Category Archives: Park History

John Burroughs: A Naturalist for the Ages

Upon his death in 1921, the New York Times devoted an entire page to John Burroughs.  The New York State Senate adjourned, and the Daily Times of Los Angeles reported that a resolution passed in Burroughs’ honor by the California State Assembly – it read in part, “whereas press dispatches today announce the death of John Burroughs, foremost naturalist of the United States, be it resolved that in his death the nation has sustained the loss of one who as scientist, citizen and man, occupied a deservedly high place in the regard of all people…”

When I was in my teens, I stumbled upon one of John Burroughs’ 27 books in a local library.  His writing was simple yet elegant and wonderfully descriptive of the natural world.  I was hooked.

Every walk in the woods is a religious rite, every bath in a stream is a saving ordination.

Who was this man of such great fame 100 years ago but who today is almost forgotten?

John Burroughs was first and foremost a farmer who developed an intimate, deep-rooted connection with the land.  Born in 1837, Burroughs dropped out of school after the sixth grade.  He spent 17 years working on his family’s farm and read every single book from his small local library.  His father was a strict Baptist, but Burroughs resisted organized religion.

jb-looking-at-a-bird

I never went to Sunday school and was not often seen inside the church.  My Sunday’s were spent roaming in the woods or fields… following the streams and swimming in the pools. 

 

He briefly attended the Cooperstown Seminary, but formal schooling was not for him.

I can learn more about a cat by it jumping on my lap than by dissecting it in a laboratory.

 At age 20, Burroughs married Ursula North, and like most of his family and acquaintances, she did not support his intense interest in writing.  Undaunted, Burroughs began to write seriously for the Saturday Press and the New York Leader. By age 23, he was regularly publishing essays in the Atlantic Monthly and would continue to do so for the rest of his career.

At age 26, he met Ralph Waldo Emerson who was a great influence on him as a writer.  He then moved to Washington D.C. where he met another writing mentor, Walt Whitman, who ultimately became a close friend.  By age 48, Burroughs was a full-time writer and farmer gleaning much of his inspiration for his essays from the natural world that surrounded him.  This is what set him apart from other writers of his time(?).

John Burroughs is credited with inventing the nature essay, a truly American form of creative writing, and he did so in a way that spoke to the masses.  His writings soon became standard in popular magazines, as well as in many schools across the nation where his descriptions of nature enthralled students and piqued their interest in the out-of-doors.

The student and lover of nature has this advantage over people who gad up and down the world, seeking some novelty or excitement; he has only to stay at home and see the procession pass.  The great globe swings around to him like a revolving showcase.

By his late sixties, John Burroughs was a household name across the nation.  He had befriended John Muir and traveled with him as the naturalist on the Harriman Alaska Expedition in 1899.  Industrialists of the age, including Edison, Firestone and Ford, sought out John Burroughs as the guest naturalist on camping expeditions.  President Roosevelt, a big fan of Burroughs’ essays, steamed up the Hudson River in his presidential yacht to visit the famous writer at his small writing cabin that Burroughs had named “Slabsides.”

The most precious things in life are near at hand, without money and without price.  All that I have ever had or will have can be yours by reaching forth your hand and taking it.

It is impossible to know what influence Burroughs’ work and friendship had on all of these important figures in American history.  What we do know is the extent to which they sought him out, and undoubtedly he helped form their impressions of the natural world and man’s relationship to it.

Our civilization is terribly expensive to all of its natural resources.  One hundred years of modern life doubtless exhausts its stores more than a millennium of the life of antiquity.

John Burroughs died at age 84 on a train heading for home from California.  He was laid to rest in his home town of Roxbury, New York, adjacent to what he referred to as “boyhood rock”, the giant rock he played on as a child.  The property and gravesite are proudly maintained by New York State Parks.  His summer get-away home in his later years, “Woodchuck Lodge”, stands adjacent to his gravesite and is maintained by “Woodchuck Lodge Inc.”  His writing cabin “Slabsides” in West Park, New York, is maintained by the John Burroughs Association.

John Burroughs’ nature writing remains relevant today for several reasons, but perhaps most importantly, because it focuses on nature close at hand, right outside our door.  Wherever we are, there too is nature with all its mystery and wonder.

Young people (and old) are getting outside less, suffering from what Richard Louv described in his book “Last Child in the Woods” as nature deficit disorder.  All of us at State Parks play a critical role in reversing this trend.  We are providing more and more opportunities for young people to get outside to learn about nature and have fun while enjoying the great outdoors!

I suspect John Burroughs would approve.

I am not always in sympathy with nature study as pursued in schools… such study is too cold, too mechanical and likely to rub the bloom off of nature.  It lacks soul and emotion, it misses the accessories of the open air and its exhilarations.

Post by Tom Alworth, State Parks

boyhood-rock-and-gravesite
Boyhood Rock and Gravesite, photo by Tom Alworth

Featured image John Burroughs and grandchild courtesy of New York State Archives

Happy Second Birthday Nature Times!

 

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In this second year of Nature Times we have gotten to know snapping turtles, carnivorous plants, black squirrels, and Sammi, Trailside Museums’ 36 year old bald eagle.  We’ve learned how trails are mapped, how a flock of sheep and goats have become one of State Parks’ 21st century mowing crews, and ways to explore State Parks on foot, in kayaks, on snowmobiles, and on frozen lakes. The stories have featured all kinds of work that State Parks staff and volunteers do throughout the year to help preserve and protect some of New York’s unique and exceptional places. These range from protecting sand dunes on Lake Ontario and old-growth forest at Allegany, to creating native grasslands at Ganondagan State Historic Site, and monitoring invasive species infestations and removing invasive species both on land and water.

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We mark this second birthday with 61 new followers and over 24,000 page hits!  And we thank the 32 staff, interns, and partner organizations who have shared their passion for State Parks through the blogs that they have written. We also want to recognize our partnership with the New York Natural Heritage Program who helped in initiating this feature and continues to provide support.

We look forward to continuing our celebration of State Parks in the months to come in Nature Times.  Hope to see you soon at one of our Parks or Historic Sites!

Excelsior Conservation Corps: A Modern Vision of an Old Idea

CCC By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Civilian Conservation Corps By Unknown or not provided (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

What started in 1931 as a simple idea to put unemployed New Yorkers to work on state-funded public works projects through the New York Temporary Emergency Relief Administration grew to become the largest peace time utilization of people and equipment in US history – the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC. Many New York State Parks including Thacher State Park, Fahnestock State Park, Lake Taghkanic State Park, Selkirk Shores State Park, Thacher State Park, Green Lakes State Park, Letchworth State Park, Hamlin Beach State Park, Chenango Valley State Park, Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park and more benefited from the work that was performed by over 200,000 CCC members from 1933-1942.  During these nine years, 61 camps of 200 CCC members built roads, trails, cabins, and stonewalls, planted trees, worked on early invasive species detection and removal and more.  The Allegany and lower Hudson Valley regions were considered the highest environmental priority and had CCC camps each year, while other encampments would last a season or two, moving on to another location when the job was done.

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About 40 different CCC camps were spread across the state each year. The typical CCC member was between 18-25 years old, “unemployed, unmarried, healthy, not in school, from a needy family, and capable of doing work” (Thompson).  Most CCC members were white males; however New York also had CCC camps for Native Americans, African Americans, WWI veterans (separate camps for white and African American veterans), and separate camps for women (known as She-She-She Camps).

State Parks honors the memory of the CCC members with a CCC Statue at Letchworth State Park.

CCC Statue, Letchworth State Park, OPRHP photo
CCC Statue at Letchworth State Park. Photo by OPRHP.

This January, New York State is reviving the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration conservation corps with the inaugural New York State Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) and a 10-month residential program modeled after the CCC.  The program is open toNew York State students and residents aged 18-25, with an emphasis on veterans and expanding diversity. The 50 ECC members will be based at SUNY Morrisville where they will receive eight weeks of specialized trainings and certifications lead by the Student Conservation Association – Hudson Valley Corps .  Then, starting in March and running through early November, ECC members will work in State Parks, Department of Environmental Conservation and other state agency lands on projects across the state focused on:

  1. Open Space Management, maintaining and improving hundreds of miles on New York’s hiking trails
  2. Recreation and Access Mapping, monitoring and mapping over 10,000 acres of public land for safe recreational use
  3. Natural Resource Stewardship, invasive species removal and protection of native species and ecosystems
  4. Environmental Education and Outreach, educating New Yorkers on conservation and stewardship of public lands
  5. Infrastructure and Sustainability, helping to cut New York’s energy consumption and energy costs through the construction of renewable energy projects.

During the 10-months, ECC members will get a chance to work on their education plans and develop career skills.  At the end of their service they will be given a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.

Building on their hands-on experiences and training, ECC members will be poised to become New York’s next generation of conservation leaders.  Learn more about the ECC in future blogs.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP. Slideshow photos courtesy of OPRHP.

References:

Hopkins, June; The New York State Temporary Emergency Relief Administration: October 1, 1931, The Social Welfare History Project, n.d.; http://www.socialwelfarehistory.com/eras/great-depression/temporary-emergency-relief-administration/

She-She-She Camps, George Washington University, n.d.; http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/teachinger/glossary/she-she-she-camps.cfm

Thompson, Craig; 75 Years Later: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corp; Conservationist, New York State Department of 85 Environmental Conservation, February 2008; http://www.dec.ny.gov/pubs/42768.html.

The History of Hiking in New York State

Have you ever gone hiking and wondered where the trail came from, who built it, and when? Many of the oldest trails in New York began as Native American hunting paths, eventually becoming established trade and migratory routes. Until the Industrial Revolution, trails mostly served a functional purpose, but trail building boomed as a new ‘leisure class’ emerged and became interested in outdoor recreation. Today, 16,000 miles of trail run through New York, accommodating hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and more.

In 1891, the New York State Legislature assigned funding to build a trail network across the state, which turned into the greenway system we know today. To promote and advocate for these trails, groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NY-NJTC), and the Adirondack Mountain Club were founded. They provided the volunteers and training necessary to build enough trails to satisfy the demand. Many of these groups exist today and continue to train volunteers in trail construction and maintenance.

The first long distance hiking trail, the Appalachian Trail, was built by The NY-NJTC in Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks in 1923. Conceived in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, the original idea combined recreation, conservation and economic socialism, with wilderness camping. It was seen as an opportunity for people to get away from the city and renew themselves. While MacKaye’s vision of interconnected mountain resorts was never fully realized, the trail was completed in 1937. Today, the Appalachian Trail stretches 2,175 miles from Maine to Georgia.

Promotional poster for the CCC. Source: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wvcccfhr/history/3ccc.htm.
Promotional poster for the CCC. Source: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wvcccfhr/history/3ccc.htm.

Adirondack Mountain Club hikers atop Mt. VanHoevenberg. Source: WikiCommons.
Adirondack Mountain Club hikers atop Mt. VanHoevenberg. Source: WikiCommons.

The Great Depression was a time of enormous parks and trails growth. As part of the New Deal, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt founded the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), based on a similar program he started while serving as governor of New York. This program, in operation between 1933 and 1942, provided unskilled laborers with jobs in the conservation and natural resources fields. During the nine years it ran, three million men participated (220,000 of which were in New York). They planted over three billion trees, and they built more than 800 parks nationwide.

As bicycles increased in popularity, cyclists began advocating for paved surfaces. Paved roads allowed cars to go more places and drive faster than they had been able to previously, thereby making road biking more dangerous for cyclists. In the 1960s, the government began converting unused rail corridors into rail trails to provide a safe space for biking. In the 1970s, rail trails also allowed inline skaters to venture outside of roller rinks and provided ideal corridors for the first recreational snowmobilers.

Following a funding slump in the 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s saw renewed interest in trail building. In 1987, New York City began planning a greenway system; the project was amended in 1993 with a proposal to develop 350 miles of bike and pedestrian trails throughout the city. As of 2010, 140 miles of trail were open to the public.

Black Diamond Trail Volunteer Work Day
Black Diamond Trail volunteer work day. The Black Diamond Trail connects Taughannock State Park, Allan H. Treman Marine Park, Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert Treman State Park. Photo by OPRHP.

These days, most trails are built by volunteers through programs like the NY-NJTC, the Student Conservation Association, Park Friends groups and other organizations. Anyone can get involved to help build or maintain a pathway and contribute to the legacy of trails in New York.

Enjoy this short video about safety and preparedness tips for hiking in New York!

Post by Maddy Gold, SCA Intern.

 

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.