Category Archives: Park Volunteers

Building Bridges: the Excelsior Conservation Corps Lend State Parks a Hand at Mine Kill

Members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) (an AmeriCorps program) recently visited Mine Kill State Park to help the State Parks staff with a few projects.  The ECC is a non-profit organization within the Student Conservation Association. The members involved in this program range from ages 18-25 and learn skills and methods on conserving and maintaining the environment. The ECC crewmembers were given the tasks of building a bridge and creating a new trail.

The members started off their workweek by focusing on rerouting the trail. The original trail was on an old tractor road. It was dangerous due to the steep slope, and would also become muddy and slippery when it rains. The ECC members chose to create a new trail that led uphill into a woodsy area.

When making a new trail “from scratch”, there are a few guidelines to follow to identify good areas for foot travel. Prior to the ECC arriving, Park staff confirmed that no sensitive resources like artifacts or rare species were present along the route. Then the ECC crew could move forward on the project.  One of the key factors is to make sure the path is a fairly flat surface with no obstacles in the way. When you’re in the middle of a wooded area, finding a natural path that meets these standards can be difficult, but the crew was able to fix a majority of the problems with the tools they brought. Another factor to keep in mind is to avoid putting a trail at the bottom of a slope, because water can collect and make it muddy and hazardous. If there is no other option than putting a trail in an area where the water pools, trail features can help diminish the impact of the water.

After the team marked off the proposed path with flagging tape on tree branches, they reviewed the route and identified needs. They brought out their tools and began digging up the dirt to make a more obvious trail. Shovels, pick mattocks, loppers and hoes are normally used for digging dirt up, picking out rocks and roots, and cutting down tree branches that are hanging over the path.

In certain areas, the path would hit a steeper slope. In order to even it out, the work crew needed to “bench” it. This required digging out a flat wall in the steep slope and dragging the dirt out to make it flatter for foot travel. This can help reduce erosion of the soil too, to make for a more durable and lasting trail.

ECC Benching
Two members of the ECC “benching” a steep path to make it flatter for hikers, taken by an ECC member.

In the end, the rerouted trail was measured to be a quarter of a mile long!

ECC Chainsaw
An ECC member using the chainsaw to cut notches into the cedar tree, taken by another ECC member.

The other project was building a 14-foot long bridge. The ECC team began the task by cutting down two cedar trees in the woods to use as an under support system for the planks. After the trees were cut down, they carried them over to the site where they used knives and axes to “debark” the trees. Cedar is resistant to rot and by peeling off a few outer layers of the cedar trees, it delays decay even further in the future, which would potentially destroy the bridge.

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The cedar trees cut flat so they can support the planks And you can see how Red cedar get its name

After they took off the bark, they used chainsaws to split the logs lengthwise to create flat side to lay the planks. Once the trees were flattened out and put into place, the planks were drilled and bolted to lock them onto sturdy blocks of wood on either side of the creek. Finally, they placed each short plank on the cedar rails, spaced them out evenly and drilled the planks in, completing the bridge.

Now, thanks to the work of the Excelsior Conservation Corps, Mine Kill State Park has a new improved trail route and bridge crossing ready for patrons to enjoy.

ECC Bridge
The finished 14-foot long Bridge, ready for hikers., photo by ECC members.

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC member

Schodack Blinds

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. And back in early 2016, Schodack Island State Park Manager John Lowe was musing with Capital Region Audubon Society President John Loz about potential partnership projects. Moreau Lake State Park’s nifty bird blind initiative came immediately to mind.

Designated both a state Bird Conservation Area (BCA) and an Audubon Important Bird Area (IBA), Schodack Island is a bird-watchers mecca waiting to happen. Many birds of conservation concern – bald eagles, great blue herons, cerulean warblers, to name only a few – nest on site. The waterfowl assemblages are impressive. But, aside from two interpretive signs near the parking lot, the Park offered limited amenities or functional improvements to engage the public with its remarkable wildlife resource. As the poet Gertrude Stein might have said, there was “no there there.”

But it takes a village, and in fall 2016, Park Manager Lowe cobbled together a motley assortment of local Audubon operatives, Schodack “friends”, along with community members and rank volunteers to work alongside his very capable Park Operations professionals in constructing three bird watching blinds at strategic spots along the trails at Schodack Island State Park.

SISP River blind in progress
Bird blind in progress, note the nice view of the river beyond the blind. Photo by Audubon Society of the Capital District.

To be honest, the 6’ x 8’ wooden blinds were something that Park Manager Lowe’s handy Park Operations staff could have hammered together themselves in one day, and “done it good”. Lowe wisely summoned the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker to make sure to give the community real ownership in his initiative. It worked!

Schodack Island State Park’s bird blinds serve several critical customer service needs: the rich viewsheds framed by intelligent placement of the blinds within the Park’s varied landscape draw serious photographers and bird-watchers, casual visitors can enjoy “close encounters of the bird kind” without disturbing wildlife, and also benefit from helpful interpretive signage in each blind.

Visitors are encouraged to enter their own bird sightings in the shelter register to help build the park’s developing scientific record. And the many joggers, dog-walkers and hikers who frequent the trails daily will welcome these arresting destinations within the park’s long and rather placeless linear trail system, 13 miles total with few rewards. So now, there’s a “there” there!

Realizing the park’s tremendous potential for developing bird tourism, Park Manager Lowe has been working closely with the Friends of Schodack Island State Park and the Audubon Society of the Capital Region to articulate a long-range vision which maximizes both the public accessibility to and the protection of the Park’s extraordinary avifauna, including planning to embark on a fourth bird-watching blind this spring.

The Audubon Society of the Capital Region mustered three more volunteer crews in spring 2017 to help stain the bird blind exteriors. And in summer 2017, the Audubon Society won a grant to oversee the design, fabrication, and installation of informative interpretive panels for each of the blinds. You might call it a model collaborative project. Or just a diligent Park Manager making sure that all the players get in game.

Under the leadership of former State Parks Deputy Commissioner Al Caccese, Audubon New York, the state-wide affiliate of the National Audubon Society, began an outreach initiative in 2009 which Al lovingly dubbed “Audubon in the Parks” to advance bird conservation in New York’s State Parks. At the time, Al was the Executive Director of Audubon New York, so the partnership made perfect sense. Through its 27 local chapters, Audubon New York has provided a wide variety of programs and services at over 50 state park facilities throughout New York, particularly targeting those designated as BCAs or IBAs.

For example, the Audubon Society of the Capital Region, Audubon New York’s Albany affiliate, has waged war with invasives, sponsored lectures, set up bluebird boxes, conducted bird walks and/or participated at festivals at every state park or historic site within its purview: Schoharie Crossing, Thacher and Thompsons Lake, Schodack Island, Peebles Island, Saratoga Spa and Grafton Lakes. The Audubon in the Parks partnership has done much to advance the mission and goals of State Parks, while forwarding the Audubon agenda.

We thank the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker.

Excellent craftsmanship
An example of the excellent craftsmanship that went into the building of the bird blinds, photo by Audubon Society of the Capital District.

SCA Service Project at Sam’s Point Preserve

It was a beautiful Monday morning as my fellow Student Conservation Association Hudson Valley AmeriCorps members and I made the trek to the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Members were coming from as far north as Moreau Lake State Park (near the Adirondacks) and as far south as Jones Beach State Park on Long Island.  I had come to Sam’s Point before to volunteer with bird surveys, so I was thrilled to return to this spot for our service project.  We had gathered at what would be our home base for the next three days – us in a circle, cars in the background, and a spectacular view of Sam’s Point itself.  We had gathered here for the 9/11 Patriots’ Day of Remembrance and held a moment of silence to reflect on that day 16 years ago, as well as the service we would be providing for the parks.

Before we could get started, some orientation was in order, as there was a lot of information to cover.  Sam’s Point has a rare population of ridgetop dwarf pitch pine barrens, supporting wildlife such as birds, fishers (small mammals related to weasels), and porcupines.  In April 2016, a wildfire broke out in the area, and efforts are underway to study the resilience of this ecosystem.  We were able to see more of the area by hiking up to the scenic overlook as well as to the super cool ice caves!

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Some of the invasive species removal crew

There were multiple projects being done in our three days of service.  Two crews worked on erosion control devices on the Verkeerderkill Falls Footpath. One crew worked on making water bars, trail structures that take the water off the trail. Another crew worked on building bog bridges, low wooden bridge structures that raise the trail out of the water or other sensitive area. The third crew was constructing invasive plant boot brush stations at various entrances around the park preserve.  I was part of the invasive species crew for the service project.  Our main focus was removing spotted knapweed, a purple flower that grew on the edge of the Loop Road. We had been out in the sun working hard on knapweed removal, and towards the end of the day, decided to move in the shade to work on stilt grass.

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On the trail in Sam’s Point Area.

 

While pulling knapweed for many hours at a time, SCA members were able to have some fun.  We had started to play the game Murder on the Trail, which is where the “killer” would stick out their tongue at a person, and five minutes, later the “victim” had to die dramatically. Aaron (one of the program managers) came to check in on us and did not know we were playing this game –   he wasn’t sure what was happening when someone dropped to the ground.  Other fun things included exploring Lake Maratanza and finding baby snakes!  From the beginning of the trail at the bottom of the ridge, all the way to the top, past Sam’s Point towards Lake Maratanza, we pulled almost half a mile of knapweed. That’s a lot of knapweed!

The other teams worked hard and played hard too! The bog bridging crew installed over 170 feet of new bog bridges and the water bar crew improved almost a quarter mile of trail on one of the park preserve’s most popular trails. The boot brush crew installed three new boot brush stations to educate the public about invasive species and help stop the spread of invasive plant seeds.’

Three project photos

After three days of hard work and camping out at Sam’s Point, it was time for all of us to return to our homes in the Hudson valley.  We had done great work for the park and I was happy to be a part of it.

Thank you to the SCA, SCA members, State Parks, and the staff of Sam’s Point. Until next time!

Post by Emily Enoch, SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps Member

National Trails Day, Saturday, June 3, 2017

From the tip of Long Island, to the St. Lawrence River, the forests of the Taconic Mountains to the Niagara River Gorge, New York State is home to thousands of miles of trails. Every year on the first Saturday in June we celebrate these places with National Trails Day®.

9fe63f0013d7b070eeaf04be3b93f145Created by the American Hiking Society in 1993, the 2017 celebration marks the 25th anniversary of the event. National Trails Day® seeks to connect people and trails across the country. Organized trail events are hosted at parks and recreation locations across the country and people are encouraged to “participate, recreate, and give back”. Many locations have events where folks can join other trail lovers in an organized hike, paddle, bike or horseback ride. Other spots host trail work days where volunteers can lend a hand and clean up their favorite stretch of trail or even help a trail crew construct a new one. In 2016 there were over 100 events in New York alone!

Outdoor recreation is more popular than ever and many people are finding enjoyment on trails. Whether it’s cycling on a greenway trail, hiking to a scenic view, or paddling a river, trails provide a connection to the natural world.  That connection is important as studies now show that, in addition to our hearts, lungs, and legs, trails are good for our brains as well![1]

With greater numbers of people heading out on the trail, it’s more important than ever to recreate responsibly by following the seven principles taught by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

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The Seven Principles are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

It is also good practice to prevent the spread of damaging insect pests and weeds by brushing off your boots or boat before you leave the trail or water. Following these steps will help you have a safe and satisfying experience and ensure that the trail will be there for the next person to enjoy as well.

To find out more information on National Trails Day® including links to events near you, visit the American Hiking Society’s website. To learn more about the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, visit their website. For maps and information on trails in New York State Parks, visit Trails webpage. National Trails Day® events in State Parks can be found here.

See you on the trails!

Post by Chris Morris, State Parks

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[1] New York Times, How nature changes your brain.

I Love My Park

On Saturday, May 6, thousands of New Yorkers will again join their family, friends and neighbors at over 120 state parks and historic sites to participate in volunteer projects as part of the sixth annual I Love My Park Day, a partnership between New York State Parks and Parks & Trails New York.  On behalf New York State Parks, I look forward to welcoming you all to what is a remarkable day for the New York State Park system.

Sponsored jointly by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) and Parks & Trails New York, I Love My Park Day is a statewide event to improve and enhance New York’s parks and historic sites and bring visibility to the entire park system and its needs. Public parks in every corner of the State, from Jones Beach State Park to Niagara Falls State Park, will participate this year. Volunteers will have the opportunity to participate in clean up events at five national parks in New York State: Gateway National Recreation Area (Great Kills, Staten Island and Plumb Beach, Jamaica Bay, Queens); Fort Stanwix National Monument (Rome); Roosevelt-Vanderbilt National Historic Sites (Hyde Park); Fire Island National Seashore (Ocean Beach) and Saratoga Battlefield Historical Park (Stillwater), as well as fourteen properties managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in the Adirondack and Catskill Regions and at three environmental centers, Catskill Interpretive Center (Mount Tremper); Five Rivers Environmental Education Center (Delmar) and Reinstein Woods (Buffalo).  And, again this year, we will be joined across the state by members of the New York State Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC), a New York State AmeriCorps program run by the Student Conservation Association, who will help State parks organize and implement I Love My Park Day projects.

Each year, a record number of volunteers turn out and complete an impressive array of projects to beautify our facilities and prepare them for the summer season. Volunteers will celebrate New York’s public lands by cleaning up debris, planting trees and gardens, restoring trails and wildlife habitat, removing invasive species, and working on various site improvement projects.    Your efforts demonstrate just how important your parks and historic sites are to your families, communities, and to our entire state as places to be active, explore the outdoors and relax with family and friends.  It is our honor to work every day to ensure that all state parks are open and accessible for all to visit, but we could not do it without you—the volunteers and friends who work not just on I Love My Park Day but year-round to make our parks and sites the very best they can be.

If you haven’t already registered, do so soon by visiting http://www.ptny.org/ilovemypark/index.shtml.

Post by Commissioner Rose Harvey

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