, the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail is one of Nancy’s favorite snowshoe walks. This three mile loop in the wilder northern part of the park takes you through beautiful woodlands of mixed hardwoods with stands of spruce and hemlock trees and across a couple of open fields,  without much elevation change.  Midway on the loop, you can take in the scenic snow-covered views from the cliff edge at High Point.  Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center rents snowshoes to the public.

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Heading out on the trail at Fahnestock Winter Park, photo by State Parks

In the Hudson Valley, Kris at Fahnestock Winter Park mentions two unique snowshoeing trails. If you’re looking for more rugged terrain, and challenging descents, “Appalachian Way” treks along a ridge line to a stunning overlook of Canopus Lake. The trail “Ojigwan Path” offers the beginner and intermediate snowshoer a snaking walk through hemlock groves and strands of mountain laurel. Both routes take around 2.5 hours to complete. Snowshoe rentals are located in the newly renovated winter park lodge, where you can also warm up with a cup of delicious chili!

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A beautiful day on snowshoes at Sam’s Point, photo by State Parks

Laura D. recommends a snowshoeing trail that will lead you to expansive cliff top vistas, through the globally rare dwarf pitch pine barrens, and around the glacially carved Lake Maratanza. The Loop Road at the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve is the perfect trail for viewing these breathtaking vistas. While on the three-mile Loop Road, stop at the Sam’s Point Overlook, where on a clear day, you can see four states!  Snowshoe rentals are available at the Sam’s Point Visitor Center for $15 per adult and $14 per junior (17 years and under) for the day or $5 to join a public program.

From Region Minnewaska
Minnewaska Falls, photo by State Parks

A novice snowshoer will find the modest Mossy Glen Footpath loop just right for a snowshoe trip.at Minnewaska State Park Preserve notes Laura C.  This approximately four-mile route follows the Mossy Glen Footpath as it hugs the edge of the scenic Peter’s Kill stream, winding through quiet forests. At the end of this Footpath, take the Blueberry Run Footpath to the Lower Awosting Carriage Road back to your starting point. This loop begins at the Awosting Parking Lot.

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photo by State Parks

These are just a sampling of the many trails you can explore on snowshoes .  We hope to see you out on the snowshoe trail this winter.

Post by State Parks Staff

 

 

Summer Stewards of Hudson Highlands

Welcome to the Hudson Highlands, New York City’s backyard!  Just a short train ride or a car ride from NYC, people can regain their sense of summer freedom in the network of trails throughout the Eastern Hudson Highlands.  Patrons come from all over – day-trippers from neighboring states, as well as international hikers staying in NYC – to enjoy a pleasant hike.  The trails are as diverse as the people who visit, and there is a trail for every type of hiking goal.

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Breakneck, photo by Penelope Guccione

Breakneck Ridge and the Washburn/Cornish Trailhead are two of the most popular trailheads, which are places where trails begin.  These trailheads are where you are likely to bump into a summer trail steward.  New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NYNJTC) staff is stationed at Breakneck while State Parks stewards are posted at Washburn on weekends and either location during the weekdays.  Say hello to the trail stewards at either spot; they can help suggest the best route options and point out unique features that can be found along your desired hike.  Trail stewards from State Parks are based out of the Taconic Outdoor Education Center (TOEC): Outdoor Educators, Student Conservation Association (SCA) members, and seasonal staff who all teach about the natural world.  Stewards are happy to answer questions about any animals you have seen or plants you have discovered.  You can even chat to get some information about local history and places to go post-hike.

Trail stewards are here to empower people with information about safety and about protecting the fragile natural area of the state park.  Working as a part if visitor services, trail stewards help hikers make more informed, positive decisions.  Did you know that trail blazes or trail markers indicate which way the trail winds through the forest?  Trail stewards are there to help brief people on how to read the blazes so that hikers stay on the trail.  Wandering off trail has a devastating impact on the mountains’ natural resources, which supports rare species and sensitive natural communities.  Some hikers purposefully stray from the path, thereby creating false or social trails that can easily mislead novice hikers and escalate erosion, a major issue in the state park.  The rocky summit communities along the ridgeline can be destroyed by visitors trampling the low lying vegetation.  So tread lightly and stick to the designated trails and viewpoints marked on the trail maps.  The goal is to allow people to utilize the mountains as a recreational resource without harming or putting too much stress on the ecosystem.  When hikers make informed decisions, the state park stays in better condition for current and future generations.

Breakneck and Washburn trailheads are the last outposts before you begin your journey to the ridgetops and woods, so make sure to prepare ahead of time.  There are many trails that intersect and overlap.  Grab a free detailed, colored map of the Eastern Hudson Highlands as well as valuable advice from the stewards.  Make sure to bring plenty of water: at least one to two liters during the hot, humid summer months.  Water needs vary based on climate, exertion, and individual needs.  Just remember that there are no water fountains or pumps along the trails.  Washburn has complimentary water most weekends in the summer to help unprepared hikers avoid dehydration.  Snacks may also be useful, providing fuel for long and strenuous hikes.  Other helpful items may include sunscreen, sturdy hiking shoes, and bug spray.  Trail stewards will remind you to “Leave No Trace” (LNT).  LNT is a set of seven principles that provide an outline for outdoor ethics, such as, “Plan and Prepare,” “Carry Out Items that you Carry In,” “Leave what you Find,” “Respect Wildlife,” and “Be Considerate of Other Visitors.”  Essentially, you want to leave no trace of your visit so that the mountains look the same as before entering the state park.  The LNT outdoor ethics are critical for patrons to observe in order to preserve the natural splendor of the Hudson Highlands.

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Hudson Highlands, photo by Penelope Guccione

State Parks is also planning for improved management of the park by collecting and analyzing data.  Trail stewards keep track of the number of hikers who start their hikes from these trailheads and conduct surveys to get vital feedback from patrons.  Hikers can help influence future planning in the region by taking a moment to complete a brief survey.  You can take the survey by speaking with a summer trail steward or answering the questions online.  You can help by taking surveys for other trails by clicking on “Survey” under “Quick Links” at the bottom of the State Parks’ website.

As the summertime comes to a close, the trail stewards move from their summer post to other duties until the next summer season.  While the trail stewards may be gone, the trails are still eager to be traveled.  Soon there will be a crisp nip in the air signaling the beginning of autumn.  Will you be there when the forest erupts in a sea of rich, fall colors?  Will you help uphold the outdoor ethics to safeguard the natural resources of the Hudson Highlands?

Learn more about the forest and summits on these trails:

Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath Rocky Summit

Chestnut Oak Forest

Appalachian Oak-Hickory Forest

Post by Catherine Francolini, State Parks

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Breakneck Sunset, photo by Karoline Nowillo