Category Archives: Park History

See Through the Eyes of the Seneca at the Ganondagan Grassland Management Area

The Ganondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY boasts a historically accurate 17th century longhouse and will be opening a new Seneca Art and Culture Center this fall. However, there is a hidden gem at this historic site that not many realize exists! It is the Grassland Management Area at the corner of Boughton Hill Road and School Road which covers around 80 acres (over 60 football fields!) and is one of the most intriguing interpretive areas at the site!


In 2009 OPRHP restored 67.4 acres of the Grassland Management Area to represent oak opening communities in both plant composition and spatial arrangement. The Grassland Management Area has since spread to fill around 80 acres with the native plants seeded back in 2009.

The idea behind creating an oak opening came from Ganondagan’s past. Journal entries from French and English visitors to the site in the mid to late 1600’s described the landscape they saw when visiting the flourishing Seneca town of Ganondagan. Their descriptions of oak openings were used to create a scene that can transport the viewer back in time to when the Seneca were living at Ganondagan 400 years ago!

Oak openings are fire-dependent savannahs (grasslands) dominated by oak trees and are rare ecological areas, especially in upstate New York. The oak opening created at Ganondagan consists of warm-season grasses (grasses that thrive in the heat of the summer), wildflowers and large oak trees along the surrounding wood edge. Spring fire management promotes lush growth of warm-season grasses and oak trees. Controlled fires also suppress grassland succession (gradual changes in plant species in an ecosystem), provide fertilizer in the form of plant ash, reducing plant height to allow sunlight to reach new (young) plants and hinder the development of invasive species. The fire management of oak openings such as the Grassland Management Area have historically maintained their species composition mainly due to wildfires, to utilize this historic management technique OPRHP will be conducting a prescribed burn. A prescribed burn is a well-planned fire managed by trained firefighting professionals with specific plans in place to keep smoke high and away from the public.

Proper permits and permissions have been received for OPRHP staff to conduct a prescribed burn at the Grassland Management Area in spring of 2016. The burn will cover 20 acres in the first year and help maintain the plant communities of the Grassland Management Area that are representative of the Town of Ganondagan in the 17th century.

When you visit  Ganondagan’s oak opening, look for native plants include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta), tall white beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis), smooth blue aster (Aster laevis), New England aster (Aster novae-angliae), zigzag aster (Aster prenanthoides), and Indian hemp (Apocynum cannabinum).

Throughout the year, the grassland at Ganondagan are a delight to visit.  In spring, it is a lush open area of low, green grasses where chirps and buzzes can be heard above anything else. In the late summer it transforms itself into a beautiful 8-foot tall wonderland of wildflowers and golden brown grasses with different seed head patterns, where you can watch even the slightest of breezes wave through all 80 acres!

Post by Whitney Carleton, OPRHP. Photos by Whitney Carleton and Alexis Van Winkle, OPRHP.

 

Rebuilding NYC After the Great Fire: Clay Mining on Staten Island

In 1836 Balthasar Kreischer emigrated from Bavaria to New York City with plans to help rebuild the city after the devastating fire the previous year.  The Great Fire of 1835 burned across 50 acres and destroyed 674 buildings.  Kreischer and his partner, Charles Mumpeton established the Kreischer Brick Manufactory, a firebrick businesses with locations in Manhattan, Staten Island, and New Jersey.  In the neighborhood now known as Charleston on Staten Island, he began mining for clay that would then be shipped to brickwork factories in Manhattan.  The business flourished until Kreischer’s death in 1886.  A few years after his death, the factory burned down, and although it was rebuilt, the business never recovered.

The remnants of the clay mining are still visible today from the hiking trails of the park.  Some of the clay pits have filled with water and provided habitat to new flora and fauna, while others remain dry and are home to flourishing skunk cabbage.  There are areas along the trails where you can still find signs of the former inhabitants of the area, untouched glimpses into the lives of those who once lived in this beautiful area.  Outside of the Interpretation Center are some of the historic Kreischer bricks in the walkway, guiding you away from the rush of city life and into the quiet serene that is Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.

balthasar kreischer
Balthasar Kreischer. Image courtesy of the Staten Island Museum Collection.
kreischer bricks
Kreischer bricks at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.

Post by Clare Carney, OPRHP, Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.

 

Geology Exposed at Chimney Bluffs State Park

20150517_120933
Chimney Bluffs looking east from the shoreline. Photo by Brett Smith.

Some people are drawn to water and some are drawn to dramatic landscapes, Chimney Bluffs State Park on the shore of Lake Ontario has both. Located in Wolcott, New York the park’s namesake bluffs stretch for ½ a mile revealing its ever-changing ancient past.

20150517_123506
Chimney Bluffs looking east. Photo by Brett Smith.

During the last ice age from 2 million years ago until about 10,000 years ago there were a series of glacial advances and retreats that formed the Great Lakes that changed the landscape of the north-central part of the United States in many ways.  One of the clues that glaciers leave behind are called drumlins. We see drumlins as elliptical hills. These hills are blunt on the upglacier end and taper into and elongated tail on the downglacier end, similar in shape to a teardrop. Drumlins form parallel the direction the movement of the ice.  These hills usually form in clusters; the exposed upglacier end of the drumlin at Chimney Bluffs State Park is one of roughly 10,000 drumlins located south and east of Lake Ontario.

ChimneyBluffsParkMap
Click on map to enlarge.

The term drumlin refers to the hill’s shape, not its composition. Some drumlins are solid rock and some are composed of glacial till. Till is a mixture of different sized rock fragments and sediment deposited as glacial ice melts. The drumlin at Chimney Bluffs State Park formed when one glacier melted and deposited the till, later a south moving glacier reshaped the material into its present shape.

The north end of the drumlins has been eroded by thousands of year of wave action, wind, rain and snow. As the north end erodes the exposed material is carved into magnificent and ever changing formations. The bluffs are constantly changing source of beauty and danger.

Post by Josh Teeter, OPRHP.

Lace up those boots for National Trails Day!

In August 2011, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee devastated the Catskill Mountains and Schoharie Valley with a torrent of wind and rain.  Several bridges were washed out, including the historic Blenheim Covered Bridge located just north of Mine Kill State Park.  A culvert over a tributary of the Mine Kill on the Long Path was subsequently destroyed.  On June 6th, the Student Conservation Association (SCA), Long Path North Hiking Club and New York State Parks will join together to construct a new bridge spanning 40 feet over the drainage to once again allow safe passage over this creek for hikers.

Every year, on the first Saturday in June all across the country, people celebrate National Trails Day by getting out and going hiking, biking, geocaching and more.  National Trails Day is not only about getting out and recreating, but is a great day to give back and volunteer on projects helping to build and maintain trails that we all love and enjoy.  This year, three Trails Day projects will be organized and led by SCA AmeriCorps members at Mine Kill State Park in North Blenheim, John Boyd Thacher State Park in Voorheesville, and Hudson River Park in Manhattan.  These projects not only accomplish vital work on trails in the region, but also provide SCA members with valuable experience in project management and peer leadership.

For many years, the SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps program has been partnering with New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation as well as New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and several non-profit organizations providing internships across the Hudson Valley region.  Currently, 46 SCA members serve for up to ten months at sites from Saratoga Springs to New York City.  To learn more about the SCA and Trails Day projects you could get involved in, visit www.thesca.org/events.

Post by Nick Marcet, Student Conservation Association (SCA). Photos by SCA.

 

The History of Clay Pit Ponds

The Winant/Gericke House at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve was constructed by the Winant family before 1874. The Winants were among Staten Island’s earliest European settlers and established their farm close to the ferry landing along the Arthur Kill, where boats traveled daily between Staten Island and New Brunswick, New Jersey.

In 1946, the Gericke Family purchased the farm and Herbert Gericke established himself as an organic gardener. Gericke was an innovator, as “organic produce” was not widely known at that time. Among the crops he grew were comfrey (a traditional healing herb), strawberries, pansies, tomatoes, and rhubarb. He also operated a health food store. When it was sold to the State of New York in 1979, the Gericke Farm was the last working Farm on Staten Island.

Today, Gericke Farm is one of the last working farms in New York City. P.S. 37, a special education school within the New York City Department of Education system, works in cooperation with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation to execute special programming. Students come to the farm every year to plant, cultivate, and harvest crops. The students then sell the crops to other students and family members at a Youth Market Program. It is a successful farm-to-table experience, which allows the students to gain a deeper understanding of where their food comes from, as well as teaching them teamwork skills and positive food attitudes through work in the garden.

photo1
Gericke persuaded a closing coffee factory to dump 56 truckloads of coffee beans on his land to help improve the land’s fertility. Picture courtesy of The Organic Farmer, 1949.
photo2
People traveled several miles to purchase produce from Gericke’s organic farm. Image courtesy The Organic Farmer, 1949.

Post by Elisabetta OConnor, Environmental Educator at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve.