Category Archives: Park History

Did You Know That Allegany State Park Played A Role In Wild Turkey Restoration?

The wild turkey is native to North America, but suffered severe declines due to wide-scale forest clearing and over hunting. By the mid-1800’s, this great bird was gone from New York state and much of the northeast. However, in the mid to late 1940’s, some wild turkeys were observed along the NY and PA border from Allegany State Park to the Genesee River Valley, a sign that the habitat might be recovering and able to support them again. So, in the early 1950’s, the New York State Conservation Department (forerunner to the NYS Dept. of Conservation) began a restoration effort in the early 1950s. They started with game farm turkeys, but after a few years, this effort failed because the game farm birds were not wild enough to avoid predation and lacked the capacity to survive.

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Flock of hens in the forest in the 1950’s.

Meanwhile, a healthy breeding population of wild turkeys expanded from Pennsylvania into the Allegany State Park region of New York. Park managers then gave the Conservation Department permission to trap turkeys in the park, initiating the wild turkey trap and transfer program which began in 1958 and concluded successfully in 1974. This program allowed for more rapid expansion of the turkey population to suitable unoccupied habitats.

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Tom turkey displays his tail.

The turkeys trapped in Allegany State Park were moved to several areas in the Region and then throughout the state. In addition to the in-state trap and transfer, turkeys from the park were also sent to Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont. Other trapping efforts in the region and elsewhere in New York sent birds to Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and the Canadian Province of Ontario. New York turkeys helped re-establish populations throughout the Northeast, Midwest and southeastern Canada.

New York State Conservation Department was one of the pioneers among state agencies to restore wild turkey populations in the United States. This program would not have been successful without the cooperation of Allegany State Park and to this day is recognized as one of the greatest wildlife management success stories of North America.

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2017 Monument commemorating the first wild turkey trap and transfer program, photo courtesy of Rick Miller, Olean Times Herald

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Wild Turkey Restoration exhibit in the Red House Natural History Museum, image from DEC Conservationist, October 2017, p 28.

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

 

 

 

Civilian Conservation Corps in New York State Parks

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President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signing the New Deal legislation, photo from Wikipedia

When Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) became president in 1933, the entire nation was in a state of turmoil never seen before or since. It was the height of the Great Depression: unemployment was at 25%, croplands were failing, and millions of families were going hungry. As governor of New York State, FDR had implemented the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration which put thousands of young men to work reforesting one million acres. Within his first one hundred days of his presidency FDR enacted the Civilian Conservation Corps, a national work program which gave men ages 17 to 28 unskilled labor jobs in infrastructure. The young men were paid $30 a month, $25 of which had to go home to their families. By the end of the program nine years later, over three million men from all fifty states had made significant improvements to the nation’s road system, planted three billion trees, and built thousands of facilities in state parks. The CCC had a major impact on New York’s state parks, with many of the structures remaining today.

 

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The oldest surviving cabin built by the CCC at Fair Haven Beach State Park (and placard).

The CCC was active at Fair Haven Beach State Park from 1934 to 1942. The young men employed by the Corps built roads, cabins, service buildings, and created barriers against waterfront erosion from Lake Ontario. Park manager Jerry Egenhofer says: “The establishment of the CCC – with their readiness to lend assistance with personnel, built in financial aid, and their readily accessible materials – aided greatly in expediting and promoting the park’s development and growth.”

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CCC activities at Green Lakes State Park.

A CCC company of Spanish-American War veterans built cabins, service buildings, roads, trails, the boathouse, the golf course, and the golf clubhouse at Green Lakes State Park. The men transferred tons of sand from Oneida Lake to create the beach in the park.

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Civilian Conservation Corps members constructing the Lower Falls foot bridge in Letchworth State Park in 1935, with the current bridge shown in the inset picture.

Allegany State Park can also thank the CCC for many elements of the current park, including bridges, roads, camp sites, trails, and the ski area. The CCC also worked on wildlife conservation projects, including reforestation and stream bank retention.

Bear Mtn - Perkins Tower

At Bear Mountain State Park, both the Perkins Memorial Drive and Perkins Memorial Tower – named after the first president of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission – were built by the CCC between 1932 and 1934. On a clear day, four states and the Manhattan skyline can be seen from the summit.

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Eleanor Roosevelt is introduced at a Camp TERA meeting, 1933, image from Wikipedia

Bear Mountain State Park also housed Camp TERA (Temporary Emergency Relief Assistance), the first of several camps for women established by then-First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, nicknamed She-She-She camps. Jobless, single women under 40 from the New York City area spent the summer months in the woods learning new skills and recovering from health problems brought on my acute poverty and lack of food.

At Gilbert Lake State Park the CCC constructed cabins, trails, roads, dams, and erosion control structures between 1933 and 1941. The park is also home to the New York State Civilian Conservation Corps Museum, which displays photographs and artifacts from the days of the CCC.

Facing mounting controversy over racial integration, the CCC director Robert Fechner decided to segregate the camps in 1935. The “colored” CCC company at Newtown Battlefield hosted black educators and medical officers, and following complaints from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and other advocacy groups, the CCC appointed black officers to command the camp.  The men built cabins, restrooms, ball fields, and the picnic pavilion.

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A CCC worker posing at Robert H. Treman State Park, August 1935. Image from: Friends of Robert H. Treman State Park
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Civilian Conservation Corps emblem, image fromhttp://whs-ushistory-1930s.wikispaces.com/CCC

The CCC contributed to many more projects at other state parks and historic sites not featured in this article. Without a doubt, the efforts of the CCC members created the foundation of New York’s incredible state park system, and their legacy deserves to be remembered and honored.

Post by: Alison Baxter, Excelsior Service Fellow

Sources

Civilian Conservation Corps in the Finger Lakes, Part 1. Walk in the Park, April 17, 2014. (Includes a video with a presentation by State Parks environmental educator Josh Teeter)

Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy

Kahramanidis, Jane. “The She-She-She Camps of the Great Depression.” History Magazine.  February/March 2008.

Prejudice & Pride: Civil Rights and the CCC: Company 1251-c at Newtown”. The Preservationist. Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, 2007.

Thompson, Craig. “Force for Nature: Civilian Conservation Corps”. New York State Conservationist. Department of Environmental Conservation, February 2008.

State Parks Master Plans

Wikipedia

Light Your Way to a State Parks Lighthouse

From Lake Erie to Montauk Point, State Parks are home to six historic lighthouses. Plan a trip to visit one of these lighthouses.

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President George Washington commissioned the building of the limestone Montauk Point Lighthouse in 1792 because of the dangerous shallow waters found off Long Island’s eastern South Shore; the lighthouse was completed in 1796.  Located in Montauk Point State Park, the Montauk Lighthouse continues to help provide safe navigation for ships sailing up and down the eastern seaboard and for ships arriving from across the Atlantic. It is the oldest lighthouse in New York and the fourth oldest lighthouse in the nation.

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The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 saw a large increase in boat traffic on the Hudson River and the need for more aids to navigation along the Hudson River. Built in 1826, the lighthouse at Stony Point was the first lighthouse on the Hudson River. It was built by New York City resident Thomas Philips a point of land south of Bear Mountain in the Hudson Highlands.  For 100 years, the eight-sided, blue split stone lighthouse helped ships navigate the Hudson River before it was replaced by a steel tower in 1926.  Look for the lighthouse in Stony Point Battlefield State Historic Site.

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In the mid-1820s, as commerce increased along the Erie Canal and through the Great Lakes, so did the need for lighthouses on the Great Lakes.  Winds along the eastern shore of Lake Erie can be quite strong and boats needed safe harbors to protect them from these winds.  One safe harbor between Erie, Pennsylvania and Buffalo, New York was Portland Harbor (now known as Barcelona) in the town of Westfield. In 1828 the US Congress commissioned the Portland (Barcelona) Lighthouse to serve as a guide to Portland Harbor. The lighthouse was made of native fieldstone.  Completed in 1829 it was the first natural gas lighthouse in the country, using natural gas that was piped in by “wooden conductors from the fountain head, a distance of about a half a mile.”1 The lighthouse ran for 40 years until it was decommissioned in 1859.

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In 1847, the US Congress allocated $6,000 to build lighthouses on three islands in the St. Lawrence River to help ships navigate through the Thousand Islands.  One of those islands was Rock Island.  The brick lighthouse was first lit in 1848.  In 1894, the US Lighthouse Board (Lighthouse Board) raised the lighthouse five feet to increase the visibility of the light, which was being blocked by the lighthouse keeper’s house and trees on the island.  However, raising the lighthouse did not increase visibility, so the Lighthouse Board built a brick platform on the north side of the island and moved the lighthouse to the platform in 1903.  The light was decommissioned in 1958 after over 110 years of service. You can tour Rock Island Lighthouse State Park from mid-May to early October and you will need to take a boat to get there.

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Thirty Mile Point, or Golden Hill, is 30 miles east of the mouth of the Niagara River.  It is the northernmost point of land along New York’s of Lake Ontario shoreline.  Just offshore from 30 Mile Point, shifting sand bars make navigating these waters a challenge for ships passing by.  In 1872 the Lighthouse Board recommended that a lighthouse be built at 30 Mile Point and in 1873 US Congress authorized the purchasing of land and the construction of a lighthouse.  The limestone lighthouse was completed in 1876 and ran until 1958.  If you are looking for an out of the way place to stay, lighthouse keeper’s house is available to rent year-round.

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Fort Niagara, at the intersection of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario, was the site of the first lighthouse in the Great Lakes. The British Army built it in 1781 on top of the French Castle, the French trading post and fort built in 1727. The light was used to mark the mouth of the Niagara River, where cargo was offloaded and shipped overland to Lake Erie.  The lighthouse keeper did not live in the French Castle, his house was about a quarter mile away.

The opening of the Erie and Welland Canals in the 1820’s reduced ship traffic bound for the Niagara River.  In April 1855, a tornado damaged buildings at the fort. The damages were repaired later that year.  Despite the repairs, the French Castle fell into disrepair in the middle to late 1860’s.  In 1868, the Lighthouse Board reported that:

“the wooden tower stands in the old block-house now used for officers’ quarters, and is so old and out of repair as to let in the snow and rain in stormy weather. Last winter the roof of the building took fire from a spark from one of the four chimneys which surround the tower. The danger of having the valuable lens destroyed by an accident of this kind, and the inconvenience of using the stairway and passages of the officers’ quarters as a thoroughfare for the supply of the light, make it expedient to erect a new tower, (the old one not being worth repairing,) in a safer and more convenient position.  The floors and plastering of the keeper’s dwelling and the fences require repair. The barn is in a ruinous state, and should be removed or rebuilt.”

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US Congress appropriated $16,000 in 1871 for a new lighthouse at Fort Niagara. Because the Lighthouse Board could not find a good location for the lighthouse in the fort, the limestone lighthouse was built next to the lighthouse keepers house along the eastern bank of the Niagara River.

The lighthouse was replaced by a light on a nearby radio tower in 1993 and the light was decommissioned the same year.

Occasionally, staff from Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site lead programs and events in the lighthouse.

1 New-York evening post., July 14, 1830, Page 2

Sources and additional readingLighthouses

Historic Lighthouses and Light Stations in New York

Important Dates in United States Lighthouse History

Lighthouse Friends

Marinas.com Lighthouses of New York, aerial views of Montauk Point, Rock Island, Stony Point, and Thirty-Mile Point Lighthouses

The Schenectady cabinet., February 15, 1826, Page 2

University of North Carolina, Lighthouses of the United States: Downstate New York

University of North Carolina, Lighthouses of the United States: Upstate New York

US Lighthouses, information on Barcelona, Fort Niagara, Montauk Point, Rock Island, and Thirty-Mile Point lighthouses.

Iroquois White Corn Project

Ganondagan State Historic Site, in the Finger Lakes Region, was once the capital of the Seneca Nation and home to as many as 4,500 people. Ganondagan is translated to mean “a town on a hill surrounded by the substance of white” referring to white blossoms growing there which turned into an edible fruit.   Located in Victor, New York, Ganondagan is the only New York state historic site dedicated to Native American history.

The original Ganondagan (ga·NON·da·gan) community was destroyed by a campaign of the French in 1687.  At the time the French army and their allies spent days destroying corn, beans, squash and other foods that sustained the Seneca Nation and other Haudenosaunee (Iroquois people).  Records show that that over 1,200,000 bushels of corn were cut down, burned and destroyed in mid-July of 1687. Seneca homes were also burned to the ground.  In 1987 Ganondagan State Historic Site opened as a New York State historic site 300 years after its demise.

The Iroquois White Corn Project (IWCP) was first established in 1997 by Dr. John Mohawk, on a Seneca reservation known as Cattaraugus, upon his death in 2006 the project became dormant.

In 2012 the Friends of Ganondagan re-established IWCP in a farm house on site with the help of Historic Site Manager Pete Jemison who moved the equipment and Iroquois White Corn Project Ganondagan.  Today the IWCP produces three products from heirloom Iroquois White Corn: whole hulled dried corn, roasted white corn flour, and white corn flour, which are marketed by the Friends group. Iroquois White Corn is a slow food, gluten free and highly nutritious, especially when combined with beans.

The process of removing the hulls from the kernels using cooking lime is known as nixtamalization.  This culinary technique softens the corn hulls and kernels, creating whole hominy which can be ground in to masa flour.  Nixtamalized corn has healthy amino acids and vitamin B and is more flavorful and aromatic. Nixtamal is the Spanish interpretation of the Aztec term for the process of soaking dry corn in fire ashes to improve flavor and nutrition nixtamalli.

About 75% of our corn is obtained from Haudenosaunee farmers and products are sold to the Seneca Nation, Oneida Nation, retail outlets (including Wegmans) and through the gift shop in the Seneca Art & Culture Center.

The Iroquois White Corn Project provides employment and training for both Native American and non- Native youth. Volunteers assist the IWCP at the annual husking bee (held in the fall) and by sorting corn kernels.  Volunteers also assist in maintaining our onsite gardens.  We grow the three sisters – corn, beans, and squash – known to the Seneca as Our Sustainers – Dioheko.

The Seneca Art & Culture Center at Ganondagan opened in October 2015 and houses a gallery, two classrooms, an orientation theater, auditorium, caterer’s kitchen, archival storage, and offices for the staff.

More information about Ganondagan and special events sponsored by the Friends can be found at Ganondagan.org

Post by Peter Jemison, State Parks