Category Archives: Stewardship

Green Lakes State Park – Home to a National Natural Landmark and More!

New York’s State Parks are home to many unique natural features. Green Lakes State Park, near Syracuse, is the home of a National Natural Landmark. The Landmark found here is Round Lake, which is one of 28 such sites found in the state. A National Natural Landmark (NNL) is a natural area that has been designated by the Secretary of the Interior in recognition that the site contains significant examples of the nation’s biological and/or geological features. Round Lake is a rare meromictic lake surrounded by a forest that includes about 20 acres of diverse, old-growth forest. These two components led to Round Lake’s designation as a National Natural Landmark in 1973. The maple-basswood rich mesic forest and the meromictic lakes at Green Lakes State Park have also been recognized as being of statewide significance by the NY Natural Heritage Program (2018) in addition to Round Lake’s designation as a NNL.

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The plaque at Round Lake dedicating it as a National Natural Landmark.

You may be asking yourself, what is a meromictic lake? A meromictic lake is a lake that does not have complete mixing of the surface and bottom waters. This is due to the lake being very deep without a large surface area: Round Lake is over 163 feet deep with a diameter of about 700 feet or 36 acres (see below).  The most common type of lake mixing is a dimictic lake which mixes twice a year, once in the summer and once in the fall. To learn more about lakes and their seasons (they have them too!), please see this blog.

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This contour map was obtained by NYS DEC

Meromictic lakes remain chemically stratified throughout the year which makes it very hard for organisms to live there especially in the deepest layers of the lake. Chemical stratification refers to the layering of the water within the lake based on chemicals such as dissolved salts and oxygen. Because of this, there is no oxygen and there tends to be lots of dissolved salts in the lower layers as the salts increase the density, or weight, of the water which makes it sink to the bottom of the lake. These conditions make species diversity in a meromictic lake very low. The few fish that occur here are confined to live in the epilimnion, the top layer of water, because that is where there is enough oxygen for them. Snails, zooplankton and phytoplankton (microscopic aquatic critters and plants) are the more abundant species in these lakes.

One exception to the lack of life in the depths of a meromictic lake is the presence of several interesting types of bacteria, for example those in the other lake on the park’s property, Green Lake. Green Lake has a characteristic purple sulfur bacterium that resides in the deep waters. If you pull a water sample from that layer of water, the sample that comes up is this purple-pink color and it smells like rotten eggs. This color and smell comes from the purple sulfur bacteria that resides in the water, which has been studied by many researchers such as those at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (see picture below). Although Green Lake is also a meromictic lake, it is not included in the Natural Landmark due to the higher use and less natural surroundings than Round Lake.

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A water sample showing the purple sulfur bacteria at Green Lake. Photo by Kim Schulz, a professor at SUNY-ESF.

The other major component that makes Round Lake a National Natural Landmark is the old-growth forest that surrounds the lake. The Landmark is described as containing 20 acres of “virgin mesophytic forest”. The term “virgin forest” typically describes sites that have never been cut, which is not quite the case here, but the site is exceptional in having minimal cutting over the past few centuries and now supports trees that range from 100 to nearly 400 years old. Mesophytic is an ecological term that describes the vegetation characteristic of rich, moist, well-drained soils. NY Natural Heritage Program describes this forest as a maple-basswood rich mesic forest (2014) and maps roughly 130 acres in the park as old-growth forest – a good place to see some very old trees! There are some particularly old (and very tall) specimens of tuliptrees, bitternut hickory, sugar maple, hemlock and basswood within the Tuliptree Cathedral southwest of Round Lake. The largest tree measured there was 147 ft in 2011, one of the many tuliptrees to be found in this forest.

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Above is a picture of the Tuliptree Cathedral renamed as such following extensive surveys of the old-growth forests in 2001-2002. Photo by Diane Wheelock.

NY State Parks contain many more exceptional sites to see beyond Round Lake! To learn more about other National Natural Landmarks located within State Parks, please see these blogs on the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves and the Iona Marsh.

Post by April Brun, State Parks

Featured Photo taken by Parks Water Quality Unit looking at the western shoreline of the lake.

Resources:

New York Natural Heritage Program. March 2014. Ecological Communities of New York State.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2018. Significant Natural Community Occurrences. Biotics database. NY Natural Heritage Program Albany NY.

National Park Service. n.d. Round Lake National Natural Landmark.

Marsh Madness: Restoration of Iona Marsh from Invasive Phragmites

Iona Island, located along an elbow of the Hudson River in Bear Mountain State Park, is technically an archipelago of three islands connected by marshlands. Iona has had many owners in its storied history, prior to being bought by New York State in the 1960s. The Island was host to Native American tribes for thousands of years, who took advantage of the plentiful shellfish along its shores. In the last few hundred years, it has been the site of an unsuccessful vineyard, a hotel and weekend destination for NYC residents, a U.S. Navy arsenal, and a partially built park recreation area. The eastern side of the island past the railroad tracks has been closed to the public since the 1980s, but a small portion of the island consisting of the five remaining Navy buildings is used for storage for the Palisades Interstate Park system. The rest of the island has returned to a more natural state of woods, meadows, and rocky outcroppings and serves as a sanctuary for wintering bald eagles.  The island achieved National Natural Landmark status in 1974, and was designated a NYS Bird Conservation Area and Audubon Important Bird Area shortly thereafter.

A key natural feature at Iona is the extensive marshlands, 153 acres in all, flanking its western side.  Part of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve (HRNERR), this brackish tidal marsh (marshes with water that has different concentrations of salt depending on the tides) teams with life including fish, waterfowl, waterbirds, plants, and crustaceans. In recent times, the rich biodiversity of the marsh, including a number of state rare species, has been threatened by Phragmites australis, or as it is more widely known, common reed.

Common reed (Phragmites australis) is a plant that was likely brought to the US from Europe and Asia in the 1800s through ship ballast or the water taken in by ships to allow them to balance on long voyages. Commonly referred to as just Phragmites, this non-native plant is invasive in the U.S., displacing and crowding out native plant species, such as cattails, rushes, asters, and many others. In turn, the presence of this species has undermined the complex web of marsh dependent organisms.

The non-native Phragmites is identifiable by its tall stature, dark blue-green leaves, and tendency to form dense stands, with little to no possibility for native species to grow in the areas that they occupy. A native species of phragmites (Phragmites americanus) occurs in NY as well, but this smaller plant with reddish stems grows with less density so it does not crowd out other flora.

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Iona Island Marsh in 2008 before treatment. Phragmites dominate the background.

The phragmites problem at Iona Marsh began in the early 1960s, when the first small colony appeared near a pipe draining into the marsh. Over the next 40 years, phragmites steadily expanded until it covered nearly 80 percent of the marsh area. Researchers tracking these changes noted a concurrent decline in marsh specialist birds and specialized brackish marsh plants, including state rarities.  In an effort to reverse these trends, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, while partnering with Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Highlands Environmental Research Institute, started a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) funded management program in 2008 focused on a 10-acre test area. The goal was to reduce the invasive phragmites, and make room for native plants to once again occupy the area. If the program was successful in this small area (1/15th of the marsh), it could be expanded to additional marshlands.

A multi-faceted control and monitoring program has been developed and implemented and the results have been dramatic. More than 90% of the phragmites was eliminated within one year and nearly 97% by the third year. Researchers saw the return of huge meadows of annual native marsh plants, including some state-threatened species, followed by perennial cattail stands. Marsh specialist birds such as Virginia rail, least bittern (State-threatened), and marsh wren followed soon thereafter.  Based on this success, the project was expanded to an adjacent 32-acre area of the marsh known as Ring Meadow. Both areas now have less than five percent Phragmites cover, an overall success on the journey to reestablish native vegetation.

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Map of the Iona Island Marsh Treatment Areas

While complete eradication of the Phragmites may be impossible to achieve, success can be maintained through continued monitoring and spot treating remaining and new patches.  Bird and vegetation surveys are conducted annually, as are measurements of sediment build-up on the marsh surface, as it relates to sea level rise.  The goal remains to restore the native plant communities in the marsh to promote biodiversity. A healthy, native marsh community will lead to increased productivity and habitats for fish, birds, and mammals – many of them specially adapted to the brackish conditions at Iona.  With continued management, the long-term outlook is positive for this Hudson River jewel, one of only four large brackish marshes on the Hudson.

RingMeadow
Ring Meadow in 2016. Cattail and blooming Rose Mallow have regrown where phragmites once were.

Interested in seeing Iona Marsh for yourself? While public canoeing and kayaking are not allowed in the marsh itself to protect this unique place, through collaboration with the State Parks, NYS DEC offers free public canoe programs each summer.  Not a fan of getting on the water? Iona Island is accessible by road. There is a parking lot approximately ½ mile onto the island, right before the railroad tracks (the boundary of the public accessible areas), where you can park and view the marsh. Lucky visitors may spot waterfowl, muskrats, frogs, turtles, wetland birds, deer, or even bald eagles!

Photo credit:   PIPC Archives

Dr. Ed McGowan,  2017 Annual Report Iona Island Marsh

Post by Jesse Predmore, SCA

Edited by: Dr. Ed McGowan & Chris O’Sullivan

Featured image: lulun & kame accessed from Flickr

Protecting Our Waterways

You may have seen them in a park near you, these super heroes and heroines in disguise. Since 2008, New York State Parks have deployed Invasive Species Strike Teams. These Strike Teams conduct invasive species surveys and manually remove non-native invasive plants in areas of significance. The goal is to protect native plant and animal species and the natural areas in our parks. State Parks are also an important resource for tourism and recreation.  Maintaining the integrity of the natural areas and features in parks helps to support these public interests, including camping, picnicking, fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, wildlife viewing, and other recreational activities.

For the past 10 years, Strike Teams have primarily been involved with removing invasive species on land, but in 2018 State Parks was able to establish an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Strike Team thanks to grant funding received from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The AIS Strike Team isn’t afraid to get a little dirty or wet, as their main charge is to suppress, contain, and work towards the reduction of invasive species found in aquatic habitats within the Great Lakes watershed. The team’s home base is at De Veaux Woods State Park in Niagara Falls, but you’ll be able to find them working in the streams, lakes, and wetlands throughout Western NY and into the Thousand Islands.

Logan West (left) is the AIS Field Lead and oversees Billy Capton (back middle), Patrick Mang (front middle) and Adam Lamancuso. Together they make the 2018 AIS Strike Team.

The AIS Strike Team is made up of seasonal employees who travel through New York State from roughly May to November. A list of priority projects and a schedule is developed by State Park biologists. The AIS team then goes to the sites and camps near the project area for up to a week at a time. This is not luxury living! They use their hands and an assortment of manual hand tools, such as pick mattocks, shovels, machetes, saws, loppers, and sometimes power equipment, to accomplish the goals of the invasive species removal projects they work on. Sometimes the work requires a boat ride or lugging heavy backpacks into a work site. Some of the plants the team has tackled in and near the water include phragmites (common reed), oriental bittersweet, water chestnut, Japanese knotweed, flowering rush, European frogbit, purple loosestrife, and many more.

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Patrick Mang (left) and Adam Lamancuso (right) prepare to cut down phragmites or common reed– an invasive species that has been encroaching in wetlands and shorelines.

Another component of the AIS Strike Team is to provide experiential learning to K-12 students. In July, the AIS Strike Team partnered with State Parks’ FORCES program and Syracuse University to host a service day for high school students participating in Syracuse University’s Team and Leadership Academy. Students learned about aquatic invasive species and helped remove water chestnut from Sterling Pond at Fair Haven Beach State Park. For some of these students this was their first time learning about invasive species, let alone being on a boat, so the experience and learning opportunity was well received.

Team in Syracuse
AIS Strike Team and Syracuse University’s Team and Leadership Academy students take a break during a water chestnut pull at Fair Haven Beach State Park.

More recently the AIS Strike Team participated at the Great New York State Fair. For three days, the crew worked educational tables focused on invasive species. Families got to learn about invasive species by participating in crafts and games and examining live aquatic invasive species specimens the crew brought with them.

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Patrick Mang and Adam Lamancuso talk with fair visitors about invasive species

The AIS Strike Team was asked to reflect on their experience during the first year of operation. Here are some words from our hard-working weed warriors:

Working with the NYS OPRHP has been an exciting and worthwhile experience. Our ability to explore and improve our State Parks with the Aquatic Invasive Species Strike Team makes me appreciate what is accomplished through the hard work and constant communication that goes into making our parks so enjoyable. I now realize the impact and extent of invasive species across the state, as well as the importance of our commitment to protect the native species throughout the Great Lakes Watershed.

— Adam Lamancuso, Strike Team Member

This opportunity allowed my understanding of native plant life to flourish and opened up an entirely new perspective towards environmental stewardship through invasive species management. The places I’ve been, species I’ve seen, people met, and progress made to mitigate and apprehend the spread of invasive plants was an opportunity like no other. I wish to see the AIS program continue for years to come and inspire more along the way.

— Billy Capton, Strike Team Member

I love that I get to work outdoors every day and get to travel to new Parks in New York State that I’ve never been to. Not only is it work but also an adventure every day. It’s very rewarding to come to work knowing that the work we do is making a positive difference for the ecosystem and the parks themselves.

— Patrick Mang, Strike Team Member

It is clearly a great privilege to be able to work outside nearly every day, striving to protect NYS’s most treasured natural areas.  What must not be overlooked, however, is the progression and determination of our seasonal Strike Team crew members.  They continue to work hard each day, learn from and teach one another while continually finding ways to inspire each other along the way, even when faced with challenges.  As a Crew Lead, this is the most fulfilling part of the position

— Logan West, AIS Field Lead

The crew asks that, in order to make their life a bit easier, please play your part to prevent the spread of invasive species. If you are a boater remember to Clean-Drain-Dry! Inspect your watercraft and trailer for plant and/or animal matter, and remove and dispose of any material that is found. Drain your bilge, ballast tanks, live wells, and any water-holding compartments. Clean your watercraft between uses or allow it to dry before visiting a new water body.

If you are recreating anywhere, not just State Parks, remember to Play-Clean-Go! Remove plants, animals, and mud from boots, gear, pets, and vehicle, including mountain bikes, ATV, etc. Clean your gear before entering and leaving the recreation site and stay on designated roads and trails.

If you are a gardener one of the best ways of reducing the spread of invasive species is avoid introducing them in the first place! Plant only NY native flowers, shrubs, and trees. Check the NY Flora Atlas to see if a plant is native to NY or not and learn more about New York’s invasive species on the NYS DECs Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species List.

Post by Matt Brincka, State Parks

Excelsior Conservation Corps Works Alongside Parks to Conserve Historical Site

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) staff members at Ganondagan State Historic Site recently worked with members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC). The ECC is a non-profit organization within the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The members involved in this program range from ages 18-25 and learn skills and methods to help restore, protect and enhance New York’s natural resources and recreational opportunities.

Ten members of the ECC were tasked with invasive plant species removal from various locations and GPS monitoring of certain invasive plant species within the Ganondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY. Invasive plant species are non-native species that can cause harm to the environment, the economy, or to human health. Because these plants are not native in these habitats, they can cause or contribute to habitat degradation and loss of native species.

Wild Parsnip
Wild parsnip in full bloom, notice the yellow-green flowers that look like Queen Ann’s lace and dill.. Photo by ECC

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), which is a tall flowering invasive plant that is infamous in many areas of New York, not only disrupts the environment in which it grows but can also be very harmful to humans. If the sap from the stem comes into contact with the skin, it can cause severe burns and make skin more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation provided from the sun.  Fortunately, no giant hogweed has been found at Ganondagan State Historic Site, but the site has become a host to a closely related and invasive plant called wild parsnip. Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), has similar effects to giant hogweed when it comes into contact with unprotected skin.

When the members of the ECC arrived, they were informed they would be participating in the Parks’ annual wild parsnip picking day. Each year the staff members from the Environmental Field Office dedicate one day to pick as many wild parsnip plants as they can in hopes of clearing out fields and minimizing the possibility of more growing in the future. Everyone was instructed to wear long sleeve shirts, pants and gloves in order to protect their skin. Starting early in the morning, the group of 10 ECC members joined forces with six State Parks’ staff to venture out into the fields of wild parsnip. Throughout the day everyone hiked through trails and sections of the property, pulling the plants out and piling them up they could be removed from the area. The members were instructed to get as close to the ground as possible to pull the roots up by hand. After walking through 30 acres of fields, the total tally of plants removed came out to be 13,439!

Wild Parsnip field
ECC and State Parks crew in one of the many fields. Note the tall yellow plants that are all wild parsnip. Photo by ECC.

After the wild parsnip adventure, there was still more for the ECC members to do at Ganandogan. State Parks has been closely monitoring a field full of invasive plants for the past few years with GPS devices.  These devices enable the staff to map the location and the amount of invasive plants within the area. The ECC team helped record data on six different plants while walking across a 70-acre field. To cover the area efficiently, the ECC members were required to stand in a line about 14 paces apart and walk due North across the field in a straight line, using compasses as their guide. Staying straight was not easy while walking over hills and through tall grass, stepping over and through every obstacle in their path.

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GPS monitoring device used to mark invasive species in the area. Photo by ECC

The plants they were looking out for were Canada thistle, bull thistle, multiflora rose, autumn olive, swallowwort and non-native honeysuckles. Each observer would stop at every 15 paces to observe the area they were in and mark each location for any of these six invasive plans within a five-foot radius. In total, the team collected over 20,000 points that will be used to create maps in ARC GIS to show the extent of the invasives and to help guide management plans.

 

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC member

Invasive Species Spotlight – Giant Hogweed

Name: Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum)

Origin: This species is native to the Caucasus Mountains of Eurasia. It was brought first to Europe and the UK in the 19th century, followed by the US in the early 20th century to be used as an ornamental plant in flower gardens.

NYS Presence: Giant hogweed has become established throughout the entire state.

Species Profile: Giant hogweed can grow to extreme heights of 15 to 20 feet! Its robust stems are covered with dark purple colored blotches and elevated nodules. Some of these stems can reach 4 inches in diameter! Giant hogweed leaves are proportional in size, with some reaching a width of 5 feet. These leaves are compound, greatly incised, and lobed. Its flowers grow in a flat-topped formation that can be easily compared to an umbrella. This cluster of flowers can reach up to 2 ½ feet across. A few species that can be mistaken as giant hogweed are as follows: native cow parsnip, native purple-stemmed angelica, and invasive wild parsnip.

Terry English, USDA APHIS Bugwood.org
Giant hogweed in flower, notice how it resembles Queen Anne’s lace. These flowers may be up to 2-1/2 feet in diameter compared to the 3″-4″ flower diameters on Queen Anne’s lace, photo by Terry English, USDA APHIS accessed from Bugwood.org.

Giant hogweed is often found in wetland areas near rivers, where it is known to out compete other species for habitat. When native plants are displaced, bank erosion may also increase. This plant is labeled as invasive or noxious due to its poisonous sap. This sap contains a chemical that sensitizes the skin to UV rays. If the skin comes in contact with the sap and is exposed to sunlight, the results may be blistering, severe burns, and/or painful sores. Irritation usually appears within 1 to 3 days after the exposure. This reaction is called “phytophotodermatitis”. Follow this link to the giant hogweed hotline number and other tips for what to do if you or someone you know encounters giant hogweed.

Resources:

Giant Hogweed

NYS DEC Giant Hogweed – Don’t Touch that Plant