Category Archives: Park Personnel

Trails Stewardship in the Finger Lakes

Here in the Finger Lakes, one of the best ways to access the natural beauty of the area is by taking a hike on one of the many trails that can be found within the region’s state parks. The trails (in parks such as Watkins Glen, Taughannock Falls, Robert H. Treman, and Fillmore Glen) lead hikers through a variety of environments, including mature forests, meadows, lake shores, and wetlands. Of course, hikers can also enjoy the deep gorges, dramatic cascades, and waterfalls the region is famous for! Over the years, hiking has gained popularity nationwide. With thousands of miles of hiking trails, New York State has a lot to offer people looking to get outside. The Finger Lakes region of the State Park system sees several hundred thousand visitors each year, many of whom come to hike the trails. Foot traffic, weather, and time have left some of the trails in Finger Lakes state parks eroded and in need of repair. This erosion not only makes the hiking experience less enjoyable for trail users, it also leads to negative impacts on the surrounding ecosystems. To meet this problem head-on, the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew (FLRTC) was developed in the spring of 2017.

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Some of the hard-working members of the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew, photo by State Parks

The main goal of the trail crew is to maintain safe and enjoyable hiking trails for park visitors, while protecting the natural and historic resources of the park. Currently the FLRTC consists of three Parks staff members and a diverse group of local volunteers. The Excelsior Conservation Corps (an AmeriCorps program) also helps out with specific projects. In 2018, the trails crew will host two interns from the Student Conservation Association (SCA) Parks Corps devoted to trail stewardship. This team effort has led to a tremendous amount of progress towards the Finger Lakes Park’s trail improvement goals.

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Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

Trail work, as a rule, takes a large amount of physical effort and creative problem solving. The work done by the FLRTC is no exception. Traditional tools and building techniques are often employed. Many of the trails in need of repair are in areas that are not accessible by vehicles or equipment. As a result, many of the materials used in trail construction have to be carried in by hand; it takes a strong crew to lug in lumber, stone, and gravel. Sometimes materials have to be moved down into or across the area’s gorges. The trail crew uses high-strength zip lines to accomplish this task. This is the safest method and protects the fragile slopes and vegetation.

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Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

All of this hard work pays off in the form of functional, safe and visually pleasing staircases, boardwalks, and bridges that blend with the surroundings.

 As you get out on the trails this year, take a minute to look down from the beautiful scenery. The trail you are on most likely took a lot of hard work to build and maintain – but chances are the park staff and volunteers behind the work loved every minute of it!

 Post by Zachary Ballard, State Parks

A Century Run for Women’s Suffrage

In 2017, New York State had the honor of celebrating the centennial of women winning the legal right to vote, and it was my job to think of a way to take that celebration out to New York State’s parks and historic sites. Now there are lots of ways to commemorate such a momentous occasion, but what came to my mind first was bicycles, believe it or not. Susan B. Anthony once said “I think [bicycling] has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world,” and matching one of today’s most popular physical activities with one of the most important developments in American democracy just seemed too perfect for words.

It might come as a surprise, but a woman on a bicycle was once a threatening sight—a harbinger of social upheaval that was going to change American life forever. Beginning in the 1860s, women on bicycles were depicted as displacing and overshadowing men. They were ridiculed for their mannish muscles and unusual clothing. They were even accused of neglecting their family responsibilities. Nevertheless, they persisted, and by the mid 1890s, women joined a nation-wide bicycling craze, and—after all that worry—they succeeded in changing what it meant to be a woman after all. Even women who did not ride bikes felt the impact of the changes it wrought.

Women in an early velocipede rac, portrayed as masculine-looking, Harpers 1869
Women in an early velocipede race, portrayed as masculine-looking. Harper’s, 1869.

Bicycles went through a variety of forms before coming around to the chain-driven, diamond-shaped frame we are familiar with now. Even though the new design was being marketed in the 1880s, few women attempted to ride the contraption. Cumbersome skirts, and more cumbersome social constructs about women’s frailty, kept them away. But it was only a few years later in the middle of the decade that the drop-frame bicycle (now commonly referred to as “a girl’s bike”) made way for women’s skirts. To make it easier, they followed advice once distributed by radical dress reformers, reducing the layers of petticoats and hemming their skirts above the ankle to make riding easier and safer. Some daring women even adopted the controversial “Bloomer Suit.” Armed with their bicycles, everyday women were now ready to change the world.

The Bicycle--the Great Dress Reformer of the Nineteenth Century, Puck, August 1896, Library of Congress, Division of Prints and Photographs
Detail: The Bicycle–the Great Dress Reformer of the Nineteenth Century, Puck, August 1896, Library of Congress, Division of Prints and Photographs.
Fashion plates called Gibson Girls became the iconic image of fashionable women in the 1890s. Scribners, June 1895, Charles Dana Gibson
Fashion plates called “Gibson Girls” became the iconic image of fashionable women in the 1890s. Scribners, June 1895, Charles Dana Gibson, Library of Congress, Division of Prints and Photographs.

Taking to the roads challenged pre-conceptions about women in the 1890s. The cost of bicycles fell from as much as $150 to as little as $17.50, making them available to not just middle-class women, but also to some in the working poor. Their speed and efficiency eased jobs for some women like laundresses or even vegetable sellers who vended from clever devices built onto their bicycles. Middle class women benefited from the increased social connection, joining clubs—including suffrage organizations—with greater freedom than ever before. They also proved their physical capability, competing alongside men in “Century Runs,” or one hundred mile races. The ideal of the dependent, fragile woman of the mid-nineteenth century was gradually replaced by the more robust image of the active Gibson Girl in the 1890s.

With all this history in mind, I hastily blurted out, “So I’ll make a biking costume, and buy a vintage bike, and ride around at our historic sites telling people about the history of bicycling women!” Never mind that I hadn’t ridden a bicycle since the seventh grade, and I didn’t have a bike, and I still had to make the biking costume—this idea seemed easy in the dead of winter with three months to go.

Author Kjirsten Gustavson in her bicycling suit at Staatsburg State Historic Site lighter
Author Kjirsten Gustavson in her bicycling suit at Staatsburg State Historic Site.

Fast forward a few weeks, and I found myself freshly in possession of a vintage 1963 Raleigh bicycle (a surprisingly-close substitute for an 1895 model) and deeply engrossed in sewing a bicycling costume—complete with a steel-boned corset and reproduction high-heeled shoes. If I was going to go for a historic bike ride, I was going to do it in style!

It took some physical conditioning. I’m not going to say how long ago I had been in junior high, but it was long enough that I needed a little practice.  But just like the women of the 1890s, I found it refreshing to get outside and feel my own legs powering me through rural New York State, and pretty soon it also came with a sense of pride.

When summer was in full bloom, I found myself driving all across New York State with a bicycle and a big smile, explaining to everyone I encountered why going for a bike ride was, in fact, a celebration of women’s independence. I visited seven historic sites from Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua to the Old Croton Aqueduct in Dobbs Ferry during the summer and fall of 2017, and I rode about 40 miles along with men, women, and children who got some exercise and celebrated some history all at the same time.

Author Kjirsten Gustavson on her 1963 Raleigh bicycle at the Erie Canal Boat Landing Museum lighter
Author Kjirsten Gustavson on her 1963 Raleigh bicycle at the Erie Canal Boat Landing Museum.

Kjirsten Gustavson is the Interpretive Programs Coordinator at the Peebles Island Resource Center. This specialized office helps New York State historic sites preserve and share their history with the public through conservation, exhibits, research, and a broad variety of additional assistance.

Featured image: Grems-Doolittle Library: The Heyday of Bicycles in Schenectady, 1890-1910

New York State Park Police – K9 Unit History

Here at State Parks, leashed dogs are commonly observed with their owners on hiking trails, in approved camping areas and enjoying lazy summer days.   However, there is also an elite group of highly trained dogs ,  K9’s, paired with their State Park Police handlers, in a specialized program that began over 15 years ago.

Since 2002, the New York State Park Police have used Police Canines and Handlers as specialized teams to keep State Parks, our visitors, and our neighboring communities safe. This is a short history documenting their incredible work and highlighting the achievements of “Man’s best friend” in State Parks.

Initially, two K9s trained in explosive detection were selected and stationed in Long Island.  Over the next two years, the State Park Police  recruited four more K9 teams and stationed them in the Niagara and Saratoga-Capital District Regions and in the Hudson Valley, all trained primarily for finding explosive devices.  The last of those specialized canines, K9 Chase, working with Officer Mannocchi in the Palisades, retired in 2014.

The next generation of canines began their deployments after 2014. Officer Mannocchi returned as a canine handler with K9 Sadie, trained for finding people tracking in the wilderness areas of the lower Hudson Valley. Shortly after starting her ‘job’ with State Parks, K9 Sadie and her handler , Officer Mannocchi were called to assist with a search of a heavily wooded area for a male subject suffering from serious health issues.  At 2:00am, K9 Sadie located the man lying in a thicket of woods approximately 1 mile from his home.  The man was later reunited  with his family without further incident. K9 Sadie and her handler were credited for their rapid response and effective capability.

At the same time that K9 Sadie was training, Officer Cali and K9 Teo came into service in the Niagara Falls area, as part of a homeland security opportunity.   Teo is certified in explosive detection and has conducted numerous searches at Niagara Falls attractions and State Park concert venues, as well as a Presidential campaign event and the NCAA Men’s March Madness Tournament.

From the success that the K9 program gained, State Park Police Chief David Herrick expanded the K9 program to address the need for large venue protection.  With the support of Commissioner Rose Harvey, Chief Herrick was able to recruit five more K9 teams, who were trained and deployed in 2016.

The New York State Park Police now have seven K9 teams, deployed from Western New York to Long Island, prepared to serve the state parks and their millions of visitors.

Did Someone Say “Free Boat Wash?”

Yes its true, boaters can expect to be offered free boat washes from stations at select boat launches throughout the state, especially in places like the Adirondacks. The purpose of these stations are to provide free boat washes while also helping to prevent the spread of certain invasive species.

Everyone takes the time to give their cars a good wash periodically, but have you ever thought about how often you should be cleaning your boat? Boats can be carriers of invasive plants and animals. Most of the time, you can see these plants hanging off your propeller, bunks, and trailer and you can simply pick them off. However, some invasive species, like the young of zebra mussels and Asian Clams (called veligers) are so small they cannot be seen with the naked eye. Yet just adding a few of these into a lake or other waterbody is enough to start an invasion.

When we wash our boats, also known as decontaminating, it reduces the chances of transporting harmful invasive species, such as zebra and quagga mussels, spiny waterfleas, or Asian clams, to additional waterbodies.

How do boat wash stations work?

Boat washing begins with a general boat and trailer inspection.  A trained professional, typically a boat or watercraft steward, first checks over your boat to see if it needs to be cleaned. If a boat is noticeably dirty and has visible plant matter on it, or if the boat was previously in a different waterbody, there is a good chance the boat steward will offer to decontaminate your boat for free. After a visual inspection of the boat and trailer, the boat steward will ask you to lower your propeller, just low enough to check if there is any water in the engine. If water comes out, the engine will need to be flushed of that foreign water with 120o F water from the boat wash station.

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State Parks staff working with Lake George Park Commission stewards to determine if this boat needs to be decontaminated, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

At pristine waterbodies like Lake George, boat stewards are more concerned with boats going into the lake that were previously elsewhere. In other lakes where many invasive species are already present, boat stewards may focus their decontamination efforts on boats exiting the water, to prevent furthering the spread of those species.

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Lake George Parks Commission Stewards using specialty “muffs” to run the engine while also flushing it clean of any water that could be carrying invasives, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Afterwards, if the boat steward determines that you also should have a full decontamination, they will begin cleaning your boat.  The water in the boat wash station is heated up to 140oF with pressure as high as 1,400 PSI. This temperature and pressure has been shown to kill most animals and plants trying to hitchhike on your boat. For specific areas where electronics and engine components are exposed, lower pressure is used to prevent damage to the boats. Boat trailers with felt bunks will be soaked in 140 o F using a low pressure attachment to kill any invasive species that may be hitchhiking on this material.

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Jake Barney, a State Parks Boat Steward, demonstrates using a Boat Washing Station.. The handle in the boat steward’s left hand is used to control the amount of pressure coming out of the hose, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

During the washing, it is important to wash the outside of the boat and trailer, including the propeller, hull, trailer hitch, and underneath the trailer. It is also important to flush the engine and drain the bilge to ensure the boat is properly decontaminated. Boat wash stations can recycle contaminated water and heat it again, ensuring that its runoff will not contaminate the waterbody.  Boat stewards take special care to be sure that no damage happens to the boats during cleaning.

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What your average portable boat washing station looks like. The yellow tanks on each side hold water used for decontamination. The machine has a gas engine but uses a diesel burner to heat the water to 140o F, photo by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Boat wash stations are an effective way to clean your boat of all invasives, including those that may be too small to see. Using the boat washing station is the most efficient and effective way to stop the spread of aquatic invasive species, while also providing a free cleaning of your boat and trailer!

Thanks for helping keep New York’s pristine lakes and rivers clean, so we can continue to enjoy them for generations to come!

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Kayaking at Fair Haven Beach State Park, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks

Additional information:

Click here for more information on boat decontamination procedures:

Decontaminating your boat with a boat wash station is always suggested, but be aware that some lakes, such as Lake George, require you to get a decontamination before launching.

Heading to the Adirondacks or Lake George? Find a boat wash station here.

This summer, State Parks will be opening two boat wash stations, one at Allan H. Treman State Marine Park and the other at Saratoga Lake State Boat Ramp.

Post By: Jordan Bodway and Kristin King, Lead Boat Stewards, State Parks

Japanese Barberry: Not an Average Landscape Shrub

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Barberry in fall, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) is an invasive shrub from Asia. Invasives are species not native to our country or state and can cause ecological, economic or human harm. They arrive here as a result of international trade and intentional or accidental release. Outside of their native ranges, they lack predators or other factors that keep them from out-competing, or overcoming native species. Invasive species have been shown to degrade habitats and cause declines in native plant and wildlife populations. They can cause the loss of crops and income, and can also affect recreational opportunities in addition to other species. The United States spends billions of dollars a year in efforts to control invasive species and reduce their impacts.

Japanese barberry was introduced in the 1870’s for landscaping, and was used extensively for hedgerows and prized for its attractive red berries and bright red fall foliage. It is a dense spiny shrub (you might know it as a “pricker bush” that is common in neighborhoods and farms).  They can grow up to 8 feet tall, have zig-zag branches and small oval leaves that range from green to purple in the summer, with white to yellow flowers.

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Barberry fruit, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Barberry can produce large numbers of seeds at a rapid rate and tolerate a variety of conditions –which are typical of invasives. It escapes from gardens and farms and can crowd out native plants, which threatens native biodiversity and normal ecological functions in forest, field and edge habitats. Wildlife help barberry spread by eating the berries and dispersing the seeds in their scat (poop). Studies have shown that these berries have less nutritional value for wildlife than native fruits such as native cherry or viburnums. Barberry grows into dense thickets, crowding and shading out native plants and seedlings, reducing habitat and forage for other species. Additionally, barberry has been found to alter soil pH and the layer of vegetative litter on the ground. This change in soil pH can persist long after the invasive has been removed, further inhibiting native plant growth. It poses a threat to humans as well by creating prime habitat for deer ticks, which can transmit Lyme disease.

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Thicket of Japanese Barberry in a forest community, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

A simple control method for established Japanese Barberry plants is to dig them out.  Barberries are fairly shallow-rooted and typically easy to dig out, but all of the roots must be removed to prevent regrowth. The roots are easily identified by their yellow color when broken. Once dug from the ground, the shrub should be disposed of in a manner that leaves it dead and unviable. This can be done by burning, chipping or leaving the plant in the open sun to desiccate.  Plants may be bagged in thick heavy bags, such as contractor bags, and thrown out, particularly if berries are present to avoid establishment of new plants.

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Digging out a barberry, photo by State Parks

For very large shrubs or thickets where manual or mechanical removal may not be feasible, systemic herbicides may be used with a basal bark  (spraying the entire circumference of the lower trunk or stem of the plant) or cut stump application. Chemicals are recommended as a last resort and should be applied by a licensed applicator. It is advised that people carefully follow label instructions to minimize impacts on native species.

Though new regulations prohibit planting of Japanese Barberry in New York State, it is still sought as a landscape shrub because deer do not eat it, it is hardy (further traits of invasive species), and the red phase offers a pleasing color to gardens. Thus, established barberry plants continue to threaten native ecosystems and efforts to control invasives.

There are native deer-resistant shrubs that could be planted in place of this invasive, such as St. John’s Wort, Highbush cranberry, Winterberry, and Shrubby cinquefoil. You can consult native plant nurseries and other sources, but also check the New York Flora Atlas to make sure the shrubs are native to New York State.

The simplest precaution that can be taken to control invasive Japanese barberry is to increase awareness of it and plant only native plants in gardens. This helps to support native plant species and the wildlife and native pollinators that rely on them.  You can also look for volunteer opportunities in your local State Park for invasive species removal workdays in the spring to fall.

Resources:

Going Native: Invasive Species

New York Flora Atlas

New York State Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species Regulations

Post by Amy McGinnis, State Parks