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.
It was a little after 4 p.m. on September 20 when the steward reported his sighting to State Parks. Almost simultaneously, Hudson Highlands Park Manager Evan Thompson — elsewhere in the 8,000-acre park — was told by a patron of a potential fire on nearby Breakneck Ridge. That report turned out later to be of the Sugarloaf blaze, but added to initial uncertainty over possibly having two fires at the same time.
Gathering staff to investigate Sugarloaf and knowing that recent dry conditions had increased the danger from wildfires, Thompson also called the New York State Park Police, Parks Forest Rangers, and the Department of Environmental of Environmental Conservation for assistance. He learned that DEC officers were responding to a search at Minnewaska State Park Preserve and another fire at Cranberry Mountain, both several counties distant.
After additional contact with the Park Police, DEC sent Ranger Robbi Mecus to the park. Park Police officer Jeremy Pickering arrived at the trailhead as did Mecus, with the pair leading a crew of eight on a 2.4-mile hike up 900-foot Sugarloaf Mountain. There, they found a fire covering about nine acres at the rocky summit.
A state Police helicopter was called in, dropping water drawn from the nearby Hudson four times before dark in an effort to slow the spread of the fire. The crew stayed on the mountain digging fire lines — areas where dried grass, brush, trees and other flammable materials were cut and shoveled away to create a buffer line difficult for fire to cross. The ground crew only stopped when it became too dark to see safely.
By then —
perhaps only four hours after the first report of the fire — Taconic’s
Assistant Regional Director Tom Watt had asked for additional assistance from
DEC and the State Parks’ adjoining Palisades Region. State Parks Forest Ranger
Lt. Mickey Cahill from Palisades Region arrived, sharing Incident Commander
responsibilities with DEC Forest Ranger Captain Greg Tyrrell.
Watt also started calling State Parks facility managers at home to gather manpower needed for the next day; he soon had a roster of twenty Parks staffers scheduled to report to an 8 a.m. briefing Saturday. Meanwhile, several other agencies and organizations offered help, including the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.
A crew of more than 30 was ready to climb the mountain by that morning, coming from State Park’s Palisades Region as well as from the far reaches of the Taconic Region on the other side of the Hudson. Splitting into two teams, the crews continued the physically-demanding process of hand-digging fire lines — also called fire breaks — around the perimeter of the rugged, rocky mountain top.
crews made these breaks by scraping the ground clean of combustible material
for up to four feet, with a foot-wide, 6-inch deep cut into ‘mineral earth’
along the center of the break. Hazard trees nearby were downed, both to protect
crews and prevent fire-weakened trees from falling across the fire containment
line to act as a bridge for fire to spread. Digging these breaks was
challenging due to the steep, rocky terrain and a thick layer of duff, which is
decomposed organic material overlaying the soil.
From the air, a
State Police helicopter continued dropping water gathered from the nearby
Hudson River. And the fire itself was not the only hazard for those working the
mountain. Crews had to watch out for fire-loosened rocks that tumbled down
cliff faces without warning, as well as for rattlesnakes and ground-dwelling wasps.
By Saturday evening, a preliminary line of fire breaks had been created to
isolate the blaze, which by this point was estimated to cover about 14 acres.
By Sunday’s 8 a.m. briefing, the fire-fighting crew had swelled to more than 75 people, with many working to strengthen fire lines in temperatures that soared to more than 90 degrees. In some instances, their work meant abandoning a section of line that would be difficult to defend — on a very steep slope, for instance, where burning material could tumble downhill across the line to spread — and dropping back to dig a new section.
created ‘cupped’ lines by piling material on the downhill side of lines meant
stop burning material from sliding over and spreading. By this time, the fire
covered about 25 acres.
morning, a complex network of fire hoses was laid out just outside the
fire line. The hoses were routed to portable tanks at locations where tanker
trucks could deliver water; gasoline-powered pumps provided water pressure to
the hoses. Air operations by helicopter continued throughout the day. By
nightfall on Sunday, the fire lines were as good as could be expected given the
difficult terrain, but hardly impregnable.
sunny and warm, with crewing working to improve the fire breaks. More than a
mile of containment line was dug or improved on the rugged western flank of the
fire, and by the end of the day, Park Rangers were confident that the lines
were good. That evening, Rangers and Parks staff lit backfires on the east side
of Sugarloaf to consume combustible material under controlled conditions.
During the night, numerous large trees fell from roots being burned and
weakened by the fire, with crews cutting trees that crossed the line.
The next day, Parks Rangers and DEC backburned privately-owned land to protect a cluster of houses at the north end of the mountain. With permission of the landowners, crews successively lit fires inside the containment lines and allowed the fires to consume burnable material. Crews then went to work to extinguish flames within 25 feet of the lines. That evening, crews again patrolled overnight to ensure that the fire remained ‘on the black side of the line.’
By Wednesday morning, Sept. 23rd, the most immediate danger had passed, although the fire was still burning inside the break lines, which by this point contained about 50 acres. Secure breaks and less combustible material inside the lines meant that the hardest work was done.
The fire was contained, with no one hurt and no homes damaged. The Wilkinson Trail to Sugarloaf summit has since reopened, although part of the trail at the summit is rerouted to avoid steep, eroded and dangerous conditions.
A smaller team
remained at the mountain for several days to conduct “mop-up” operations, like
corralling equipment that had been distributed over miles of trails and
patrolling for sparks or breaches of the fire line.
Given the nature of the soil and the terrain, the fire was expected to continue to smolder and burn until rains finally put it out. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, although initial reports suggested it might have been an illegal campfire. State Parks rules allow fires only in designated areas under supervision by an adult.
Post by Steve Oakes, manager of Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park and Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site
How will the
plants and animals that make up the Sugarloaf Mountain ecosystem respond and
recover from this fire? Keep your eye on the NYS Parks Blog for a future post
on that subject.
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.