Category Archives: Park Projects

Happy Trails to You from State Parks

People love New York’s trails! Did you know that State Parks has more than 2,000 miles of trails across the state? And that merchandise featuring trail markers is among the top sellers at the Parks online store?

T-shirts with State Parks trail markers are some of the items sold online in the Parks store.

More people than ever have been using Parks trails during the past ten years, especially during the recent pandemic, as being outdoors offered safe and healthy recreation when some other venues weren’t available. With so many trails, there is always lots of work to do for our trail crews, staff, and non-profit partners to maintain, improve and expand our network. Let’s take a tour of some of what’s been done recently.

To help find your way on the trail, check out the Parks’ Explorer app for smartphones and mobile devices. Available for both iOS and Android devices, the free app offers a range of useful information, including trail maps and a real-time location function that allows users to easily follow along on the park’s map.

Capital Improvements


To help support some of its trail work, each year Parks receives funding through the state budget as part of the NY Works capital program. Some of the program’s largest funded trails projects over the past five years include:

  • $500,000 for the Backcountry Trails Program to repair and restore trails in the Hudson Highlands of our Taconic and Palisades Regions.
  • $400,000 to restore hiking, skiing, equestrian, and snowmobile trails in Allegany State Park in western New York.
  • $250,000 to repair stonework and restore the scenic gorge trail of the Finger Lakes Region.
  • $200,000 for improvements to park trails across the Saratoga-Capital Region.
  • $175,000 for region-wide trail projects in the Thousand Island trails.

Crews working under the Backcountry Trails Program (BCTP) have spent years rehabilitating miles of trail in Hudson Highlands and Sterling Forest State Parks. The program engages AmeriCorps volunteer service members to learn and apply highly skilled trail building techniques from April through October each year.

This past season more than 2,000 feet of trail were rehabilitated and more than 140 stone steps installed on the Washburn and Undercliff Trails in Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley. In the Palisades Region, miles of trail have been added and improved on the very popular multi-use trail system at Sterling Forest State Park. 2022 will mark the ninth year of the BCTP implementing high-quality trail construction projects in our facilities.

A backcountry trails crew works at Hudson Highlands State Park.

Accessible Trails


The Universal Trail Assessment Process (UTAP) project has so far assessed 40 trails in State Parks with a goal of identifying those that could be made accessible for persons with disabilities. Funded through a Federal grant, the project completed its third year of field assessments to find  trails that meet or have the potential to meet federal standards for accessibility.

Learn more about this project in a previous post on the NYS Parks Blog HERE

Partner Projects


On July 1st, the ribbon was cut on the new Nimham Trail in Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve, which was completed in partnership with the Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail organization. Named for the last Mohican chief in the Hudson Valley, this new trail allows for an easier ascent and safer descent to the popular Breakneck Ridge – but it’s still a challenge! This new trail has over 600 stone steps and climbs 600 feet of elevation in less than a mile. Images below of the the Ninham Trail show, left to right, new stairs, a trail information map, and a new bridge.

In Clarence Fahnestock State Park Preserve, the Open Space Institute (OSI) broke ground on a sustainable multi-purpose loop trail suitable for hiking, biking, and equestrian use. More than 5.5 miles of new or rehabilitated trail have been created as well as two bridges, four boardwalks, and two turnpikes. As a complement to this project, West Point engineering cadets designed and built a multi-use arched bridge to traverse a mountain stream. This is the fifth bridge constructed in partnership with OSI and West Point on the Hubbard-Perkins project.

Cadets from the U.S. military academy at West Point put the finishing touches on their new bridge in the Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve.

Interns from the Hudson Valley AmeriCorps of the Student Conservation Association (SCA) had their annual Patriot Day of Service project at Sam’s Point in Minnewaska State Park Preserve. This two-day project created a new 72-foot section of bog-bridge on the Verkeerder Kill Falls Footpath. The popular trail passes through the globally rare dwarf pitch pine barrens and has seen increased use in the past five years. Pictured below, the bog bridges will help mitigate user impacts by keeping hikers’ feet out of wet areas and on the designated path.

Parks Regional Trail Crews Deliver


Saratoga-Capital Region

In 2021 at John Boyd Thacher State Park, trail crews repaired trail, replaced timber steps, and build rock crib-wall on the area’s most hiking popular trail, the Indian Ladder Trail. In Peebles Island State Park, trails were upgraded with new surfacing material and drainage improvements, as well as new trail markers and intersection signage added for safety.  Trails at John Brown Farm State Historic Site in the Adirondacks were overhauled and signage was installed to improve wayfinding.


Finger Lakes

Crews at Buttermilk Falls State Park installed a 56-foot prefabricated fiberglass bridge and set up high-line rigging to lift the bridge into place over Buttermilk Creek. The new crossing now connects hikers safely from the parking lot to the trail by eliminating a hazardous road crossing. Click on the slideshow below to observe the project…

At Chimney Bluffs State Park, the Bluff Trail leading to the visually stunning bluff overlooking Lake Ontario was rerouted this year after being closed since May 2018 due to safety concerns. This project established a new sustainable trail route away from the heavily eroded bluff edge and constructed 170 timber stairs, multiple erosion control features, and added a 225-foot wooden boardwalk to raise the trail over the forest floor.

More than 680 stone and timber steps were installed at Stony Brook State Park to rehabilitate heavily eroded trail sections at the north and south entrances to the park’s main trail.

More than 700 feet of boardwalks and foot bridges were installed throughout the trail system at Ganondagan State Historic Site to replace worn out sections.

Before and After: A new boardwalk at Ganondagan State Historic Site.

Central Region

At Green Lakes State Park, the Green Lake Trail was resurfaced and received drainage improvements over the past three years. Crews also completed a full signage and wayfinding upgrade with a total of 316 new trailhead, intersection, and informational signs, all designed in-house and produced at the regional sign shop.

Thousand Island Region

More than 1.5 miles of new trail were added to Keewaydin State Park. Crews also performed seasonal maintenance on more than 16 miles of trails region-wide and constructed new trail structures including:

Working for the Future


Parks is also keeping an eye on the future for its trails. In our Albany office, planners in the Division of Environmental Stewardship and Planning (DESP) set a roadmap for future trail work through the completion of  the Statewide Greenway Trails Plan which was signed for adoption by Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid in April 2021.

With over 2,000 additional miles across New York, these multi-use greenway trails, like the Empire State Trail and others, are a popular amenity and serve as a critical component of both recreation and transportation. The completed Greenway Trails Plan will be a resource for trail managers and advocates to expand the state’s greenway trail network over the next decade.

Whether it’s hiking, snowshoeing, cycling, Nordic skiing, horseback riding, or even snowmobiling, there’s a trail for you in State Parks. See for yourself all the great work done by our trails crews and partners as you get out into nature’s beauty!

Happy Trails to You from NYS Parks! Come see our work!

Cover Shot: A new bridge built by State Parks trail crews at the Ganondagan State Historic Site. All images by NYS Parks.

Post by Chris Morris, Statewide Trails Program Planner, NYS Parks

Resources


Learn more about the many trails in State Parks across New York in our popular “Get Out and Explore” Blog series:

During winter when there is snowcover, State Parks also offer a variety of trails suitable for cross-country skiing. Find out more in this previous post in the NYS Park Blog.


Trails at more than 30 State Parks are also available for snowmobiling during winter. Click HERE for a listing.

Geocaching in a Winter Wonderland for 2022

While the ground may soon be frozen or covered in snow (or not), that doesn’t mean the hunt for a hidden treasure in a state park has to stop.

Through this summer and fall, more than 220 people searching in three State Parks regions found enough geocaches – hidden little containers of trinkets whose locations are identified by Global Position System (GPS) coordinates – to be awarded special 2021 New York State Geocache Challenge coins.

To earn the coins, geocache hunters had to locate at least 45 out of more than 230 concealed caches, with 35 “finds” coming from one of the three regions and the balance from either of the other two regions. Cache-seekers used coordinates with their own GPS devices to locate the caches, and were able to take some trinkets and leave some of their own for subsequent seekers to find.

Altogether, nearly 4,700 people took part in the seasonal challenge, which wrapped up in mid-November and covered 56 state parks and historic sites in Central New York, the Saratoga-Capital District Region, and the Hudson Valley. Odds of finding enough caches to earn a coin worked out to roughly 1 in 20. So obviously, the caches were not in plain sight!

Use the slider bar to compare the front and back of the 2021 New York State Parks Geocache Challenge coin. This coin was available in the Saratoga/Capital District Region, where 78 people found enough caches to qualify for the free coin.

This season, three Parks regions are hosting winter geocache events,

Tthe Saratoga-Capital District Region is hosting a “Winter 33” Geocache Challenge, which will offer 33 “winter-friendly” caches placed in three parks in the region. This challenge will run from Jan. 15 to April 15, 2022. There will no geocoins available during this winter challenge, so it it all just for the fun of it!

In the Taconic Region of the Hudson Valley, the 2022 Winter Geocache Challenge will take place at Lake Taghkanic State Park in Ancram, Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park in Cold Spring, and Mills Norrie State Park in Staatsburg.

And in the Central Region, there will nearly 70 geocaches placed at 14 Parks and Historic Sites, including Battle Island, Fort Ontario, Green Lakes, Chenango Valley, Robert Riddell, Glimmerglass, Hyde Hall, Herkimer Home, Chittenango Falls, Clark Reservation, Old Erie Canal, Lorenzo House, and Verona Beach.

And what might a “winter-friendly cache be? Well, that means the items will be hidden in a way that prevents them from being buried in the snow, such as being hung from tree branches or tucked up under a bench or a picnic table.

To find the caches, download the Geocaching app or follow the coordinates of the caches listed on the Geocaching.com website. When you find a cache, stamp your passport with the stamp inside each cache the turn it in to the state park indicated on the passport. Remember to leave the stamp behind for others that come after you.

Geocaching in winter presents its own challenges of snow and cold weather. Make sure to dress for the weather, with warm clothing, gloves and winter boots. Carrying extra water during the winter is advisable to avoid dehydration. And always carry a flashlight or headlamp, as daylight hours are shorter in the winter.

The geocoins awarded previously are trackables, since each coin carries a unique identifying number that can be activated online and then tracked as coins are located, reported and moved to new locations by their owners or subsequent geocachers. “Owners” of the geocoin, along with anyone else who knows its number, can follow its travels online.

So far, the geocoin that has traveled the farthest from a state park is from the 2015  Saratoga-Capital District Region Geocache Challenge. Most recently located in the southernmost point in the U.S. on the Big Island of Hawaii last month, this token (TB6Y60Y) has so far trekked 190,655 miles to such places as the Mediterranean island of Malta, Germany, the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in India, Japan, Israel, and more than 350 other places.

According to the owner’s page, they want to “travel to at least one state park in each state across the USA.” Now there is a mission that we can all get behind!

Happy Holidays and Happy Geocaching!

Seek and You Might Find: Geocaching In NYS Parks

I am not stealthy. This is not new information, but I didn’t realize how sloppy I was at sneaking around until I tried geocaching—a worldwide game of locating some of millions of little hidden stashes. This outdoor activity relies on the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, where participants place caches of trinkets, also … Continue reading Seek and You Might Find: Geocaching In NYS Parks


Post by Chris Kenyon, Park Manager, Mine Kill State Park

Propelling History At New York State Parks

At this summer’s grand opening for the revamped Pier 76 in Manhattan, most visitors likely noticed a massive ship propeller on display near the entrance. At 18 feet in diameter and weighing more than 30 tons, it is certainly hard to miss.

State Parks oversaw the propeller’s installation from the nearby Intrepid museum as part of its $31 million construction and renovation project to remake Pier 76 into the newest public recreational and cultural space in the city’s Hudson River Park. But another part of State Parks’ mission is preserving and documenting history, such as this massive nautical object and the story behind it.

Workers lower the massive propeller into place at Pier 76.

It is a story of a bygone era of luxury transatlantic travel aboard the SS United States, a liner launched during the Korean War whose passengers included such celebrities as Marilyn Monroe, John Wayne, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Elizabeth Taylor, and a former king of England, as well as four U.S. Presidents – Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Clinton, who crossed the ocean as a college student on his way to Oxford University in England. After iconic animator and filmmaker Walt Disney traveled to Europe aboard, he used it as the setting for one of his family-friendly comedy movies of the 1960s. The ship featured prominently in the advertising of the 1950s and 1960s as an epitome of style and casual elegance.

The bronze-manganese propeller at Pier 76 was one of four that allowed the SS United States – a ship longer and heavier than the ill-fated RMS Titanic – to have blazing speed. Able to go faster in reverse than the RMS Titanic could go forward, the “Big U” set a speed record for passenger liners using only two-thirds of its power on its July 1952 maiden voyage from New York City to Europe. That record still stands today, decades after jet aircraft became the preferred way for people to cross the ocean.

The SS United States set a speed record for crossing the Atlantic Ocean in 1952 that still stands. (Photo Credit – Wikipedia Commons)
The SS United States shown in her homeport of New York City harbor in the 1950s.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the SS United States being launched and christened, with 2022 as the 70th anniversary of that record-setting maiden voyage. After its brief but illustrious 17-year career, the ship was permanently withdrawn from service in 1969, the victim of changing travel habits, increasing fuel costs, and loss of government support. Since then, numerous attempts to repurpose the vessel have fallen through.

Now docked in Philadelphia while a national not-for-profit group, the SS United States Conservancy, seeks to preserve it, the SS United States is one of the world’s last surviving examples of ocean-going luxury.

When the ship was completed, it cost approximately $78 million, with about two-thirds of that cost covered by the U.S. Navy, which wanted to create the world’s fastest ship for military use. That was equivalent to about $800 million today, enough to cover the expense of two modern Boeing 777 passenger jetliners. At the time, many details of the vessel’s construction were a military secret, since the Navy wanted a liner that could be converted quickly into a troop ship in the event of war. The SS United States was capable of carrying up to 14,000 troops, 1,444 crew, and a 400-bed hospital for 10,000 miles without refueling.

In addition to speed and military adaptability, the liner also had modern, distinctly American stylings setting it apart from the more traditional luxury vessels of earlier days. Designed by naval architect William Francis Gibbs of Gibbs & Cox (designer of 5,400 World War II vessels, including the famed “Liberty Ships”) and constructed in Newport News, Va., the ship was marketed as a vacation in itself. Advertising campaigns during the 1960s emphasized that ocean voyages, even for business, could be a pleasure – you would arrive faster on an airplane, but you would arrive happier on an ocean liner!

An advertising poster touts the speed of the SS United States, and its sister ship, the SS America.

To further emphasize this vision, designers Dorothy Marckwald and Anne Urquhart worked for three years with a dozen assistants to design the interior decoration of the ship’s public spaces and hundreds of passenger staterooms. Discarding the stuffy old-world style previously found on American ships, the SS United States had a contemporary look that emphasized simplicity over the palatial, and restrained elegance over glitz. The ship’s modern interiors were soothingly homelike.

Gibbs also was concerned with fire risks and mandated that no flammable materials could be used in the ship including construction materials and interior décor. Aluminum was used extensively in the structure, making the ship lighter (and thus faster) while also fireproof. The only wood found in the ship was the kitchen’s butcher blocks and the mahogany Steinway pianos.

Marckwald and Urquhart’s decorating included several commissioned works of American-themed art for public spaces from Hildreth Meière, Louis Ross, Peter Ostuni, Charles Lin Tissot, William King, Charles Gilbert, Raymond Wendell, Nathaniel Choate, Austin M. Purves Jr., and Gwen Lux. Marckwald humorously noted of the interior : “One thing we don’t do on a ship is use color that is at all yellowish green—you know, anything that will remind a traveler of the condition of his stomach.”

After Walt Disney traveled aboard the SS United States, he was so impressed that he decide to use the ship – its exterior colors were patriotically red, white and blue – as a setting for his 1962 comedy film “Bon Voyage!” about an American family’s European vacation.

This publicity still for Bon Voyage! shows stars Jane Wyman, Fred MacMurray, and Kevin “Moochie” Corcoran throwing paper streamers over the railings as the SS United States set sail. (Photo Courtesy of SS United States Conservancy)

What gave the vessel its speed was a propulsion system of eight boilers and four 1,000-psi steam turbines that provided more than 240,000 horsepower (more than four times that of the RMS Titanic) to four independent propellers, two with four blades and two with five blades. These designs reduced both cavitation – the formation of partial vacuums in a liquid by a swiftly moving solid body such as a propeller – and resulting ship-wide vibration.

Despite the enormous fuel consumption, the ship could carry enough fuel and supplies to travel non-stop up to 10,000 miles at a cruising speed of 34 knots and a top speed of 38.32 knots (about 44 miles per hour). This incredible combination of weight, power, and speed allowed the ship to make its 1952 maiden crossing at an average of 34.51 knots (or nearly 40 miles an hour).

This earned the Big U the Blue Riband – an unofficial accolade given to the fastest transatlantic passenger liner.

A worker checking one of the four-bladed propellers of the SS United States prior to its 1951 launch. (Photo Credit – Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images)

Pioneering marine engineer Elaine Kaplan was responsible for overseeing the design of the ship’s unique propeller configurations. She began working at Gibbs & Cox during the early 1940s while attending Hunter College in New York City and pursuing a mathematics degree. Kaplan’s efforts were noted by the firm’s chief marine engineer Walter Bachman as well as William Francis and Frederic Gibbs.  As a result of her intelligence and meticulous work, she was ultimately assigned to design the propulsion system for the SS United States.

Another aspect of the design that aided performance was the underside of the hull, especially the bow, which used an unusual bulbous shape instead of the traditional knife-edge. This improved high-speed performance and reduced water resistance and friction. For many years, this and other below-water details were classified information, and no public drawings or photos below the waterline were available. Display models of this sleek and modernistic liner showed a flat bottom and no details!

Intensely proud of his vision, Gibbs said of his ship: “You can’t set her on fire, you can’t sink her, and you can’t catch her.”

Despite all this, the SS United States was retired from active service in 1969 due to increasing pressure from affordable trans-Atlantic airline flights, increased operating and fuel costs, and the U.S. government’s decision to end its operating subsidies after determining the vessel would never be used as a troop ship. By 1980 the vessel was considered obsolete for military use and subsequently sold off to a successive series of private entities.

In 1999, the ship was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The preservation group SS United States Conservancy, headed by Gibbs’ granddaughter Susan, purchased the ship in 2011 and has been raising funds and promoting redevelopment plans to save it from being dismantled. Now striped of much of its interiors and its trademark funnels faded, the vessel is currently berthed in Philadelphia, Pa., where it has been since 1996. It is not currently open for public tours.

“We appreciate New York State providing such a prominent location for one of the ship’s iconic propellers. It is awe-inspiring to see this sculptural component of the ship on proud display back in her homeport of New York,” said Susan Gibbs, President of the SS United States Conservancy.

“For the past decade the Conservancy has kept the SS United States safely afloat,” she said. “Although “America’s Flagship” remains endangered, this iconic symbol has enormous potential to once again welcome and inspire millions of visitors as a thriving mixed-use destination and dynamic museum on the waterfront. We are working every day, along with our partners and supporters from across the country and around the world, to save the United States.”

Two other SS United States propellers also are displayed in New York State. One is at the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler in The Bronx, and the other is at the American Merchant Marine Museum at Kings Point, in Nassau County on the North Shore of Long Island. An additional propeller on public display is located at The Mariners’ Museum in Newport News, Va.

A historic postcard of the SS United States.
The propeller against the backdrop of the Manhattan skyline. Pier 76 served as a freighter terminal for New York City-based United States Lines, owners of the SS United States. The company vacated the pier in the 1970s.

Cover shot – SS United States propeller on display at Pier 76. Images from NYS Parks unless otherwise credited.

Post by Daniel Bagrow, historic preservation program analyst NYS Parks, and Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks.

RESOURCES

Watch this video of the SS United States by Bright Sun Films.

A look at the ship’s role in the Disney film BonVoyage!

SS United States Conservancy Facebook Page

SS United States Conservancy Conservancy web page

Learn about the SS United States Conservancy’s plans to redevelop the ship

Technical details about the SS United States’ propellers

Empire State Native Pollinator Survey – You Can Help!

Summer is in full swing, with flowers blooming and bees buzzing. Our native pollinators, which also include flies, butterflies, and beetles, are an important part of New York’s ecosystems. They work hard to pollinate our trees, wildflowers, gardens, and crops. Some of these native pollinators appear to be declining. To learn more, scientists have been evaluating the populations of pollinators throughout New York as part of the four year Empire State Native Pollinator Survey (ESNPS).

The ESNPS is a project that aims to determine the distribution and conservation status of target pollinator species in New York. This project is made possible through work by both scientists conducting statewide surveys and community members submitting pollinator pictures and specimens they have observed.

In the last few years, zoologists with New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) have visited more than 60 State Parks throughout New York State searching for a variety of target pollinator species. Community scientists have also been contributing their finds with photos added to the ESNPS iNaturalist project page.

More than 21,000 observations had been submitted to this multi-year project byMarch 2021, with the project constantly growing. These observations have been submitted by over 600 people and represent over 1,400 species. The Empire State Native Pollinator Survey is accepting photo submissions through September 2021 and you can help!

Be A Community Scientist

Do you want to help contribute to pollinator survey efforts? The project is accepting photo submissions through September 2021! Photographs can be submitted through the ESNPS iNaturalist project page or through the iNaturalist app after joining the project online. This can be a fun activity to do solo or with friends and family the next time you visit a State Park. Pollinators can be found in a variety of habitats – keep an eye out for wildflowers on warm and sunny days to see what you can find.  If you are able to snap some good pictures and upload them to iNaturalist, experts can help you identify the species you have found. It is a great way to learn, too.

What to Look For

Below are some pictures of the target species for this project that have been found in New York State Parks. New York’s pollinators have so much variety! These are just a few examples of what to look for and photograph.

Cuckoo Bee


One of the interesting bumble bees we have in New York is Fernald’s Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus flavidus=fernaldae). Cuckoo bumble bees are a group of parasitic bees that are unable to collect pollen or raise young. These bees will take over the already established nests of other bumble bees by invading and incapacitating or killing the queen. The Cuckoo bumble bee then forces the workers to raise its young.

Fernald’s Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus flavidus=fernaldae) Photo Kevin Hemeon

Bee Mimics

Look closely at the Bare-eyed Bee-mimic Fly (Mallota bautias) and Eastern Hornet Fly (Spilomyia longicornis); these are flies that are called bee mimics. Bee mimics can look very similar to bees, hornets, or wasps. Imitating insects with stingers is a defense mechanism for these harmless flies. 

Bare-eyed Bee-mimic Fly (Mallota bautias) Photo Paweł Pieluszyński
Eastern Hornet Fly (Spilomyia longicornis) Photo Laura Shappell
Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major) Photo Alan Wells

Longhorn Beetles

The project is also interested in information on the 100 species of longhorn beetles. These beetles generally have very long antennae and come in a wide variation of colors and patterns. They too are pollinators.

Strangalepta Flower Longhorn Beetle (Strangalepta abbreviata) Photo Alan Wells
Banded Longhorn Beetle (Typocerus velutinus) Photo Alan Wells

Where Should I Look?

You can find native pollinators all over. State Parks have a great variety of natural habitats where you can find interesting pollinators. Sunny days with not too much wind are ideal. Some of the counties that would benefit from additional surveys are Chenango, Cortland, Fulton, Lewis, Montgomery, Orleans, Tioga, and Yates.

Look for flowers along trails through fields, meadows, dunes, forests, or even in marshes and stream sides if you kayak or canoe. Stop and look for a bit to see if any pollinators settle down on the flowers. Photograph from a distance first and then try to move in for some close-ups. The insects are often so intent on feeding that they don’t fly away.

If you can help, sign up for the Empire Pollinator Survey ESNPS iNaturalist project page and submit your photos on that project page or the APP before Sept. 30, 2021. The results from the project are anticipated to be available in spring 2022.

Post by Ashley Ballou, Zoologist, NY Natural Heritage Program  www.nynhp.org

Resources

Read more about State Parks and our efforts with pollinators in previous posts in the NYS Parks Blog.

Protecting Pollinators

Across New York, State Parks staff is working hard to help support the diverse populations of pollinators from bees to butterflies, beetles, wasps, and more.  Here’s a sample of the pollinator protection projects going on this year in State Parks. Rockefeller State Park Preserve Wild Bees Photo Exhibit Working from their photographs from both Rockefeller … Continue reading Protecting Pollinators

Ninham’s Journey: Hard Tale and a Mountain Trail in the Hudson Valley

One of the most popular hikes in the Hudson Valley, the Breakneck Ridge Trail at Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve offers spectacular views of the historic river valley from its 1,200-foot summit. The trail is often listed among the best hikes in the region.

But this 4.4-mile trail, boulder-strewn, narrow, and steep, is also physically demanding for even the most experienced hikers. Not advised for the inexperienced or those used to flat trails, this challenging terrain has occasionally led to injured or lost hikers in areas where rescue can be difficult.

In July 2021, a new trail connecting to Breakneck was opened to provide an alternative, allowing hikers unwilling or unable to continue the arduous ascent to instead make a shorter, gentler, and safer return loop down to Route 9D.

A trail guide on the new Ninham Trail at the intersection of Breakneck Ridge Trail. (Photo Credit- NYS Parks)

Formed with hundreds of hand-set stone steps, the new half-mile Ninham Trail was made possible by Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Inc., a new not-for-profit affiliate of the environmental group Scenic Hudson, which raised the funds to pay for it. The Fjord team includes Hudson Highlands Land Trust, NY-NJ Trail Conference, Open Space Institute, The Lenape Center, and Riverkeeper; four state agencies: Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation, and Department of State; four municipalities: Village of Cold Spring, Town of Philipstown, Town of Fishkill and City of Beacon; two New York metro-area agencies: Metro-North Railroad and New York City Department of Environmental Protection; and three community-based non-profits: Friends of Fahnestock and Hudson Highlands State Parks, Little Stony Point Citizens’ Association, and the Philipstown Greenway Committee.

Hudson Highlands Park Preserve Manager Evan Thompson said the Ninham trail will make hiking Breakneck safer for everyone, since hikers who want a short return no longer will go against the flow of hikers coming up. The new trail also provides hikers a slightly less vertical way to reach Breakneck Ridge. And just as importantly, the trail will also make it easier and quicker for rescue crews to respond to emergencies further up the trail.

Breakneck Ridge as seen from the south at Little Stony Point on the Hudson River.

Ninham Trail is a source of two compelling tales – first, the story of its rugged construction along the face of the ridge, including more than 540 stone steps handcrafted from the mountain’s own stone, and second, the history behind its namesake Daniel Ninham, who was the last chief of the Wappinger tribe that once lived in the rocky Hudson Highlands of Westchester, Dutchess, and Putnam counties. (His last name has also been spelled Nimham, based on the historical record, but the preferred spelling is Ninham.) Ninham and other Wappingers lost their lives fighting on the patriot side during the American Revolution, but despite that the tribe was ultimately pressured several decades later to relocate out of New York and eventually wound up halfway across the continent.

The native granite of the Hudson Highlands where Ninham once roamed forms the spine of the Ninham Trail, which traverses the face of a ridge to connect Breakneck Trail with the Wilkinson Memorial Trail originating on a Route 9D trailhead. Starting in summer 2020 and continuing to completion in June 2021, crews from the firm Tahawus Trails LLC, of Accord, Ulster County, and the volunteer group Jolly Rovers Trail Crew, of Poughkeepsie, worked to carve out the trail and lay in stone steps and bridges where needed.

With each stone step weighing an average of about 500 pounds, that’s more than a quarter-million pounds of stone, cut in place from boulders near the trail, and moved through muscle power aided by block and tackle, come-alongs and highlines, and set into place, with much of the work done by hand. The steps are a legacy as durable as the mountain itself.

Above, a new bridge on the Ninham Trail, constructed by Tahawus Trails LLC. Below, members of the Jolly Rovers crew work on stone steps, with a crew banner marking the volunteer group’s work site.

State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid, left, examines completed stone steps with a member of the Jolly Rovers trail crew.

The rugged trail honors the enduring legacy of Daniel Ninham, who was born in the Hudson Valley near Fishkill in the mid-1720s as Dutch and later English colonists were extending their control over Wappinger and other native lands. By the 1740s, Ninham’s Wappingers and a patchwork of members of other dispossessed tribes in that region had gathered in western Massachusetts, in what today is Stockbridge, Berkshire County. Forming a European-style town named after a place in England, the native inhabitants converted to Christianity and were known then as “Stockbridge Indians.”

The Stockbridge community, which also included English settlers, was mixture of Wappingers, Mahicans/Mohicans, and Munsee (also known as the Lenape or the Delaware), such as the Esopus and Catskills, as well as other Native peoples.

The areas outlined in white, spanning the Hudson Valley in New York, as well portions of New Jersey and Pennsylvania, were the original territory of the Mohican people, which inclueded the Wappinger tribe. (Courtesy of Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians)

As Stockbridge chief (known as a “sachem”), Ninham was fluent in English and tried unsuccessfully to use Colonial courts to regain massive tracts of the lost Hudson Valley lands, claiming deeds had been fraudulently obtained. He later traveled to London in 1766 to make an unsuccessful appeal of the case to British royal officials, who asked the Colonial government to reexamine the case, which was upheld despite disputed and contrary evidence

During the Revolution, Ninham and his warriors, known as the Stockbridge Militia, angered by what they considered these earlier British betrayals after having supported Britain in the French and Indian War and other conflicts, sided with George Washington and the Continental Army, believing that fairer treatment might be obtained from a new government. Militia members served with patriot forces at battles including Bunker Hill, Ticonderoga, Valcour Bay, Saratoga, and Valley Forge.

A drawing of a Stockbridge Militia soldier from the diary of Revolutionary War Hessian soldier Johann Von Ewald (Photo Credit- Wikipedia Commons)

In August 1778 during fighting around New York City, Daniel Ninham, his son, Abraham, and more than a dozen soldiers of the Stockbridge Militia were killed by British and Hessian forces during a battle in what is now Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx. A stone monument to the Battle of Kingsbridge by the Daughters of the American marks the spot today as one of the reminders of Ninham in New York State.

In the town of Fishkill, at the intersection of routes 52 and 82, the state installed a monument to Ninham in 1937. A memorial to Ninham is in Putnam County Veterans Memorial Park in Kent. Also found in Putnam County is the 1,054-acre Nimham Mountain Multiple Use Area, operated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

An oil painting entitled “Ninham’s Last Stand,” by military artist Don Troiani.

However, the Stockbridge Militia’s sacrifice did little to stop encroachment on their Berkshire County land even during the war, and the tribe, weakened by its manpower losses and pressured by former colonists who had taken some of the land and wanted the rest, moved westward to Oneida County south of what is now Syracuse. As part of that move in 1783 as the war ended, the tribe received a personal letter from George Washington thanking them for their service during the Revolution, calling them “friends and brothers” who “fought and bled by our side.” Washington urged that the Stockbridge “not be molested in any manner” during their journey west. As a gesture to his allies, according to some accounts, Washington also paid for the tribe to have an ox roast at Stockbridge before they left, something that current tribal officials conducted an archeological investigation into in 2019

After moving onto lands provided by the Oneida tribe, the Stockbridge again faced pressure in coming years to move, as land speculators and squatters desired that property as well. Some members attempted to move to Indiana in 1818, but were blocked when the Delaware and Miami tribes, which had agreed to take in the Stockbridge, lost control of the land to approaching colonists. In 1822 after reaching a sales agreement with New York State, the remaining Stockbridge left the state entirely, and moved to Wisconsin, where members currently have recognition as the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.

Numbering about 1,600 members, the group has a 24,000-acre reservation in Shawano County, west of the city of Green Bay. According to the tribal website, there are only “seven or eight” people alive who can still speak the native Mohican language, a consequence of colonization. Tribal efforts are ongoing to keep the language alive by introducing it to this generation.

So, the story of Ninham is a hard tale befitting a hard path for his people, but also a story of a people who have endured despite such extreme hardship. On its website, the Stockbridge-Munsee Band describes itself as a “long suffering proud and determined people (who) … were pushed from the eastern seaboard across half a continent, forced to uproot and move many times to our present land.” As a modern logo, the band uses a stylized representation of “many trails” to symbolize the many trails the people took to reach this present day.

When walking the Ninham Trail, imagine the muscle and sweat it took to build, and also recall its namesake, a man who once walked those hills, lost his homeland as he tried to navigate a perilous path among powerful forces, and who ultimately lost his life and that of his son as his community gave its support to the cause of founding the United States, believing it could give his people just treatment.

The monument to Ninham and his Stockbridge warriors at Van Cortlandt Park in The Bronx. (Photo Credit – Wikipedia Commons)

Cover shot – The roadside marker to Ninham and the Wappinger in the town of Fishkill, Dutchess County, at the intersection of routes 52 and 82 . (Photo credit – Wikipedia Commons) All photos NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, New York State Parks.

Hiking Hudson Highlands and the Ninham Trail

We strongly recommend following proper hiking safety guidelines and having knowledge of the conditions you will be facing before your planned hike. For best practice:

● Please stay on marked trails. Walking off trail damages the surrounding ecosystem and is the main cause of lost hikers and injuries.
● Wear proper footwear (such as hiking boots or sturdy shoes) and clothing to match the weather forecast.
● Bring enough water with you, carry a paper or digital trail map, and make sure to leave enough time to complete your hike. The park is open from sunrise to sunset.
● Please note that overnight camping and fires are prohibited throughout the park.

● Find maps of hiking trails in Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve here and here (this second map link shows the Ninham trail, which is designated by the letters NH). Learn about other staff-recommended hikes here.

Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan, left, points out aspects of the Ninham Trail guide while on a recent hike. (Photo credit- NYS Parks)
Some of the stone steps along the Ninham Trail, with a wooden fence for added safety due to the steepness of the terrain.

Resources

Learn more about today’s Stockbridge-Munsee by clicking here.

The Road to Kingsbridge: Daniel Nimham and the Stockbridge Indian Company in the American Revolution, American Indian Magazine, Fall 2017

‘It’s Been Erased’: Stockbridge Mohicans Retell, Reclaim Their Story In Berkshires, WBUR-TV, January 16, 2021

Death in The Bronx: The Stockbridge Indian Massacre
August, 1778, by Richard S. Walling, Americanrevolution.org

George Washington’s Proclamation on behalf of the military service of the Stockbridge Indians, July 8, 1783

The Stockbridge-Mohican Community, 1775-1783, Journal of the American Revolution, Feb 3. 2016.

The Mohican News, Aug. 1, 2019.

Land Heist in the Highlands: Chief Daniel Nimham and the Wappinger Fight for Homeland, by Peter Cutul, NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation

Mohicans, forced from their ancestral lands, still connect to their heritage here, Altamont Enterprise, Sept. 27, 2018