As we celebrate Earth Day we’d like to tell you a little bit about some of the projects our Energy & Sustainability Office is working on that benefit the environment. Particularly we’d like to tell you how they are developing renewable energy projects all across the state. State Parks has developed several solar arrays over the last few years. Solar arrays use panels to catch sunlight. You’ve probably seen them on the roofs of houses in your neighborhood or maybe even your own house. The panels catch the light from the sun and turn that into electricity for use in the house or building.
NYS Parks has completed 13 solar installation projects to date. Our goals is use the sun to power part or all of our Parks. As a result of their work State Parks is recognized as the leading renewable energy agency in the state. Most installations were completed by trained in-house State Parks employees after they went through a solar power training course at HVCC. By training employees to install solar arrays, Parks is able to save money and give employees the opportunity to learn valuable skills that give them a better understanding of the project. State Parks currently has about 50 staff members with this training and continues to train more each year.
Beginning in 2012 with the construction of the rooftop array on the Niagara Falls Discovery Center State Parks renewable energy projects have grown in number and size. State Parks Staff have installed arrays in several parks across the state including, Niagara Falls, Letchworth, Robert Moses, and Grafton Lakes.
The 13th solar installation was at Robert Moses State Park in Long Island, and will become the first energy neutral State Park in the United States. The nearly 700 kilowatt solar array will save more than $100,000 each year. Built with 2,432 panels, this pole-mounted array is located in the back of parking field 4 of Robert Moses State Park. The solar panels are made in the United States by SolarWorld and supplied by National Solar Technology in Buffalo. This is the largest solar installation by State employees in the State’s history.
Currently Parks is installing a new solar system with a 144 kW capacity at the headquarters of the Historic Preservation Office, Peebles Island State Park in Cohoes. The array will account for more than 20% of the electricity used by the complex. Parks is also constructing a solar array on the roof of the Bathhouse at Lake Taghkanic State Park. This 40kW solar array will provide more than 25% of the buildings electric need.
Since 2010, State Parks has hired seasonal Invasive Species Strike Teams to perform removals of terrestrial invasive plants in New York State Parks and Historic Sites. The work of the Strike Teams allows Parks staff to identify and protect areas of ecological significance that are vulnerable to the growing threat that invasive species pose.
In 2016, two crews were hired, an Eastern Strike Team and a Western Strike Team. Each crew worked a 25-week field season (May 30 – November 18), camping out for much of the time and carrying heavy packs and gear to work sites.
The Eastern Strike Team covered Parks and Historic Sites in the Saratoga-Capital, Taconic, Palisades and Long Island regions.
Over the course of the field season, the crew visited 29 parks in 12 counties.
They worked on 38 different projects, targeting 32 invasive plant species.
The top three focal species were: Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus – 18 acres removed), Phragmites (Phragmites australis – 12 acres removed) and Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii – 10 acres removed).
Surveys and invasives removals were done on a total of 98 acres.
Much of the work focused on protecting rare elements including:
Karner Blue Butterfly and Sandplain Gerardia – federally endangered
Slender Blue Flag Iris and the rare Pink Tickseed – state threatened
Cerulean Warbler and Golden Winged Warbler – state listed species of special concern
A globally rare maritime grassland habitat
The Eastern Strike Team also spent a portion of their time surveying for the Southern Pine Beetle, an insect native to the southeast U.S., which has spread to the northeast, causing large-scale pine die-off on Long Island. The beetle has been detected in traps in State Parks in the Hudson Valley, but no confirmed infestations have yet been found in Pitch Pines in that region. Surveys were conducted in Schunnemunk State Park, Harriman State Park, and Minnewaska State Park Preserve.
Strike Team members David Hendler and Mike Ferri inspect a pitch pine for evidence of Southern Pine Beetle , photo by Casey Bannon, State Parks
Strike Team members David Hendler and Mike Ferri survey for Southern Pine Beetle at Schunnemunk State Park, Photos by Casey Bannon, State Parks
The Western Strike Team focused on the Finger Lakes, Central, Thousand Islands, Niagara, Allegany and Genesee Regions.
Over the course of the field season, they visited 22 parks in 15 counties.
They worked on 50 different projects, targeting 19 invasive plant species.
The top three focal species were: Pale Swallowwort (Cynanchum rossicum), Honeysuckle (Lonicera spp.) and Buckthorn (Rhamnus spp.).
Topping the ranks in numbers or volume removed were: 2.79 acres of Japanese Knotweed (Fallopia japonica) surveyed and removed, 35,025 Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata ) plants, 34 bags of Pale Swallowwort (Cynanchum rossicum), and 7 dumpsters filled with Phragmites (Phragmites australis).
Western strike team member Sienna McDonald conquers a honeysuckle plant, photo by Dallas Ortel, State Parks
Western strike team member Phil Bossert works on a pale swallow-wort removal project, photo by Sienna McDonald, State Parks
State Parks also hired two Forest Health Specialists to perform surveys for two non-native insect pests: Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) and Emerald Ash Borer (EAB). These surveys alert New York State Parks invasive species staff to new infestations, assist staff in identifying infested trees that can potentially be saved and allow for the identification and removal of trees that may pose a risk to the safety of park patrons. Forest Health Specialists also performed HWA canopy monitoring (tree-climbing) surveys at sites where HWA-infested trees had been treated previously with chemical insecticides. At these sites, the crew collected data on infestation levels and overall tree health in order to assist invasive species staff in monitoring the effectiveness of treatments.
Over the course of the 18-week field season, the crew was able to visit 17 different parks.
HWA canopy monitoring surveys were performed in 8 parks, and a total of 42 trees were surveyed.
All hemlock trees that had been treated with insecticides in previous years showed either no sign of infestation or signs of improvement.
Emerald Ash Borer (EAB) surveys were performed in 14 different parks, and the crew confirmed two new sites of EAB infestation.
Aquatic Invasive Species
The New York State Park’s Boat Steward Program is one of many boat steward programs throughout New York State. These programs provide targeted educational programming to increase awareness about aquatic invasive species (AIS) and other environmentally significant issues.
Did you know that NY State Parks adopted regulations in 2015 to help try to protect our lakes and rivers from the costly effects of invasive species? Find an FAQ about the new regulations here.
The regulations states that a boater:
shall not launch or retrieve their watercraft from a Parks-owned boat launch facility unless the watercraft’s water-containing compartments (livewell, bilge, bait bucket) are dry.
has inspected the watercraft to ensure that there is not plant or animal material attached to the motor, trailer, body of the vessel, etc.
The Boat Steward Program has stewards at many of our Parks-owned boat launches across the state who conduct educational boat inspections to provide step-by-step instructions on ways you can effectively inspect your boat and dispose of invasive species. These demonstrations are both free and voluntary.
Boat Stewards can help you learn about what to do to prevent spreading aquatic invasives and what to look for. They are primarily educators and do not play a role in the enforcement of regulations.
Many Parks-owned boat launches across the state are also equipped with disposal stations for aquatic plant or animal material. The disposal stations are designed to provide a place for plant or animal material to dry out in an upland area. The dried out material is typically collected and placed in the garbage to prevent any further spread.
When you come across a red-shirted Boat Steward, please stop and ask any questions you may have.
2016 Boat Steward Program Highlights:
2016 was the first year of a 2-year $500,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to expand the boat steward program at state park launches
16 stewards worked 30 launches within the Great Lakes Basin, Lake Champlain Basin, and Saratoga Lake
There were 21,431 voluntary inspections out of 22,344 boats (95% of boaters allowed their boat to be inspected)
2,982 boats were discovered carrying aquatic invasive species
54,627 boaters interacted with Stewards, with many boaters receiving education about Clean-Drain-Dry and aquatic invasive species
11 invasive species removal projects in partnership with Strike Teams and other partners
10 educational events
Approximately 500 bags, or around 12.5 tons, of water chestnut were removed from Selkirk Shores State Park.
The winter is a great time to visit State Parks in New York. Even in these colder months, opportunities for recreation are abundant and each year State Parks welcomes cross-country skiers, snowshoers, and hikers, who enthusiastically explore the many miles of trail that are open and maintained for winter activities.
Many recreationists are as eager to hit the trails in the winter as in the warmer months, but most are likely not aware that by enjoying their favorite winter past-time, they are also able to aid State Parks Biologists and staff in detecting an insidious invasive pest.
The Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA), is a non-native, invasive aphid-like insect that infests Eastern Hemlocks throughout New York State, and across most of the eastern US. The insect attacks the tree by attaching to the underside of the branch at the base of the needles, and feeding on the sap. The tree will respond by shutting down resources to the damaged areas. Eventually, as the infestation spreads, the tree dies – the insects having essentially sucked the life out of it.
Currently, work is being done throughout NY State to try to slow the spread of this pest. However, in order to combat HWA, researchers first need to know where it has (and hasn’t) been found. This creates an opportunity for concerned and conservation-minded citizens to provide a great service to the parks they love, and to help to protect the natural beauty that they cherish.
Hemlocks, one of many coniferous (cone-bearing) species throughout New York State, can best be identified by their needles, which are flat, generally a little more than an inch long, and have two white lines running parallel on the underside. The winter months are the best time of year to check these trees for HWA. The insects, which lay eggs in the fall, coat the egg sacks with a white, woolly protective layer, which allows the developing young to survive the winter. This white “wool” also makes the egg sacks very visible throughout the winter months (mainly December-March), and allows observers, with little to no formal training, to detect the presence of HWA in hemlocks.
Checking for HWA is easy – simply flip a hemlock branch over, and scan the base of the needles for the presence of white, woolly, round egg-sacks. While some larger hemlocks have branches that are un-reachable, many of the smaller trees have overhanging branches that can easily be reached without leaving the trail. Take note of where you are, and anything that looks suspicious (many smart phones will even allow you to save your location), and let Parks staff know where you found HWA before you head home for the day.
State Parks Invasive Species Field Control Director, Bob O’Brien, demonstrates surveying techniques to volunteers at Allegany State Park. Photo of Alyssa Reid, State Parks.
Volunteers at Allegany State Park employ an innovative technique to reach a hemlock branch and check for HWA. Photo by Alyssa Reid, State Parks
So, as you head out on the trail this season, consider pausing from time-to-time to inspect a nearby hemlock branch or two. NY State’s hemlocks need our help, and you can play an important role in conservation, while enjoying the outdoors!
For more information, or to find out how to volunteer and learn more about HWA and invasive forest pests, contacts NYS Parks Invasive Species Staff: 845-256-0579.
Beavers are native to New York State and play an important role in the natural landscape. They are ecosystem engineers – altering water levels by building strong dams using branches and mud; and creating wetland habitat where many plants and animals thrive. However in the wrong place, their dams can cause flooding and property damage. In 2016 a project was developed to minimize beaver impacts by building and installing Beaver Deceivers/ Flood Control Devices. Beaver deceivers stop the flooding caused by beavers, while continuing to allow beavers to live in State Park wetlands and other water bodies.
Beaver dam at Verona Beach State Park, photo by Lilly Schelling
Beaver dam in a culvert at Grafton Lake State Park, photo by Lilly Schelling
What is a beaver deceiver?
There are typically two kinds of beaver deceivers; a Trapezoidal-shaped Exclusion Fence (or Trapezoidal Fence for short) and a Pond Leveling Device. Let’s learn the purpose for each:
The Trapezoidal Fence is intended for situations where the beavers’ dam is clogging a culvert and may cause damage to the culvert itself. The fence is placed in front of the culvert, extending out at least 12 feet out from shore with a closed floor so the beaver can’t dig under it. Beavers usually then build their dams along the sides of the fence but not the back – allowing water to flow through the fence into the culvert.
A Pond Leveling Device is made using an existing beaver dam. The dam is dug out (notched) to drop the water body to a desired water level and a corrugated pipe is placed through the dam and then covered back up with dam materials. Both ends are caged off to ensure water flow. The pond leveling device allows the beavers to continue building their dam around the pipe without raising water levels. Thus it prevents flooding of nearby roads and other use areas.
Materials for this project included 12″ corrugated pipe sections, 6 gauge epoxy coated fencing, copper hog rings to hold the fence together, and cinder blocks to sink structures and pipe.
State Parks staff clearing a site for a pond-leveling device at Fahnestock State Park, photo by Lilly Schelling
The deceivers, trapezoidal and pond leveling were completely constructed on land before they were placed into the water, photo by Lilly Schelling.
Here’s a project where we dug out the beaver dam. It was fascinating to see how fast the water level dropped. Beavers are extremely efficient! We also saw about 20 trout swim upstream over the dam to the beaver pond, taking advantage of the new access to the habitat. Naturally, the trout would persist below the dam until the dam fell apart after the beavers moved to a new home – which they do periodically. But in this case, we saw how our deceivers are also able to benefit other native animals.
Photo by Lilly Schelling
Photo by Lilly Schelling
A pond leveling device installed at the bridge on the School Rd. Trail. The objective of this device was to decrease water levels so the trail would stop flooding. The line on the tree was the water level prior to installation.
State Parks wildlife staff will monitor these beaver deceivers to ensure they continue to functioning properly and that they are still in place. Freezing and thawing during seasonal change may shift the placement of the device. Overall these devices have proven to be highly successful in solving beaver related flooding issues. It is great to solve human wildlife conflict in such a way that both human and wildlife can remain in the same area and neither is pushed out.
Post by Lilly Schelling, State Park Wildlife staff
Since January, we have been members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps. We work in New York State Parks and state-owned campgrounds and improve the infrastructure (structures that we use to access and enjoy spaces – such as roads, trails, buildings, etc.) of these natural areas. One of our first experiences as members of this program took place in Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks. Our project was to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) workers, and produce thunder boxes (box toilets), outhouses, and register boxes (for trailheads). We helped cut, paint, and attach all of the pieces, and then put them together in a way that would help people in the future easily assemble them in the field. Our crew enjoyed carpentry projects such as this. We did more than just improve our carpentry skills during those cold March days, we created friendships within our own crew and with the workers in Saranac Lake. To show their appreciation for our hard work, our project partner took us to the summit of White Face Mountain, the fifth tallest mountain in New York! We got to ride in an elevator made by the Civilian Conservation Corps – the group that our Corps is based on. We also explored the weather station that is situated at the summit and marvel at the gorgeous high peaks of the Adirondacks. This was a great time and was just an introduction to the adventures that would follow!
Marlena testing out one of the outhouses, photo by Michaela Aney
Marlena and Rebecca at the Summit of Whiteface Mountain, photo by Michaela Aney
In June, our crew ventured to Robert H. Treman State Park in Ithaca. Our job was to rebuild steps on the Gorge Trail. When we arrived, we found a steep trail covered by asphalt and parking barriers and we had the task to remove it all. We started by prying up the heavy concrete barriers and chipping away at the asphalt. Once removed, we then had to carry it all either up or down the hill, depending on what part of the trail we were on. We estimate that we moved more than 20 tons of material over the course of about 18 days! We then began cutting wood and digging dirt to install box steps – 147 steps to be exact! These steps were made from 3 pieces of wood, continuously stacked on top of each other and filled with gravel. The new steps are safer for hikers and will slow down trail erosion allowing park visitors to enjoy the trail for many years to come!
It was a lot of hard work, but we were rewarded with thousands of thank yous from park visitors, beautiful views (Ithaca really is gorges!), and the satisfaction that comes with another completed project.
These were two of the amazing projects we completed this year.
Post by Michaela Aney and Marlena Vera-Schockner, 2016 ECC members