In June 2015, the United States Department of the Interior designated Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail at Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site (Sackets Harbor) as one of ten new National Recreation Trails. The trail tells the story of Sackets Harbor and the pivotal role it played during the War of 1812 through ten interpretive panels along the three-quarter mile loop trail. Additional panels highlight other historical aspects of the site including the 1860s Sackets Harbor Navy Yard and the importance of historic preservation.
The trail unifies the core of this 70-acre property. The trail is accessible and offers views of the 1860s Navy Yard structures, the 1913 War of 1812 Centennial 100-maple tree grove, the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps decorative stonewall, abundant birdlife, and unsurpassed views of Black River Bay on the eastern end of Lake Ontario.
From mid-May through Labor Day, amenities near the trail include public restrooms, a picnic pavilion, interpretive programs, and living history demonstrations. On the trail visitors walk, jog, or bicycle. Just off the trail guests practice yoga, rest on benches, picnic, fly a kite, or bird watch. The non-motorized trail is open year-round, free of charge. Sackets Harbor staff maintains the trail’s stone dust surface and reproduction mid-19th century wooden boardwalks.
Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail connects to the Village of Sackets Harbor’s War of 1812 Bicentennial Recreation Trail. That trail consists of stone dust paths, converted rail line, village roadways, and sidewalks. The six-mile loop through the historic village includes the former Army post Madison Barracks, two historic cemeteries, and farm fields where the 1813 Battle of Sackets Harbor took place. In July 2014, during the War of 1812 Bicentennial celebration, two granite monuments erected in the fields along the trail to honor the American forces who died defending Sackets Harbor and British-Canadian forces who were killed during the 1813 battle.
The National Park Service recognized the grounds at Sackets Harbor as one of the top War of 1812 sites in the nation. Sackets Harbor is the only deep-water United States port along eastern Lake Ontario. In June 1812 and again in May 1813 Americans successfully defended the Navy shipyard at Sackets Harbor from invading British and Canadian forces. WCNY featured Sackets Harbor battlegrounds in the 2014 documentary Losing Ground: The Race to Preserve War of 1812 Battlefields in New York State, funded by the National Park Service Battlefield Protection Program.
Come check out this newly recognized National Recreation Trail at Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site!
Text and photos by Lindsey Feinberg, Student Conservation Association Intern at Sam’s Point Please ask permission to use photos.
Located within Minnewaska State Park Preserve is Sam’s Point, an area of unique ecological significance encompassing roughly 5,000 acres in the Shawangunk Mountains of southern New York. Toward the end of April, during a particularly dry and windy week, a fire broke out along the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail and engulfed over 2,000 acres of pitch pine and oak woodlands. While this may seem like a devastating event, one of the factors that make the globally rare dwarf pine ridge ecological community of Sam’s Point so unique is that it is a fire dependent ecosystem.
Since progressing into the deep summer months, Sam’s Point has experienced an explosion of new growth. Toward the end of the fire there was an extended period of cold rainy weather that continued for a week after the fire was out. Soon afterward , bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) fiddleheads began springing forth through the burned earth and painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) flowered near the Ice Caves trail in an area of low intensity burn. A number of pink lady slippers (Cypripedium acaule) also popped up along the Loop Road and the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail.
The fiddleheads of bracken ferns (Pteridium aquilinum), one of the first plants to return after the fire. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
A perfect pink lady slipper (Cypripedium acaule) brightens up the landscape. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
These painted trilliums (Trillium undulatum) emerged from the moist soils below the charred surface. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
Sam’s Point was fully closed until Memorial Day Weekend, when it was reopened to limited capacity with only the Loop Road and Ice Caves Trail available to the public. Park staff members were positioned at the Verkeerderkill Falls Trail with a table of educational materials in order to encourage park patrons to obey the closures and help them understand the importance of staying out of affected areas. The main concern is the potential for rapid spread of non-native invasive plant species by seeds hitchhiking in the boots and backpacks of visitors. Without competition from established plants and with the increased availability of nutrients that follows fire, invasive species have the potential to quickly establish.
Fortunately, the closures seem to be working and few invasive plants and many native species have been seen in those areas. Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) and huckleberries (Gaylussacia baccata) have been quick to return, along with chokeberries (Photinia melanocarpa), serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.), wild raisin (Viburnum nudum) and sheep laurel (Kalmia angustifolia), which have repopulated the understory in a carpet of vibrant green. Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense), a small, showy rhododendron that is threatened in New York State, has been proliferating in high numbers in some of the wetter areas of Sam’s Point. Even bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), a wildflower more typical of cool, moist woodlands and uncommon in southern New York, is coming back near the Indian Rock Trail.
The plants with the bluer leaves are the state-threatened Rhodora (Rhodora canadense), amidst the burned pitch pines. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) displays similar morphology of its close relative the flowering dogwood. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
Many of the pitch pine trees that were blackened and scorched, all of which looked ostensibly dead, have exhibited new growth occurring at the base, epicormically (along the trunk), and from the top of the tree. Walking along the loop road, hints of long bristly shoots resembling bright green porcupines are apparent on a number of blackened trees. The majority of pitch pine stumps that were cut for fire control purposes have also begun re-sprouting.
Equally important for the ecology and continuance of the globally rare dwarf pine ridge community is the successful germination of pine seeds. As pitch pines get older, they lose their ability to re-sprout. Many older pitch pines will experience a wave of mortality even after new shoots appear. Possible reasons for this subsequent mortality of pitch pines is that a burned tree tends to be more stressed, and may not as resilient to any new factors that can further increase stress, such as insect predation and extreme weather events. Additionally, new shoots probably won’t distribute evenly on each tree, and this added weight on a weakened tree can cause branches to break or the entire tree to topple over. But there is still hope. The closed, charred pine cones opened soon after the fire ended, their russet innards contrasting brightly against the blackened landscape. The seeds were dispersed and fell to the ground. In order to germinate, pitch pine seeds need to be exposed to mineral soil. This is usually achieved when a fire burns through the upper duff (dead leaves and other plant material) and organic soil layers, which are more likely to burn when the fire is allowed to continue for long enough and reach a hot enough temperature. Until recently, the park staff at Sam’s Point had been unable to find any seedlings despite nearly half of the acreage on Sam’s Point being burned.
But how do you monitor 2000 acres for seedlings? You don’t. Instead, you look at a sample. One of the first post-fire initiatives by Parks’ Sam’s Point research staff was to establish 20 randomly placed research plots in order to document forest regeneration and the recovery of this natural area over time. Returning to the plots and recording information on the plants and soil helps us to understand and learn more about this ecosystem. In addition, we established photopoints in four of the research plots. Since May 7th, we have been photographing four plots from the same location on a biweekly basis. Photopoints are a great supplement to research documenting change over time, as it provides a way to visually understand what changes are taking place.
Sampling is scheduled to begin sometime in August, but one of the most exciting aspects of establishing randomly placed plots is discovering unique areas that might otherwise go unnoticed. During our fieldwork we found several areas of pitch pines averaging only 4 feet tall. Upon further examination, we discovered that the soil was extremely shallow in those spots, as little as 2 inches over solid bedrock. In July, none of Sam’s Point staff had seen any new seedlings during their regular duties around the park, but after checking in on the sections with low soil depth we were able to find a good number of seedlings. And soon after, seedlings were found in some of the wetland pockets as well. All good news for the recovery.
Sam’s Point has a number of unique, highly acidic wetlands too. While the larger pockets were relatively untouched by the fire, the smaller outflows were more vulnerable, especially in areas of extremely shallow soil. However, the wet areas that were burned along High Point Carriage Road and some other narrow strips of wetland have begun exhibiting their wetland qualities once again. Sphagnum moss, a characteristic moss genus found in bogs, has returned in some of these areas, while tiny sundews (Drosera spp.) can be seen on both the newly grown moss and the saturated but still blackened soil.
The spatulate-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia) and other plants begin to appear again in the burned wetlands. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
Pitch pine seedling growing next to sundews on recovering wetland. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
Insect on a yellow-eyed grass (Xyris sp.) located in recovering wetland. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
Animal activity was apparent almost immediately. The prairie warblers’ ascending trill could be heard throughout the spring in all areas of the preserve. Insect and pollinator activity has been high, especially with the return and subsequent blooms of milkweeds and meadowsweet. Park staff also noticed a number of ruffed grouse, which like forest openings. The remains of chewed up pine cones littering the forest floor are evidence of red squirrels. Eastern towhee activity was also high in the period immediately after the fire. Towhees are a species of bird that feed on pitch pine seeds as they are released from their cones. Amphibians could be spotted burrowing into the moist ground in order to keep cool.
Fowler’s toad (Anaxyrus fowleri) burrowing to keep cool in the burned area. Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
Ladybug (Coccinellidae family) and tiny insects (unidentified) on new shoots of pitch pine (Pinus rigida). Photo by Lindsey Feinberg
During a fire and the initial period afterward, it is easy to focus on the destruction and negative impacts. However, it’s important to remember that fire is a vital ecological process in many environments, especially for the health and longevity of pine barren communities. The Sam’s Point Fire offers great opportunities for discovery. Researchers from the Shawangunk Ridge Biodiversity Partnership, Mohonk Preserve, The Nature Conservancy and nearby colleges like SUNY New Paltz met to discuss research needs and interests to inform management and increase our knowledge about this exceptional place and ecosystem. It’s exciting to see what the future holds for Sam’s Point.
In 2014, NBC’s WGRZ recently aired a story on Ontario County’s Ganondagan State Historic Site. Ganondagon is the site of a seventeenth century Seneca town and granary, where over 500,000 bushels of corn were stored until the town, and the corn, were burned by the French-Canadian army in 1687 as part of a series of conflicts between the French, British, and Iroquois called the Beaver Wars.
Today, Ganondagan’s White Corn Project promotes the cultivation of a historical Iroquois corn variety as a way to promote not only good nutrition, but traditional cultural practices as well. Check out the original story by following the link below.
On February 25th, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the winners of 11 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) grants totaling more than $5 million for projects to combat invasive species in the Great Lakes basin.
The GLRI is a task force of 11 federal agencies targeting pollution, habitat restoration, invasive species, and establishing partnerships between agencies. Since 2010, the EPA has awarded more than 70 projects totaling over $40 million to combat terrestrial and aquatic invasives and to prevent the introduction of new invasive species.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is honored to receive a $410,000 grant to establish a new boat stewardship and invasive species prevention program which will also create 17 new jobs while educating tens of thousands of boaters.
The boat steward program will be an education based initiative to prevent the spread of aquatic invasives in the Great Lakes watershed. Over the 18 month grant period, NYS Parks will send boat stewards to 15 previously unmonitored boat launches and marinas along the Lake Erie shoreline, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River. The boat stewards will perform boat inspections while educating the public on the impacts of aquatic invasives and the methods for their management and control. Stewards will also participate in team projects as a CORPS to implement rapid response measures to reduce already established populations of aquatic invasives.
At NYS Parks, we have the unique opportunity to manage and protect a large geographic area of the Great Lakes watershed and fill in the gaps not currently covered by other states or groups. This project will complement and support boat stewardship programs already established in New York State, including Paul Smith’s College, the Finger Lakes Institute, and New York Sea Grant. By building upon these successful programs, we will be spreading a standardized message all across the state that patrons should “Clean, Drain, Dry” their boats.
2014 is the Year of the Salamander! New York State Parks is coordinating with the Partners in Amphibian and Reptile Conservation (PARC) to raise awareness of salamanders and aid in the effort to improve global salamander conservation, education, and research efforts.
Visit PARC online to learn more about this organization and about the Year of the Salamander, and visit our Facebook page each month for a blurb about salamanders in NYS.