Category Archives: Stewardship

State Parks Strengthens Niagara River Island Ecosystem

Just upriver in Erie County from Niagara Falls State Park lies New York State’s third largest island. Home to more than 20,000 people and split by Interstate-190, Grand Island is 28 square miles and divides the Niagara River into east and west branches.

Industry and commerce dominated this river and its shoreline for more than a century, leaving a legacy of water pollution, fish unsafe to eat, and loss of wildlife habitat so extreme that in 1987 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared the entire 36-mile river an Area of Concern.

That federal listing set the stage for years of remediation efforts by New York State to clean up the river and shoreline. And now, it has led to State Parks, working with several partners, to begin the next chapter in healing the river – the restoration of several wetland areas of habitat along Grand Island critical for many fish and bird species that rely on the river for survival.

Grand Island is in the Niagara River between Buffalo and Niagara Falls.

These projects focus on two State Parks on the island – the 895-acre Buckhorn Island State Park on the northern tip, a nature preserve which has some of the island’s best remaining marshland wildlife habitat, and the more-developed, 950-acre Beaver Island State Park on the southern tip.

With funding support from the EPA under a plan finalized in 2018, Parks staff have finished two habitat restoration projects at Grand Island and two more are under way this season.

At Beaver Island in the south, offshore rocky reefs have been added in the river to an area called East River Marsh to protect the shoreline from further erosion caused by boat wakes and wind. Thousands of native plants have been planted by hand to provide important habitat for fish and other wildlife.

In the north, Buckhorn Island has one of the largest remaining cattail marshes on the Niagara River. At a place called Burnt Ship Creek, contractors hired by Parks have created open water channels and “potholes” in the marsh to provide pathways needed for fish such as Northern Pike to feed and spawn. The new open spaces also allow sheltered nesting sites for such secretive marsh birds as the threatened Least Bittern, which prompted the conservation group Ducks Unlimited to partner with State Parks for this restoration project.

Habitat restoration projects on Grand Island by New York State Parks and other entities are shown on this map. Buckhorn Island State Park is at the northern tip of the island, and Beaver Island State Park is at the southern tip.
Completed habitat restoration project at Burnt Ship Creek at the northern tip of Grand island near Buckhorn Island State Park.

This season, parks crews are working at a place called Grass Island, which is not actually an island at all, but rather an area of shallow water filled with cattails and other aquatic plants, both above the water and submerged. Sometimes also called Sunken Island, Grass Island is just east of Buckhorn Island State Park across from the city of Niagara Falls.

In addition to cattails and other plants visible above the water, Grass Island is also made up of many acres of submerged plants, predominantly a species known as water celery or American eel grass. This plant provides food and cover for several types of fish, including the Muskellunge, the state’s largest freshwater sportfish, which spawns among the eel grass each spring. The Upper Niagara River is one of state’s most important habitats for this fish.

Above the water, many species of waterfowl and marsh birds use the island for nesting, feeding and nighttime cover. Pied-billed Grebes, a threatened species in New York, nest and raise chicks there in the summer. During the fall migration of Purple Martins, the birds will roost in the cattails by the thousands.

Grass island, as seen in a drone photograph. On the above map, Grass Island is at the top right of Grand Island.

Together, Grass Island forms a 20-acre ecosystem designated as a protected wetland by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). While Grass Island provides some of the most important habitat in the Niagara River above the falls, this area has been steadily shrinking in recent decades due to wave erosion caused by boat wakes or wind. Between 2007 to 2018, Grass Island shrank by more than a third, losing an estimated 1.5 acres of its above-water vegetation.

Use the slider bar to show the decreasing size of Grass Island. The left image is from September 2018, while the right image was taken in August 2007.

This season at Grass Island, Parks contractors are constructing underwater rock reefs similar to those successfully constructed at East River Marsh. Once the reefs are finished, crews will add submerged tree trunks with the roots still attached (called rootwads) to provide underwater structure needed for good fish habitat. Also, large numbers of native wetland plants will be planted behind the protective rock reefs to expand the area with dense vegetation.

Also this summer, similar rock reefs, rootwads, woody material, and native plantings will be installed along the shoreline at Buckhorn Island State Park to restore and protect coastal wetlands. And finally, another similar project is in the works for the shoreline along the new West River Shoreline Trail at Buckhorn.

These projects join other ongoing conservation efforts at Grand Island being done by DEC, and the Buffalo-Niagara Waterkeeper, a not-for-profit conservation group. Find a FAQ on the projects here.

Buckhorn Island State Park is also a listed Bird Conservation Area, with its marsh providing important nesting habitat for threatened species such as Least Bittern, Northern Harrier and Sedge Wren. The marsh serves as a feeding, resting and breeding area for ducks, coots, moorhens, and rails. Common Tern find suitable habitat for foraging here. Additional birds of interest include a variety of species of ducks, herons, coots, moorhens, and rails. Spring and fall migrations along the Niagara River corridor can bring large numbers of gulls to this site.

Some of the birds of Grand Island known to be in the Bird Conservation Area.

Gorge-ous Gulls of the Niagara in Winter

The Niagara River is well-known as an international destination for its tremendous waterfalls, which form spectacular ice formations during the winter. Perhaps a lesser known fact, however, is that the river is also a critical haven for migrating birds during this time of the year. Gulls, in particular, are a common sight along the Niagara, … Continue reading Gorge-ous Gulls of the Niagara in Winter


Together, these wetland restoration projects at Grand Island aim to maintain and strengthen this urban island ecosystem in a river that fuels the spectacular waterfalls only a few miles away that draw millions of visitors each year.

If a visit to Niagara Falls is in the works, consider also making a trip to Buckhorn Island State Park and Beaver Island State Park, both of which have car-top boat launch sites, to see this part of Niagara River and witness some of the efforts to help restore it. Please remember that these are sensitive ecological areas and habitats for secretive wildlife, so be respectful and take care when visiting these special places.

As always, whenever hiking, or in this instance, more likely paddling, consider “Leave No Trace” principles to minimize your impact on the environment. Learn more on how to practice “Leave No Trace” by clicking on this previous post in the NYS Parks Blog.

Beaver Island State Park: This park has a half-mile sandy beach for swimming, adjacent 80-slip marina with both seasonal and transient boat slips, fishing access, car-top boat launch, multiple canoe/kayak launches, about four miles of bike and nature trails, nature center, playgrounds, picnic areas, athletic fields, horseshoe pits, an 18 hole championship disc golf course, an 18-hole championship golf course. In winter, visitors can snowmobile by permit, cross-country ski, snowshoe, sled or ice fish. Waterfowl hunting is allowed in-season by permit.

Also located in the park is the River Lea house and museum, home to the Grand Island Historical Society and built by William Cleveland Allen, cousin to Grover Cleveland who visited the family farm on several occasions.

Buckhorn Island State Park: For a wilder experience, try this less visited park, which is a nature preserve of marsh, meadows and woods that mark the last vestige of once vast marshlands and meadows that bordered the Niagara River. There are nearly two miles of nature trails for hiking, biking, and cross-country skiing. The preserve includes two launches for kayaks and canoes. There is ongoing restoration to re-establish wetland cover and water levels and increase the diversity of native flora and fauna. This effort aims to increase public access with more non-intrusive trails, overlooks and bird watching blinds.


Cover shot: A work barge involved in habitat restoration at Grass Island. All photos courtesy of NYS Parks.

Post by David Spiering, Great Lakes Habitat Restoration Coordinator, NYS Parks

Stewardship Saturdays At State Parks Long Island

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation offers the opportunity for environmental volunteers to get to work!  Stewardship Saturdays are a great way to come together with a community of people that care about the environment and want to give back to nature.

For example, this spring at the Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park along the Connetquot River on the southern shore of Long Island, volunteers guided by Parks employees kicked off the season by trimming the historic Rhododendron bushes that line the paths.  Rhododendron bushes can grow as tall as small trees if they are not trimmed once a year, but thanks to volunteers, the trails were ready for summer. 

The original bushes were planted by the Bayard family during the turn of the 20th century.  Gilded Age financier and philanthropist William Bayard Cutting wanted people to “Think of us as a museum of trees, not a park.”  The family donated the 691-acre estate in Great River to New York ” to provide an oasis of beauty and quiet for the pleasure, rest and refreshment of those who delight in outdoor beauty; and to bring about a greater appreciation and understanding of the value and importance of informal planting.”

The arboretum has many miles of trails to explore the grounds. Find a trail map by clicking HERE.

Our volunteers have a range of reasons for wanting to help on Stewardship Saturdays.  They also come with different levels of knowledge about plant life, so people who are not experts can still contribute by learning from others.

Volunteers this spring take a break from cutting back Rhododendron bushes at Bayard Cutting Arboretum State Park. Below, evidence of their efforts to reopen a pathway for visitors.

One such volunteer, named Laura, said, “We volunteer as a family because we care about conservation and we are always looking for opportunities to give back to the community. George (also a volunteer) invited us to Stewardship Saturdays and we are glad to be here.”

Another volunteer, James, who was there with his wife Jeanette, said, “I am retired so I have a lot of time and like to keep busy.  We are involved with Island Harvest, Long Island Cares and help with the flower garden at Planting Fields Arboretum in Nassau County.  I volunteer about three days per week.  I don’t know about the plants but I’m here to help with anything the park needs.”

Joe has a lot experience volunteering with New York State Parks with his family.  He found out about Stewardship Saturdays through the State Parks’ web site: “We went to a meeting and it sounded like a great opportunity to give back to the community and get out into nature for a change.  After the first time, we were hooked and we now show up for about 95 percent of Stewardship Saturdays.  My family has been to around six different state parks so far and it’s fun.  I have lived on Long Island for 45 years and had no idea that this beautiful park existed.  When I was in college I worked for Habitat for Humanity and my job was to build houses for people in need.  When there is an opportunity to get away from electronics, I jump on it.  It’s easy to pick up your phone, but here at Bayard, we are giving back and having some downtime which is nice.  I volunteer all year.”

According to research, Rhododendron, meaning “red tree,” refers to the red flowers and woody growth of some species, but Rhododendrons range from evergreen to deciduous and from low-growing ground covers to tall trees.  Flowers may be scented or not and are usually tubular to funnel-shaped and occur in a wide range of colors—white, yellow, pink, scarlet, purple, and blue.

The collection of “Taurus Red Rhododendron” plants were named in honor of former Bayard Cutting Board of Trustees member Doris Royce.

 One Stewardship Saturday volunteers, Jenna, has some knowledge about the history and how to care for these plants “The Rhododendron plants are from the 1800s brought by boat from England.  They started planting them when Frederick Law Olmsted designed the park.  These specific ones grow very tall so we have to cut them back when they start to get too big and before they push buds, which helps with next year’s growth.  You can cut them but they will grow right back and very fast.”

Two other volunteers contributed to the conversation.  Josh said, “I have no knowledge of plants.  I am here so that I can help to maintain the historic park which is important to people who live on Long Island”.  And another man named Joe who was volunteering said “I love nature.  I have my own garden at home.  When you volunteer, it is a way to meet like-minded people.”

Everyone in the Long Island community is welcome to volunteer during Stewardship Saturdays! For more information, visit website: https://parks.ny.gov/environment/nature-centers/6/details.aspx or contact us at 631-581-1072.

Come join the fun!

All photos by Melissa Hunter, NYS Parks

Post by Sage Saperstein, State Parks Long Island Region

Get Out, Darned Spot!

Some of you may have heard about New York’s newest worst pest: The Spotted Lanternfly. This little critter is ransacking our crops, destroying property, annoying park visitors, and generally making everything sticky and gross.

An artistic image of an adult Spotted Lanternfly (SLF) is the top of this article. We are asking for volunteers like you to look for and report any SLF and its favorite Tree-of-Heaven (TOH) plant using the invasive species tracking software iMap either online or on the mobile app.

What is the Spotted Lanternfly (SLF)?

The Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula), is an invasive species from parts of China, India, Vietnam and Taiwan, which feeds on more than 70 different plants (especially the invasive Tree-of-Heaven).

The invasive Tree-of-Heaven, a favorite of the Spotted Lanternfly, is present in much of New York State (Photo Credit – New York State Floral Atlas, National Forest Service)
The leaves and flowers of the Tree-of-Heaven (Photo credit – University of Georgia/Bugwood.org)

As an unintended consequence of global trade, the insect  likely reached North America due to inadvertently hitching a ride in cargo shipping containers in the Far East. First reported in Pennsylvania in 2014, SLF has spread to neighboring states when people accidentally move stowaway egg masses to new locations.

Such international shipping has helped spread many invasives species, and national governments have been slow to recognize and address the issue.

Why do we need to “Stop the Spot?”

According to a Penn State study at the College of Agricultural Science, if not contained, damage caused by SLF is estimated to cost “at least $324 million annually and cause the loss of about 2,800 jobs” in Pennsylvania alone.

Spotted Lanternflies feed upon fruit trees, grapevines and hops (which hurts fruit, wine and beer production, an important and growing industry in the Finger Lakes and other areas of New York State), and our beautiful hardwood trees. At the same time, they secrete a sticky honeydew which creates a sooty mold that damages property.

The honeydew and mold also attract stinging insects such as wasps and bees, creating an overall unpleasant atmosphere. No one wants to do outdoor activities when everything is covered in sugary bug poop.

A representation of the Spotted Lanternfly during its lifecycle. A winged adult SLF is center. The insect as it appears with black and white markings after hatching during May and June is to the right. As the insect matures, it changes from black to mainly red, usually during July through September, as shown to the left. It assumes it adult, winged form in late summer, and lays its eggs in the fall, starting the cycle again. (Artwork by Juliet Linzmeier, Student Conservation Association member, Invasive Species Unit, NYS Parks)

            Where is it?

It could be right by you this year! Here is our most up-to-date map of known SLF infestations. Your reports of sightings could change the way this map looks!

On this map, currently infested counties are highlighted blue, while isolated sightings are represented by a red dot. Note that Ithaca County, in the heart of Finger Lakes wine country, is currently listed as infested. However, since infestation in New York State is not yet widespread, there is still time for us all to take important and effective action to mitigate the spread of SPF.

How do we “Stop the Spot?”

Remember these three steps: Report. Inspect. Destroy.

  • REPORT sightings of SLF
    • Download the iMapInvasives Mobile app or go online. You’ll be adding directly into our database.
    • Be sure to take pictures at any life stage (egg masses, larvae, adult insect or groups of infestations) with an item like a ruler or coin for scale.
    • Include the location: address or GPS coordinates (simply enable your location tracking when using the iMap app).
    • Adopt a square!: Consider signing up for a grid square near you to keep us regularly updated about special high-priority locations. 
    • Prefer E-mail? Send your info to SpottedLanternfly@agriculture.ny.gov
    • Eggs are laid on hard surfaces and may be covered or uncovered.
  • INSPECT your gear for stowaways and egg masses
    • Check your car, equipment, and materials when coming from infested areas (certain counties in Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Maryland).
    • Egg masses can sometimes resemble mud, and these hitchhikers will hide in your car’s bumper, hood, etc.
  • DESTROY 
    • For every single SLF you kill, you prevent potentially hundreds of plant-sucking critters from draining our economy next year.
    • Look for the different stages throughout the year. Right now in May, focus your search for the nymphs: The first instar nymph is approximately ¼” long and black with white spots, and occasionally mistaken for a tick. Second and third instar nymphs are also black with white spots, but the fourth instar nymph takes on a red coloration with white spots and can be up to ¾”. Fourth instar nymphs molt and become adults approximately 1 inch in length.
    • If egg masses are found, scrap off and destroy them by putting them into doubled bags with alcohol/hand sanitizer, or by smashing/burning them. Honestly, get as dramatic as you want.
The lifecycle of the Spotted Lanternfly, which should be hatching out from its overwintering eggs during May and June. (Photo Credit – Cornell University/NY Integrated Pest Management)

How we manage SLF

While preventative measures are always best, the sooner a new infestation is found, the better chance we have of managing the situation. Our Park’s staff use a combination of strategies to manage SLF, some of which get quite creative…

  • Sticky bands and circle traps on trees will catch some nymphs and adults but are mostly useful for helping us monitor SLF whereabouts.
  • Bio-controls (predators, parasitoids, and insect-killing fungus) are in the works to help control SLF long-term but aren’t happening yet.
  • We’ll also create “trap trees” where we’ll cut most of the invasive Tree of Heaven, then inject a pesticide into the remaining tree. This kills any SLF that take a drink (like how flea treatments on your dog will kill any flea that takes a bite!).
  • Scraping egg masses and destroying them reduces next year’s population.
  • Be aware of look-alikes as seen in this poster

Even with these strategies, we need all the help we can get to stop these spots! Help us by killing SLF at all life stages.

Destroy their egg masses!

Stomp black/red nymphs!

Squish the flying adults!

And then tell us about it when you do.

There’s even a new app specifically for squishing SLF called Squishr which aims to make the hunt into a fun competition for the whole family (especially kids)!

Researchers need as much time as possible to investigate the best possible methods for managing SLF before they damage our resources even worse, so reporting new infestations makes a huge difference!

Through a collective effort of reporting, destroying, and inspecting for stowaways, we can combat the spread of the Spotted Lanternfly. 

For more information, go to Spotted Lanternfly – NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation


Cover shot – An adult Spotted Lanternfly. Artwork by Juliet Linzmeier.

Post by Juliet Linzmeier, Student Conservation Association member, Invasive Species Unit, NYS Parks

The General of Hearts

While the Grant Cottage State Historic Site marks the final days of a renowned Civil War leader and U.S. President, it also was the final chapter of a long love story, which seems appropriate to share with readers around Valentine’s Day.

Lying in bed inside the cottage as he drew his final breaths, only days after finishing wartime memoirs that he hoped would support his family after he was gone, Ulysses S. Grant held the hand of his wife as they shared a final gaze.

It was decades from the spring of 1844 when the 21-year-old U.S. Army lieutenant first met 18-year-old Julia Dent, the sister of his West Point roommate Fred Dent, while visiting the Dent family in St. Louis. There was an instant attraction between them that was fostered by time spent together. Julia remarked that “Lieutenant Grant… became a daily visitor… He was always by my side walking or riding.”

A young Ulysses S. Grant at about the time of the Mexican-American War.
Julia Dent, the object of the young officer’s affections.


On their way to a wedding in St. Louis, the couple encountered a rain-swollen creek. Julia was ready to turn back, but Ulysses was characteristically confident that he could navigate it. The nervous Julia said as they pulled up their carriage to the submerged bridge, “Now if anything happens, remember I shall cling to you, no matter what you say to the contrary.”

Once safely across the creek, Ulysses turned to Julia and proposed by asking if she would cling to him for the rest of her life. While the proposal came as a surprise for the young Julia, Grant’s boldness paid off as she agreed to wear his class ring as a symbol of their engagement.

But the coming Mexican-American war would separate them for four long years, inspiring the young officer to express his love in numerous romantically tinged letters to his faraway fiancée. Ulysses shared a sentiment that would echo across the rest of their lives, writing to his future bride: “In going away now I feel as if I had someone else than myself to live and strive to do well for.”

This sentiment would define their relationship but perhaps no more so than during his final weeks on Mt. McGregor as Ulysses fought to finish his memoirs to provide for Julia and their children.

In some ways Ulysses and Julia were like Romeo and Juliet, representing young people from different worlds on a collision course. Ulysses had grown up in an abolitionist ripe area of southern Ohio with antislavery parents. Julia, on the other hand, had grown up on a slave-holding plantation near St. Louis, Missouri. Neither of their fathers were keen on the match and for their entire lives there would remain some tension between the two families.

When Grant was in Mexico, he wrote young Julia often with a heartfelt yearning. “You can have but little idea of the influence you have over me Julia, even while so far away… absent or present I am more or less governed by what I think is your will.” Pining for their reunion he wrote, “I am getting very tired of this war and particularly of being separated from one I love so much.” And frequently he ended his letters with sentiments such as “Adieu dearest Julia. A thousand kisses for you. Dream of me” as shown below.


With the war finally over, in the summer of 1848 the couple were wed in a small ceremony at the Dent home in St. Louis. Among the groomsmen were three other soldiers who would later fight for the Confederacy, including Julia’s cousin James Longstreet. (Two decades later, Grant helped obtain a Congressional pardon for Longstreet, a prominent former Confederate general who supported Grant in his successful 1868 bid for the U.S. presidency.)

During the next 12 years of marriage, the Grants would endure the trials and separations of an army life, which included postings in upstate New York. His playful romantic gestures including a letter sent from a nearby town stating, “I find that I love you just the same in Adams [NY] that I did in Sackets Harbor [NY].” But frequent moves and a separation of almost two years strained Ulysses to the breaking point, prompting him to resign from the Army in 1854 to reunite with his wife and two young sons, Fred and Ulysses Jr. The couple would have two more children, Nellie and Jesse, before the end of the 1850s.

Conflict again claimed the devoted husband when the Civil War began in 1861. As fighting raged, the rising military star would not forget his wife and children, sending for them to join him in the field whenever possible. Ulysses strained to be the consummate family man and was a devoted husband and father. Julia would be his confidant and supporter through the trials of war.

The Grants pose for a formal portrait during the Civil War.

Ulysses, in his general’s uniform, Julia, and their son, Jesse, pose together at City Point, Va., the site of a major Union military installation and a headquarters for Grant during the Civil War.

As Ulysses assumed command of all Union forces and his fame grew, Julia began to feel as if she was too plain. She approached her husband on the subject of corrective eye surgery for her cross-eyed (strabismus) condition. He responded with the charming sentiment, “Did I not see you and fall in love with you with these same eyes? I like them just as they are, and now, remember, you are not to interfere with them. They are mine, and let me tell you, Mrs. Grant, you had better not make any experiments, as I might not like you half so well with any other eyes.”

After the war, Grant served as U.S. president from 1869 to 1877, and Julia would stand by her husband through those tumultuous years, offering advice on important matters at times. At their New Jersey cottage, known as the “Summer White House,” their playfulness would again emerge.

After watching his son Ulysses Jr. bound over the porch railing Ulysses. teased his wife, “If you were sitting here alone…and the cottage caught fire, you must be rescued or burn.” “You think so!” Julia replied playfully as she defiantly bounded over the porch railing as easily as her son had done.

President Ulysses S. Grant, and Julia, the First Lady.

The couple’s affectionate manner was always at the surface and was illustrated in another incident on their U.S. and world tour in 1879, when Grant was one of the most recognized Americans in the word. They had returned to the U.S. from abroad and were visiting a mine in Virginia City, Nevada.

At the entrance, the General made a wager with another gentleman that Julia would not make the harrowing descent deep into the mine. The gentleman secretly informed Julia that her husband bet money she would back out. She resolutely stepped up on the platform surprising Ulysses who questioned whether she really was going down into the mine. Julia uttered a simple “Yes” and Ulysses lost his bet.

Ulysses and Julia pose for a photograph after Julia (center, in light jacket) with Ulysses (right) cost him a bet by agreeing to descend into a Nevada mine.

The dedicated couple was able to enjoy a few years of happiness with their children and grandchildren before Ulysses entered his final struggle after being diagnosed at age 62 with terminal cancer in his throat. The couple had lost most of their money through a corrupt business partner, and Ulysses was determined to write a book about his wartime experiences in hopes that sales would support his family after he was gone. He was aided by his friend, famous American author Mark Twain.

To complete the book, Grant came to an Adirondack cabin in Wilton, Saratoga County, to accomplish his final mission. Throughout his six-week ordeal, Julia was by his side. Pushing through his pain, he finished his book and died on July 23, 1885, only four days after final proofreading of his manuscript.

A terminally ill Ulysses S. Grant at Grant Cottage in Wilton, Saratoga County, where he completed his memoirs shortly before his death. Julia sits by his side.

His resolve secured financial security for his family, who were supported through $450,000 in proceeds from what became a best-seller.

Years later, the widow of the great American hero would state, “For nearly thirty-seven years, I, his wife, rested and was warmed in the sunlight of his loyal love… and now, even though his beautiful life has gone out, it is as when some far-off planet disappears from the heavens; the light of his glorious fame still reaches out to me, falls upon me, and warms me.”

According to Ulysses’ last wishes, Julia would be placed in a matching red granite sarcophagus within Grant’s Tomb after her death in 1902. The two who loved each other so truly in life would now be together for eternity.

Grant’s Tomb, officially called the General Grant National Memorial, located in the Morningside Heights Neighborhood of Manhattan.

Post by Ben Kemp, Friends of Ulysses S. Grant Cottage Operations Manager


More About Grant Cottage


Located immediately below the summit of Mount McGregor in Saratoga County, the cottage and 43-acre site was recently named a National Historic Landmark by the National Park Service.

The cottage is kept as it was during the Grant family’s stay. Open to the public seasonally by the Friends of the Ulysses S. Grant Cottage, visitors can tour its first-floor original furnishings, decorations, and personal items belonging to Grant.

Tours are scheduled to resume for the season in May 2021. Artifacts on display include the mantel clock stopped by Grant’s son Fred at the moment of his father’s death, and original floral arrangements from Grant’s funeral in August 1885.

Grant Cottage first opened as a historic site in 1890 when it was supported by funds raised by veterans of the Grand Army of the Republic.

The grounds surrounding the Cottage served as a tuberculosis sanitarium beginning in 1914, which in 1945 was converted into a veteran rest camp, until 1960 when it was repurposed and annexed as the Rome State School for disabled children until 1976. The Friends of Ulysses S. Grant Cottage was formed in the fall of 1989 to provide programming and tours, and partner with New York State Parks on site stewardship.

Learn more about the Personal Memoirs of U.S. Grant which are available online here.

Grant’s preface to the memoirs:

“Man proposes and God disposes.” There are but few important events in the affairs of men brought about by their own choice.

Although frequently urged by friends to write my memoirs I had determined never to do so, nor to write anything for publication. At the age of nearly sixty-two I received an injury from a fall, which confined me closely to the house while it did not apparently affect my general health. This made study a pleasant pastime. Shortly after, the rascality of a business partner developed itself by the announcement of a failure. This was followed soon after by universal depression of all securities, which seemed to threaten the extinction of a good part of the income still retained, and for which I am indebted to the kindly act of friends. At this juncture the editor of the Century Magazine asked me to write a few articles for him. I consented for the money it gave me; for at that moment I was living upon borrowed money. The work I found congenial, and I determined to continue it. The event is an important one for me, for good or evil; I hope for the former.

In preparing these volumes for the public, I have entered upon the task with the sincere desire to avoid doing injustice to any one, whether on the National or Confederate side, other than the unavoidable injustice of not making mention often where special mention is due. There must be many errors of omission in this work, because the subject is too large to be treated of in two volumes in such way as to do justice to all the officers and men engaged. There were thousands of instances, during the rebellion, of individual, company, regimental and brigade deeds of heroism which deserve special mention and are not here alluded to. The troops engaged in them will have to look to the detailed reports of their individual commanders for the full history of those deeds.

The first volume, as well as a portion of the second, was written before I had reason to suppose I was in a critical condition of health. Later I was reduced almost to the point of death, and it became impossible for me to attend to anything for weeks. I have, however, somewhat regained my strength, and am able, often, to devote as many hours a day as a person should devote to such work. I would have more hope of satisfying the expectation of the public if I could have allowed myself more time. I have used my best efforts, with the aid of my eldest son, F. D. Grant, assisted by his brothers, to verify from the records every statement of fact given. The comments are my own, and show how I saw the matters treated of whether others saw them in the same light or not.

With these remarks I present these volumes to the public, asking no favor but hoping they will meet the approval of the reader.

U. S. GRANT

MOUNT MACGREGOR, NEW YORK, July 1, 1885.

Pitching In For Dwarf Pines at Sam’s Point

With a fire-damaged dwarf pitch pine forest at the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve rebounding slower than expected from a devastating wildfire, a State Parks greenhouse in the Finger Lakes is helping to grow a new generation of trees.

Since fire burned more than 2,000 acres in April 2016 at Sam’s Point, State Parks staff there has been monitoring the health of this globally rare forest ecosystem in Ulster County.

This high ridge in the Shawangunk Mountains is predominantly pitch pines (Pinus Rigida), a fire dependent species of conifer. The pitch pines at Sam’s Point are dwarfed, which means they can be hundreds of years old, while still only roughly as tall as a person.

Pitch pines have serotinous cones, which means the cones require heat from fire in order to open protective scales and cast seed. These trees also have non-serotinous pine cones, which release seeds from November into the winter and do not require heat. Pitch pines take two years to fully develop cones with mature seeds, and the serotinous cones can remain sealed for years until the outbreak of fire.

Burned pitch pine cones at Sam’s Point after the 2016 fire. (Photo credit – Lindsey Feinberg)

The Sam’s Point fire burned hot and quick, which left parts of the duff soil layer still covering underlying mineral soil that is necessary for pitch pine seeds to germinate into seedlings. Duff is made up of partially and fully decomposed organic matter, including pine needles, branches and mulch.

While these exposed pitch pine seeds released after the 2016 fire were a nutritious bonanza for red squirrels, turkeys, and other seed-eating animals, that also meant fewer pitch pine seedlings were taking root to replace trees that had been lost.

Pitch pine forests require regular moderate fires to expose the proper mineral soil and regenerate successfully. The Sam’s Point fire was the first large fire in this area in 70 years and had some exceptionally hot patches. While pitch pines are resilient to fire due to extra thick bark, an especially hot and large fire like 2016 can badly damage or simply incinerate the trees.

During the summer of 2020, it was determined that 77 percent of the pitch pines had died within 20 different plots in the burned zone being monitored by Parks staff. This was a 17 percent increase from an initial survey done in 2016, where 60 percent of the pitch pines were deemed lost to fire damage.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, State Parks staff went into the burned zone along the Indian Rock path to survey the damage.
In this photograph taken in November 2020, the extent of the fire still shows in this area where pitch pines remain dead (left).

At the same time, fewer seedlings were growing in the aftermath of the fire. Monitoring of the forestry plots has found pitch pine seedling growth peaked in 2017 with 85 seedlings but has continually declined since then. This year only 27 seedlings were found within those 20 plots.

And with fewer trees and lagging replacement growth, it was feared that bird habitat was being lost. Minnewaska State Park Preserve is a designated state Bird Conservation Area as an exceptional example of a high elevation forest community with a diverse forest dwelling bird population.

Some of these birds include the Northern Saw-whet owl, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting and Prairie Warbler. Parks staff at Sam’s Point has been surveying for bird activity, but so far has found no clear impacts from the fire to bird populations.

It also is notable that the duff layer at Sam’s Point has increased by almost three-quarters of an inch since the fire. This is due to a lack of any fire succession since 2016. Deeper duff means that the regrowth of this globally rare pitch pine forest will be very slow and difficult, as seedlings continue being inhibited from taking root.

Right after the fire, staff at Sam’s Point wrote a Burned Area Recovery Plan (BARP), using a template created by the National Park Service.  Several important actions are outlined in this plan included:

  1.  Creating and monitoring 20 forestry plots to study pitch pine regeneration     
  2. Monitoring impact of the fire on songbirds which depend on the unique trees and understory found at Sam’s Point for their breeding grounds in the spring through annual species counts
  3. Monitoring and mitigating new fire breaks for erosion, invasive species, and blocking off firebreak and recreational trail intersections with plantings or brush

This work has been carried out carefully by Sam’s Point staff and regional stewardship staff. Assistance was provided by Student Conservation Association Hudson Valley Corps interns as well as interns and staff from regional universities and colleges.

Daphne Schroeder, a Parks staff member from Sam’s Point, takes part in a survey of one of the burned areas.

In early 2019, the Plant Materials Program Staff at Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park in the Finger Lakes region, reached out to Palisades regional Stewardship staff to discuss restoration projects. Out of nine proposed Palisades projects, two projects were to grow pitch pine seeds collected from Sam’s Point to help regenerate this rare forest.

Sonnenberg Plant Materials Program Lead Technician Dave Rutherford and staff visited Sam’s Point and gathered pitch pine cones in mid-November 2019.

The cones were carefully selected from an area near Lake Maratanza. Specimens needed to have ‘scales’ fully closed, and have a light brown, healthy luster. Older, closed pitch pine cones are dull and grey, so to ensure viability the seeds, these cones were not collected. No more than 20 percent of the cones were collected from any individual tree. Cones were cut from the base of the tree and kept in a woven plastic bag until it was time to process them.

Back at Sonnenberg, cones were heated in small batches at 400°F to simulate the effect of a fire. Crackling and popping as resin softened and melted, cones opened up their protective scales. After the cones had cooled, staff at Sonnenberg turned each one upside down for seeds to fall out for collection.

A healthy, mature pitch pine cone suitable for collecting for seed.
Pitch pine cones arranged for seed harvesting at Sonnenberg Mansion & Gardens State Historic Park.
The heat is on…

These efforts resulted in about 10.5 ounces of seeds, estimated to contain more than 41,000 individual seeds, each one about two-tenths of an inch long. Plant Materials staff started growing some seeds in April of 2020, and now have more than 500 pitch pine seedlings in their greenhouse.

Learn more in the NYS Parks Blog about the work being done at Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens to grow native plants as part of Parks’ mission of responsible environmental stewardship:


Another area of degradation at Sam’s Point due to fire damage are fire breaks, especially when created by a bulldozer. Crews made these breaks by removing trees and other potential fuel from the path of the fire to contain its spread. 

Fire managers who worked on the Sam’s Point fire added eight miles of new fire breaks around the park preserve using bulldozers. This equates to adding eight miles of new and hastily planned roads in a semi-wilderness.

A fire break made by a bulldozer in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Breaks were made to remove potential fuel from the path of a fire.
One of the fire breaks at Minnewaska created by bulldozers to contain the 2016 fire is blocked off to discourage hikers from using it.

Potential impacts of concern from these dozer breaks are erosion, spread of invasive plants and creation of new, unplanned, travel corridors by hikers within the park preserve.

Existing recreational carriage roads do serve as a natural fire break, but new dozer lines had to be made to control wildfire spread. There are a few places where dozer lines intersected with the park preserve’s carriage road and trail systems. These fire breaks are now open, linear, areas with knee high shrubs (huckleberries and blueberries) growing amongst the rocky duff layer.

This is potentially a perfect storm for invasive species to take hold, if people are out hiking on these new scars. People are a powerful vector for transporting invasive plant species. These dozer lines also provide a clearing for people to wander off in and get lost or injured. The intersections between fire breaks and carriage roads are a perfect place to establish re-growth of pitch pines, to hide these open scars.

These seedlings now growing at Sonnenberg will be a year old in April 2021, and hopefully can be planted at Sam’s Point sometime next year as the final piece to our restoration plan after the Sam’s Point fire. These seedlings will go into dozer break scars and hot spots.

It is important to note that because the seeds were collected from the globally rare pitch pine forest at Sam’s Point, the native biome is preserved. Once these seedlings are planted, these trees will be growing for hundreds of years, eventually blending in and keeping this forest intact and healthy for generations to come.

The new pitch pine seedlings growing at Sonnenberg’s greenhouse in preparation for being planted at Sam’s Point Area in 2021.
Working in fire-burned areas can result in a bit of soot here and there, as these three Parks staffers show after a day doing surveys at Sam’s Point.

Cover shot – Pitch pine seedlings grow at Sam’s Point Area. All photos from NYS Parks.

Post by Rebecca Howe Parisio, Interpretive Ranger, Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve.


Learn more about the immediate aftermath of the 2016 fire at Sam’s Point and initial signs of recovery in the year following in these posts from the NYS Parks Blog:

Rebirth After Fire

Text and photos by Lindsey Feinberg, Student Conservation Association Intern at Sam’s Point  Please ask permission to use photos. Located within Minnewaska State Park Preserve is Sam’s Point, an area of unique ecological significance encompassing roughly 5,000 acres in the Shawangunk Mountains of southern New York. Toward the end of April, during a particularly dry … Continue reading Rebirth After Fire

From Ashes to Awesome: Sam’s Point

In April 2016, a wildfire engulfed around 2,000 acres of the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains. The “Gunks” (a nickname for the Shawangunks) are well-known not only for climbing, but also for the globally unique community of high altitude dwarf pitch pine barrens which hold some interesting and … Continue reading From Ashes to Awesome: Sam’s Point