Category Archives: Park Volunteers

Keep An Eye Out For HWA

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.

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HWA egg sacks on an Eastern Hemlock branch. Note the two white lines on the underside of the needles. Photo by Alyssa Reid, NYS Parks.

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.

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.

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HWA surveys are an important way to help out, while exploring New York’s winter wonderland. Photo by Alyssa Reid, State Parks

Post by Sarah Travalio, State Parks

Twelve Years and Counting….. Allegany State Park Celebrates National Public Lands Day

Twelve years ago the Environmental Education/Recreation Department at Allegany State Park decided to host a new event –National Public Lands Day (a National Environmental Education Foundation program). It is our nation’s largest one-day event designed to give people a chance to give back to the public lands they use and love by volunteering some of their time. This mission of National Public Lands Day really resonated with park staff.

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Picnic table assembly, photo by Tom LeBlanc

From its beginnings in 2005 when we thought it was a great idea to have service projects all over our 65,000 acre park, our volunteers have done much to improve Allegany and enhance the visitor experience for park patrons. We quickly got smart and now rotate this event between the Red House and Quaker sides of the park each year. A few of our accomplishments include:

  • ŸCreating a two acre butterfly meadow incorporating an Americans with Disabilities Act accessible sensory trail
  • ŸRemoving invasive plants, (Japanese Honeysuckle and Multiflora Rose) and opening up vistas around Red House Lake
  • ŸInstalling a hummingbird/butterfly garden in an under-used area in front of the Quaker Museum
  • —Freshening up many buildings and cabins with new coats of paint
  • ŸMaintaining park structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps
  • ŸRemoving litter –an unglamorous, but to park staff, majorly appreciated task
  • ŸPlanting new trees

We are immensely grateful for our volunteers and count ourselves fortunate to work with so many great individuals, families, community groups, area high school and college students, and scout troops. They are the driving force that makes National Public Lands Day a success!

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Refurbishing the garden outside the Quaker Rental office, photo by Tom LeBlanc

According to the Independent Sector (www.independentsector.org), the estimated dollar value for volunteer hours in 2015 was $23.56. That means that the 100 volunteers who turned out for last year’s event contributed a total value of $11,780. That is amazing for a 5 hour workday! A big thank you to all who made this possible!

2016 finds us preparing for our twelfth National Public Lands Day celebration. We are looking forward to seeing our core of “regulars,” and extend an invitation to all Allegany State Park fans interested in caring for this New York State treasure. Please join us! This year’s celebration is on Saturday, September 24th and takes place on the Red House side of the park. Check-in/Registration is from 9:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. at the Red House Toll Booth. Service projects are from 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. (please bring a lunch) followed by a barbecue chicken dinner at 4:00 p.m. (for a very nominal charge). We ask that you come dressed for the weather and plan to get dirty. This event will be held rain or shine.

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Painting the inside of St. John’s in the Woods chapel, photo by Tom LeBlanc

For more information and to pre-register (by September 19th) please contact the Environmental Education/Recreation Department at 716-354-9101 ext. 236 or email Katie.vecellio@parks.ny.gov. We will also gladly accept walk-in volunteers the day of the event.

Hope to see you there!

Please note: There are many other volunteer events taking place in our state parks around the state. Please visit our Events Calendar to search for opportunities near you.

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Litter pick up on ASP Route 3, photo by Tom LeBlanc

Post by Heidi Tschopp, Allegany State Park Educator

Southern Pine Beetle in New York

Southern pine beetle has killed thousands of pine trees since it was first found in New York State in 2014. This bark beetle is native to the southern United States, but arrived in New York after working its way northward for many years. Although the beetles are small (2-4 mm; less than 1/8th inch), they are able to kill trees in 2 to 4 months by attacking in large numbers. Once beneath the bark, the thousands of beetles create S-shaped tunnels as they feed on the inner bark, which soon cuts off the nutrients the tree needs to survive and grow.

In New York, pitch pine trees have been attacked by southern pine beetle more than any other species. Pitch pine trees are often a part of unique, globally and statewide rare ecosystems such as Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens, Pitch pine-oak heath woodlands, Pitch pine-heath barrens, Pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summits, Dwarf pine plains, and Dwarf pine ridges. In New York, southern pine beetle has been found in trees across Long Island and in traps as far north as Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Shawangunk Ridge. Large forested and unique areas such as the Long Island Central Pine Barrens Preserve and the Shawangunk Ridge are of the highest priority to protect. Maps of the pitch pine communities of statewide significance created by NY Natural Heritage Program provide further guidance on priorities. Although there are no known means to eradicate southern pine beetle, there are measures to reduce the beetles’ impacts and save some of the susceptible pines.

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Map of confirmed southern pine beetle infestations from ground surveys and traps as well as suspected infestations from aerial surveys. Photo credit: Scott McDonnell, NYS DEC

To help fight against southern pine beetle, the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Forest Health team has conducted trapping, aerial surveys, and ground surveys to monitor for the beetle and cut infested trees (suppression) to manage the beetle. Currently, suppression efforts are focused in the Central Pine Barrens of Long Island. In some cases, pines are replanted along trails or in areas where impacts have been high. The beetles do not attack small, young trees, so the hope is that some trees will survive and produce seed to maintain pine in these ecosystems.

In areas that the beetles were captured in traps, but were not found in trees, such as at Bear Mountain and Minnewaska State Parks, the focus continues to be on early detection and surveying for infested trees. DEC conducts aerial surveys over Bear Mountain and Minnewaska State Parks to map out areas potentially infested with the beetle. These aerial surveys are quickly followed up by ground surveys by DEC, State Parks, NYNJ Trail Conference, and others to verify if the trees are infested. So far, no ground surveys have found infested trees in either of these parks.

Efforts at Connetquot River State Park Preserve on Long Island, one of the hardest-hit areas, are focused on removal of dead trees. State Parks, with help from the Excelsior Conservation Corps has been cutting down dead trees killed by southern pine beetle along trails to keep the trails safe and open to visitors. State Parks is also chipping up some of these dead trees to help speed up decomposition.

DEC, Parks and Trails New York, and State Parks co-sponsored tree planting as part of I Love My Park Day in Connetquot River State Park Preserve on May 7th, 2016. DEC’s Tree for Tributaries trained volunteers to plant the 600 pitch pine that were donated from New York State’s Saratoga Tree Nursery. The pitch pine trees were raised from seed originating from Long Island and will help maintain the local pitch pine genetics that is adapted to the conditions of Long Island. Through hazard tree mitigation, chipping, suppression, and re-planting pine trees in areas attacked by southern pine beetle such as Connetquot, hopes are that forests will remain safe for public use and maintain their pitch pine components in the wake of southern pine beetle.

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Wildfires are nature’s way of thinning the pitch pine forests and woodlands and keeping these ecosystems healthy. Without fire the pines get too dense and are more susceptible to pests like the southern pine beetle. Mechanical thinning (cutting) can mimic some of the ecological processes of fire to benefit the communities of rare species and reduce SPB infestations. Photo credit: J. Lundgren, NYNHP.

For more information see NYS DEC’s website on Southern Pine Beetle.

For more information on The Southern Pine Beetle Response efforts, see The Southern Pine Beetle Management Plan.

For more information on pitch pine communities see the NYNHP Conservation Guides.  A few of these types are listed below:

Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath Woodland

Pitch Pine-Oak Forest

Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens  (globally rare)

Pitch Pine-Oak-Heath Rocky Summit

For other pitch pine community types or to see what occurs in your county, go to guide.nynhp.org and type “pitch pine” into the advanced search box and check off the community category box.

Post by Molly Hassett, NY State Department of Environmental Conservation and Julie Lundgren, NY Natural Heritage Program

A Day in the Life of a CAP Volunteer (Camper Assistance Program).

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Camper Assistance Program volunteers, OPRHP photo

Each week during the summer, volunteers at 34 State Parks campgrounds across the state assist novice and experienced campers with their camping experience through the Camper Assistance Program, CAP.  This help varies from teaching new campers the ways of the woods, assisting with camper check-in, and helping campers learn about activities they can do while camping.

Below describes what could be a typical day for a fictional CAP volunteer:

7:00 am:  Quiet hours are over.   Some campers are up early, fires are getting started and the air smells good with all of the coffee brewing.  I get my breakfast going as it will be a full day ahead.

10:00 am: Patrons that are ending their stay are typically packing to go home at this time.   I take a morning walk to offer any assistance, and this morning I help a man and his dog get ready to leave.  His dog likes to help him fold his tent, which is not very helpful, so I hold his leash until the tent is packed up.

11:00 am: The park manager asks if I can assist with visitor check-in later in the day.  Typically, the busiest time is between 3 and 5 p.m.  So for now, she would like me to clear out a flower bed at the entrance of the campground.

The maintenance staff arrives with rakes and shovels and we work together clearing away leaves and weeds.  We have new flowers to plant in a wonderful design which creates a very welcoming display to campers at the entrance.

12:30 pm: Time for lunch!   I head back to my trailer to clean up, grab a bite to eat, and relax at my camp site, enjoying the lovely day.

1:30 pm: Time for another walk around the campground loops.

Most campers have done this all before.  However, today I helped a family who has arrived with a new camping trailer.   Dad tries to back it in, but it’s clear that this is not a simple procedure, so I offer my assistance. After 20 minutes, we have successfully backed the trailer to the most level spot on his site.   He thanks me for the help and they begin their week-long vacation at the campground.

3:00 pm: I head to the camping office and help with check-in.   While the campers wait their turn, it’s my job to make sure they have their paperwork ready.  This will help with a quick check-in, to get campers on their way to enjoying their stay.

I answer many questions; Yes, we sell ice.  I can verify you have a reservation.  Here is your site number.  Patrons with dogs… Do you have the rabies certificate?   Swimming begins at 10am each day.  No, we can’t guarantee the weather but we do post the forecast each day.

5:00 pm.  The rush is over and I walk back to my site and start my cooking fire for the evening.

5:30 pm.   But wait.  A patron walks over to my site and asks if I can help.  They’ve broken one of their tent poles. I can help!  I grab my tool bin and find duct tape…anything can be fixed with duct tape!   Another camping disaster avoided.

6:15 pm settle in to my site for the evening.

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The Camper Assistance Program (CAP) offers seasoned campers an opportunity to share their expertise and love of the outdoors with other people at campgrounds in parks throughout New York operated by State Parks. In return, CAP volunteers receive a free camping site.

You too can participate in the CAP program if you are a seasoned camper, at least 18 years of age, enjoy helping others, and are able to spend a minimum of two weeks at one of the participating state park campgrounds. CAP volunteers serve for a minimum of two, maximum of four weeks, usually between Memorial Day and Labor Day at the park manager’s discretion. They are on duty five days per week, including weekends and holidays. CAPs will be asked to work only two to five hours per day, but they may be on call at all times. In return for their services, they receive a free camping site during their duty. Additional campers may accompany the volunteer, within normal park rules.

CAP volunteers receive an orientation where they learn more about the State Parks and the CAP program and receive suggestions as to how they best can serve campers.

Learn more about the CAP program here.

Bird Banding at Crown Point State Historic Site

The small girl skipped ahead of her family on the grassy path toward the bird banding station, a couple of picnic tables covered with a canopy, with two tents pitched nearby.   Five rows of mist netting were strung along alleys in the dense brush, with hopes that birds would fly into them and get caught so that they could be studied, banded, and released.  Master bird bander Gordon Howard sat at one of the tables with a tiny bird in his hand, a book open in front of him.   He gently stretched the wing feathers to look for different color patterns and signs of wear to help him determine the age of the bird.

The girl and her family walked up to Gordon, and he smiled and explained what he was doing.   When he was finished, he asked if she would like to hold and release the brightly colored male yellow-rumped warbler.  She nodded her head, and Gordon showed her how to gently wrap her small fingers around the bird’s neck and body so that it would not be injured.  A broad smile spread across her face as she felt the soft, warm feathers and the rapidly beating heart of the bird.  Her parents took pictures, and then Gordon told her to gently toss the bird into the sky and let go.  The warbler flew from her hand right back into the hawthorn shrubs and began feeding, preparing for its migration further north.   Although the bird had left her hand, the memory never left the child.

Bird banding began at the Crown Point State Historic Site 41 years ago by J.M.C. “Mike” Peterson.  Spring migrant birds have been monitored here every year since for two weeks in early to mid-May.   Over 17,000 individual birds of 106 different species have been banded here, with each bird receiving a small metal band with a unique identifying number that is placed around its leg like a bracelet.  Information on each bird that is banded, such as species, sex, age, and condition, is forwarded to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees all bird banding in the United States.  If the bird is ever found again, the band number can be reported to the USFWS and much can be learned about the bird’s movements.  The current main banders are Gordon Howard, Gary Lee, and Tom Barber, with help from several other banders and a number of volunteers.  Visitors are welcome from 7 AM to 5 PM every day of the season, which runs this year from the afternoon of May 6 to the morning of May 22.  Educational programs about birds and bird banding are offered to school groups, birding clubs, and civic organizations.  Reservations for these are arranged by contacting Gordon by email at ghoward@clemson.edu.

Bird banding has several values, including education, determining bird longevity, and figuring out migration routes.   The Crown Point peninsula that juts north into Lake Champlain is an excellent place to capture and study migrating birds, because birds concentrate here to feed and rest on their journey northward each spring.  Many of these songbirds wintered in South or Central America, and are migrating to their summer breeding ranges in New York, New England, and Canada.

If you go to visit, the best time of day is early to mid-morning.  Calm, dry days are usually better than windy, wet days.  Park in the lot by the museum, and walk up the blacktop road toward the barns.   Then follow the signs that direct you onto the grassy path to the banding center which is tucked in by the brushy edge.  Wear casual clothes and boots or shoes that can handle mud.  Bring your family, a camera, binoculars, and your sense of wonder.

Post by Ellie George, volunteer with the Crown Point Bird Banding Association

Photos were supplied with one time use permission from the photographers Ellie (Eleanor) George and Thomas Barber.
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