The Peregrine Falcon is the swiftest of all birds of prey, slightly larger than a crow, with and nondescript coloration of brown, grey, and white. Peregrine falcons are one of the most widely distributed species of birds, nesting on every continent except Antarctica. The world’s largest urban population of nesting Peregrine Falcons can be found in New York City.
A peregrine falcon can spot its prey from six miles away. Tucking in its wings, diving like a missile, changing direction with precision, ruffling its feathers to control speed, and slamming its talons into its quarry mid-air. Its beak has a type of tooth that acts like a wire cutter, severing the spine of its prey in an instant. Peregrines are avian predators and feed almost exclusively on other birds. Most of their prey is caught on the wing. Peregrine falcons diving at prey has been clocked at speeds of more than 200 mph, making them among the fastest animal on earth.
Peregrine falcons have never been very abundant. Studies in the 1930s and 1940s estimated that there were at least 200 breeding pairs of peregrine falcons in the eastern United States. Then, beginning in the late 1940s, peregrine falcons suffered a devastating and rapid decline. By the mid-1960s, the species had been eliminated from nearly all the eastern U.S.
In the mid-20th century, peregrine falcon populations took a nosedive due to the DDT pesticide poisoning. DDT moved through the food chain from insects, fish, and birds and moved up to larger carnivores, like the peregrine falcon. DDT caused harsh chemicals to build up in the falcons’ fat tissues, reducing the amount of calcium in their eggshells. With thinner shells, the eggs would be easily crushed when incubated by the parent falcons.
DDT was finally banned in 1972, and a partnership between scientists and falconers worked together to breed the birds in captivity and release them to places where they had traditionally nested, including New York City. Peregrines naturally prefer cliffs as a habitat, so the city’s canyons and skyscrapers provide desirable nesting spots for them, along with an abundance of food like pigeons, starlings, and sparrows.
Due to restrictions on the use of DDT, and intensive captive breeding and reintroduction programs across the United States and Canada, the peregrine falcon has made a remarkable comeback. Peregrines have been returned to much of their natural range and have reclaimed many historic breeding sites.
Thacher State Park is home to a 6-mile section of the Helderberg Escarpment, an exposed limestone cliff reaching several hundred feet high. An ideal nesting location for peregrines. Peregrines don’t build nests; they dig an indentation in the ground or in rock cliffs, called a “scrape”. The Helderbergs were a historic nesting ground in the 1950s and earlier. Since the ban on DDT, peregrines were not spotted around the Helderbergs until 2016 when a mated pair was discovered flying around the southern section of the park.
Since 2016, the Helderberg falcons have been monitored for nesting attempts. In 2021, the mated pair was found nesting with a clutch of eggs, but the nest was abandoned after a few weeks for unknown reasons. In 2022, the falcons have been spotted very early in the year, around February. With increased sightings and activity in the southern section of the park. Park staff and visitors are hopeful that this year will be a successful nesting season and may bring 3 to 5 new peregrine chicks into the world.
A century ago this week, thousands of people flocked by car and even horse carriage to remote, wild and forested hills in southwestern New York’s Cattaraugus County, near the border with Pennsylvania, to celebrate the opening of a new State Park.
According to a contemporary account in the local Salamanca Republican-Press newspaper, the visitors to the new Allegany State Park used a roadway that had been quickly built over the bed of a former lumbering railway in the region, which also had been part of the state’s 19th century gas and petroleum industry. With people coming in from as far as Buffalo, parking was quickly filled and some people walked a great distance to reach the dedication site, located near an old lumber camp.
Enjoying a picnic of sandwiches, doughnuts, cookies, coffee, iced tea and “milk in unlimited quantities” as reported by the newspaper, the crowd listened as Albert T. Fancher, a former state senator from the region and chairman of the new park’s commission, vowed that Allegany was poised to quickly grow, with areas nearby suitable for creation of a man-made lake and game preserve.
Another speaker, Franklin Moon, dean of the state college of forestry, said the creation of public parks like Allegany were the best remedy for “national irritability,” as he reflected some of the trepidation in the U.S. over the then-recent rise of Bolshevism in Russia.
Today, Allegany State Park welcomes more than 1,500,000 visitors a year to explore western New York’s premier wilderness playground, created thanks to the vision of Fancher, a petroleum industry executive who was a political force in Cattaraugus County for several decades, as well as Hamilton Ward, a Spanish-American War veteran who later founded the Erie County Park Commission and became New York State Attorney General, and Chauncey Hamlin, president of the American Association of Museums and founder of the Buffalo Museum of Science.
Fancher became the park’s first director until his death nine years later in 1930. Fancher’s original cabin, where he stayed at the park with his wife, is still there. Hamlin supported the creation of a science camp at the park.
Starting out in 1921 with about 7,100 acres purchased for $35,800 (equivalent to about a half-million dollars today, or about $70 an acre), Allegany State Park has grown over the years to encompass more than 64,800 acres and includes rare remaining portions of old growth forest with trees more than 100 years old that were left undisturbed during the area’s lumbering and petroleum boom that ran from the early 19th century to the 1920s. Park naturalists have mapped more than 5,200 acres of old growth forests of hemlocks and hardwoods, with the majority of that in the Big Basin area. Some experts believe this is the state’s largest contiguous track of old growth outside the Adirondacks.
Given the uncertainty of planning during the pandemic, the park is not holding a mass gathering like was done in 1921, but is hosting a virtual celebration on July 30th 2021 that will include a library of digital content. The park is also offering a summer series of interpretive programs highlighting the park’s history.
The virtual celebration and other digital content can be viewed HERE starting noon on July 30, 2021.
Additionally, a set of four self-guided interpretive booklets are for sale at the park which guide visitors to 100 points of interest within the park, and includes topics of interest such as early European settlement, the petroleum and lumbering industries, early ski facilities in the state, and the work of Civilian Conservation Corps crews during the Great Depression.
Now New York’s largest State Park, Allegany has a wide variety of recreational resources certain to foster tranquility and soothe any irritability. Due to its size, this sprawling park is divided into two distinct areas – Red House and Quaker Run. Red House has 133 campsites, 130 cabins, 16 full-service cottages, two group camps, five miles of paved bike paths, many miles of hiking and horse trails, and swimming at man-made Red House Lake, with boat rentals. Its historic Tudor-style administration building, completed in 1928, includes a museum of park natural history
The Quaker Run Area has two lakes, 189 campsites, 230 cabins, 37 full-service cottages, two group camps, many miles of hiking trails and horse trails, swimming at Quaker Lake, a boat launch at the Allegheny Reservoir, which has 91 miles of shoreline and is popular for boating, fishing, kayaking and waterskiing. Named for Quaker missionaries and settlers who came to the area in 1798 at the invitation of Seneca Chief Cornplanter to assist with agriculture and education.
Hikers have a wide variety of trails to choose from, with some highlights including:
Located on the park’s Quaker Run side, the Blacksnake Mountain Trail is one of the oldest trails in the park with a unique history. Parts of the trail follow the 1888 section of A&K Railroad (Allegheny & Kinzua), which is evident in the gentle slope on the north side of the three-mile loop. In 1933, the professors of the Allegany School of Natural History, also known as “the School in the Forest”, (located near Science Lake) mapped out a hiking trail they officially named the “Nature Hiking Trail” to conduct their field studies with their students. It was later renamed “Blacksnake Mountain Hiking Trail” in 1980 after Governor Blacksnake, an Iroquois Indian chief for the Seneca Nation of Indians, who allied with the United States in the War of 1812. The trail crosses several streams with new bridges, and a short steep climb leads to mature black cherry trees estimated to be between 100 and 130 years old. Cucumber magnolia, tulip trees and hemlock are other trees of interest along the way. This is a favorite trail for spring wildflower lovers. Trillium, Dutchmen’s breeches, squirrel corn, and spring beauties are just a few of the ephemerals that announce the changing of the seasons. Near the top of the trail, look for a granite milestone marker which represents the border of New York and Pennsylvania, where you can put a foot in each state.
Bear Paw Hiking Trail is named after a style of snowshoe used by Native Americans and was originally designed as an interpretive snowshoe trail in 2015 by park naturalists. The 2.4-mile trail starts at the rear of the Summit Area parking lot. Look for brown numbered markers which highlight unique flora such as ground cedar, various hardwoods, and lowbush blueberries. Halfway along Bear Paw, at the end of the loop, hikers will be treated to the masterfully built Stone Tower, an Allegany State Park landmark, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1934. The tower offers beautiful views of large open valleys, the city of Salamanca and Red House Lake. The second half of the trail traverses the south side of the ridge, through beech and maple forests and into a meadow. Depending on the time of the year, hikers may get to sample low bush blueberries or wintergreen growing in this area. The last section has a short, steep incline that adds a bit of challenge. Bear Paw ends at the Summit Warming hut.
The 5.2-mile Robert C. Hoag Bicycle Path is named after the former Seneca Nation President and was dedicated in June 1990. Starting at the Red House entrance of the park, the path passes old apple trees and large stands of spruce and Scotch pine, along with many varieties of hardwoods, shrubs and wildflowers. The most used part of the path is around Red House Lake, where a 3.4-mile trail offers the potential to spot such wildlife as beaver, muskrat, great blue heron, and many species of waterfowl. Spurs off the trail lead to the Red House Wetland Interpretive Complex, Beehunter Cabin Trail and Camp Allegany. Several benches are located along the way to relax and enjoy the surrounding beauty.
Work on the new Quaker Multi Use Trail began in the summer of 2020 between the Taft cabin and the Quaker General Store. The second phase is in the final design stages and will continue the trail to Quaker Lake Beach. Once complete, the trail will offer five miles of accessible paths winding though woodlands and fields along ASP Route 3 and Quaker Lake, including several scenic crossings of Quaker Run.
For birdwatchers, Allegany State Park contains a Bird Conservation Area, which provides breeding and migratory stopover habitat for forest-interior species such as Swainson’s Thrush, Blackburnian Warbler, and Scarlet Tanager. Of the 75 neotropical migratory songbird species that breed in New York, 64 have been observed within the park. The park supports a large breeding population of Osprey and one of the largest breeding concentrations of Cerulean Warblers found in New York, both of which are state species of special concern. The BCA also provides habitat for other state-listed species, including Bald Eagle (threatened), Northern Goshawk, Red-shouldered Hawk, Cooper’s Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk (all species of special concern). Find a map of the BCA here.
During the winter, the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski Area boasts 26 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails. The area is named for an early park forester and ski advocate who later became assistant park manager and worked there from 1928 to 1968, earning the nickname “Father of Skiing” in western New York. For other winter sports enthusiasts, the Quaker Run and Red House areas also have a combined 90 miles of snowmobile trails.
Allegany also was the site of numerous fire towers, where observers would watch for signs of wildfires in the forests. One of those 60-foot towers, built in 1926 at the 2,365-foot summit of South Mountain, was restored and reopened to the public in 2006, and now offers a spectacular view of Red House Lake and the surrounding area.
For another gorgeous view, the Stone Tower, built between 1933-1934 by crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps, stands at 2,250 feet and overlooks the city of Salamanca. On a clear day, the view can stretch for up to 20 miles.
CCC crews also helped establish the park as a regional center for skiing, building a downhill ski center and two ski jumps, which allowed for competitions that would draw thousands of spectators through the 1970s, when the jumps were closed.
Allegany also has a unique geological and natural history compared to elsewhere in the state. The park is part of a geological region called the Salamanca Re-entrant, which is the only area in New York that was never reached by glaciers during the last Ice Age some 12,000 years ago. This gives the region its distinctive soils, topography, surficial geology, and flora and fauna.
The well-known “Thunder Rocks” in the park’s Red House area may appear to casual observers to be some of the massive boulders scattered throughout much of the state by Ice Age glaciers but this unusual “rock city” is actually bits of ancient inland seabed created some 400 million years ago, and revealed through geological uplift and erosion.
Wild turkeys, now widespread throughout New York, owe that comeback to Allegany State Park, the Regional Park Commission, and the Conservation Department. These birds were largely absent from the state by the beginning of the 20th century, due to overhunting and habitat loss, but in the 1940s, a small population of birds had come into the park, likely from Pennsylvania to the south. From the 1950s to the mid-70s, wild turkeys in the park were live trapped by wildlife officials, who used net-firing cannons to safely capture the birds, which were then taken to the Catskills, Adirondacks and elsewhere in New York state to reestablish the birds in the wild. Some turkeys were even sent to other states in the Northeast and to Canada as part of wildlife restoration efforts there.
All this only begins to scratch the surface of the park’s fascinating history and what it has to offer. So, in honor of the venerable park’s centennial and its next century to come, plan a visit to explore. Interactive maps of Allegany State Park can be found here and here.
Cover Shot – A colorized historic postcard of Thunder Rocks in Allegany State Park. All photos by NYS Parks.
Post by Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, NYS Parks
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.
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.
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.”
The Adirondack Park is often considered one of the most pristine, beautiful, wild places in New York, if not within the entire eastern forests of America. It is home to vast forests and rolling farmlands, towns and villages, mountains and valleys, lakes, ponds and free-flowing rivers, private lands and public forest.
Throughout this rich and varied landscape are some of the densest quantities of eastern hemlocks, one of New York’s most abundant and significant tree species … and those trees are under attack by an advancing invasive species that State Parks is trying to help hold back.
This invader is the Hemlock Wooly Adelgid (HWA), an invasive forest insect native to Asia that has decimated millions of hemlocks along the eastern seaboard since being accidentally introduced into Virginia in 1951.
Adelgids are tiny insects that insert piercing-sucking mouthparts into hemlock twigs, causing damage to woody tissue that inhibits water and nutrients from reaching emerging hemlock buds. This limits the growth of new twigs and eventually kills the tree.
Due to the lack of any sort of natural resistance of eastern hemlocks to HWA and without any natural predators to manage populations, the pest has spread quickly. Once infested, a hemlock tree can die in as little as four years, or as long as 20, depending on environmental factors.
During the years since, the insect spread steadily south and northeast, finally making its way to New York in the 1980’s on Long Island and then into the Hudson Valley. With each year, it has expand its range further north and west.
In 2020, HWA was found in hemlocks at two locations in the Adirondacks, most recently along the eastern shores of Lake George, posing a huge threat to spread into some of the finest hemlock forests in New York.
As climate change contributes to more mild winters, experts anticipate more rapid movement and increasing HWA populations. Last winter in New York was extremely mild and there is a boom in HWA populations statewide as the existing population expands.
The insect is now so abundant across the range of eastern hemlocks, it will never be removed, or eradicated, from the environment. The ultimate answer to fighting this threat to our hemlocks to restore the balance. This comes in the form of biological control, using predatory insects from hemlocks in western U.S. that keep HWA from overwhelming and killing hemlock trees.
Here in New York, this effort is being led by the New York State Hemlock Initiative (NYSHI) based at Cornell University, where forest entomologist Mark Whitmore heads the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid Biocontrol Research Lab. Several biocontrol species have been evaluated and releases have occurred in New York State Parks and other forests across the state, but it takes time for predators to establish and begin having a measurable reduction of HWA populations.
As research continues on biological control, HWA continues to impact our forests. In the interim, the only viable means of control is using insecticides to temporarily preserve trees until the natural enemies of HWA can take over.
Read more about these natural control efforts in this previous post in the NYS Parks Blog…
As the third most common tree in New York, hemlocks fill our forests and are found in many New York State Parks. Located along hiking trails, streams, gorges, campsites, and lake shores, the evergreens can live to be hundreds of years old, providing vital ecosystem services and supporting unique habitats. In addition to providing homes…
While the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and others in the Adirondack Park combat HWA within the Blue Line, New York State Parks also is actively playing a role in protecting the Adirondack Park and its precious resources.
By targeting its chemical treatments at Park sites along the “leading edge” of the expanding range, State Parks is trying to slow the spread of HWA and protect some core hemlock patches, buying more time for continued research and establishment of biological control. Reducing or locally eliminating HWA from State Parks not only preserves the hemlocks, but also reduces the possibility of HWA hitching rides on cars or hikers’ boots, a potential a source of introduction to the Adirondack Park or other currently uninfested hemlock forests.
Current efforts to slow the spread include targeted surveys and treatments in state parks in the Saratoga-Capital Region with abundant hemlock forest such as John Boyd Thacher State Park, where treatments were done rapidly following early detections in 2018-19, as well as Moreau Lake and Grafton Lakes State Parks, where HWA has yet to be detected but surveys are on-going.
Another key strategy New York State Parks is employing, is protecting some of the most valuable hemlocks in areas that have been infested for several years before those specimens are lost. In Finger Lakes Region, State Parks staff as part of the Finger Lakes Hemlock Preservation Program have been trained and certified to conduct these treatments which began in 2018 and continue today.
Many of the gorge parks including Taughannock Falls, Buttermilk Falls, Robert H. Treman, and Watkins Glen all have threatened hemlocks growing on the steep slopes and cliff edges where many other tree species would not thrive. Protecting these trees helps maintain the indispensable ecological processes but also preserves the landscape that makes these parks so unique and such a draw to people from across the state and beyond. In other parts of the state, highly specialized contractors are employed to perform these technical treatments.
Statewide, hundreds of acres of hemlock forest including thousands of individual trees have been protected. Once treated, trees are tagged so that they can be identified later and are monitored annually to determine the effectiveness of the treatment and track the tree’s response.
As the HWA and the stress that they cause are removed, trees typically show flushes of bright green new growth the following spring. The insecticides have proven to be very effective but must be used responsibly and within limits. Each year, State Park staff evaluate potential areas for treatment and make difficult decisions working with limited resources as these treatments are expensive, temporary, and labor intensive.
HWA is a serious threat but there is much reason for optimism. Chemical control has proven to be a safe, effective tool against the pest although has its limits in size and scale. Biological control has been increasingly successful in some states to the south where it has been ongoing for longer than New York and there are promising early returns where releases have occurred here but it is still too early to tell if and when the biological controls could become the primary weapon against HWA.
While the management of hemlocks through chemical and biological control can only be done by the experts, you can help by volunteering to look for and report HWA sightings and even preserving hemlocks right at your own home. Each and every piece of information about the distribution of HWA in New York through volunteer sightings allows land managers and researches to stay right on the heels of this pest.
Hemlock Woolly Adelgid (HWA) is a tiny, invasive insect which kills hemlock trees in a matter of 6 years. Please see the previous post on HWA for more information. The insect was introduced in Virginia in the early 1900’s, and has steadily spread since then. New York state contains all stages of HWA infestation. There are…
It’s always made good sense. If you feel down or need to clear your head, go out and take a walk. That is what happened recently at Minnewaska State Park Preserve, when 10 people and Abe, an energetic Golden Retriever, set out for a hike on a cool, somewhat damp autumn morning in October.
But it was a hike with a special purpose – to explore a Japanese-inspired concept called “Forest Bathing” (Shinrin-yoku ), which is a form of nature therapy that requires no actual bathing. The term was coined by the Japanese Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, and Fisheries in 1982, and can be defined as contacting and taking in the atmosphere of the forest.
Japanese officials began exploring the concept in response to what government officials saw as rising levels of unhealthy stress among residents of an advanced industrialized nation that was undergoing rapid technological change.
The basic idea in Shinrin-yoku is to observe and experience natural surroundings with a slowed and deliberate focus, rather than treating a hike as a distance between two points to covered briskly in competition with whatever else pops into one’s head.
And while to some forest bathing may sound like a gauzy abstraction, there is a growing body of scientific evidence showing real and measurable physical and mental health benefits from spending time in nature.
For example, this 2010 study in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health and Preventative Medicine, based on field experiments with 280 people across 24 different forest and urban locations in Japan, found “forest environments promote lower concentrations of cortisol (the so-called “fight or flight” stress hormone), lower pulse rate, lower blood pressure, greater parasympathetic nerve activity, and lower sympathetic nerve activity than do city environments … The results of the field experiments also provide a platform for interested enterprises, universities, and local governments to promote the effective use of forest resources in stress management, health promotion, rehabilitation, and the prevention of disease.”
Since then, other studies have reconfirmed these results. Some of these studies can be found online at the International Society of Nature and Forest Medicine, which is linked at the bottom of this story.
That’s something to pay attention to when average Americans spend 93 percent of their time indoors or in automobiles, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And it is especially important when many of us are stressed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and have been turning to healthy and safe outdoor activities, like hiking and other activities in State Parks, where there are more than 300,000 acres of forest to “bathe” in throughout the year.
Visits to Parks during this season remained strong, with overall 2020 attendance through October down only 2 percent compared to 2019, even given the density reduction requirements, cancellation of the early camping season, and closure of indoor facilities during the pandemic.
At Minnewaska’s program on an introduction to the concept of forest bathing, Michael and Geralyn O’Reilly, of Troy, along with Abe, their Golden Retriever, went with the group along the park’s Mossy Glen Trail to a bridge over the Peterskill creek.
During the walk (where people used masks when not social distancing), participants were encouraged to move slowly, deliberately, while pausing to focus on breathing, putting thoughts of everyday issues out of their minds, and taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the woods filled with oak and laurel around them.
On starting a hike, participants first took time to quietly stretch and breathe, focusing on slow movement of various joints like the ankles, knees, shoulders and neck.
Key to that is the idea of “settling into” a present moment, rather than thinking about anything else that presents itself, which relates to the Buddhist concept of the “monkey mind,” referring to a parade of thoughts that are unsettled, restless and intrusive in the manner of a non-stop “to do” list.
“A program like this helps us to slow down and better experience this beautiful place,” said Geralyn O’Reilly. “And as someone who loves the outdoors, I enjoy being here with like-minded people.”
Growing up in the Bronx, Robert Dosch now lives in Orange County and visits Minnewaska often. Relaxing after the hike, he said, “I have always enjoyed being in the outdoors. A program like this gives you a new perspective … It helps to be reminded that there are times when you should put everything aside and just be where you are.”
Forest Bathing is a practice that reconnects us with nature and its healing properties. This is not just about hiking, getting to a destination, or exercise. This is downshifting and unplugging, which can be difficult when smart devices can bring distractions and demands for attention. Urbanization and the saturation of technology in our lives has disconnected us from our direct sensory experience of sight, sound, smell, touch, taste.
Forest Bathing is the antidote this type of sensory anesthesia. Like a bath, you are soaking; only you are soaking in all your senses. A Forest Bathing walk offers different sensory invitations to allow you to connect more deeply with nature. This connection allows nature to quiet our busy minds and reveal the beauty of the present moment.
Although the term Forest Bathing is relatively new, by no means is this a new practice. The healing properties of nature have been recognized throughout time by virtually all cultures. The only change is that now we have scientific data to back up this intuitive knowledge.
Of course, it is important to remember that nature, including its health benefits, is not just a resource to be taken. There is something more innate at play. Forest Bathing helps reconnect humans with the outdoor world to which we are naturally adapted, where we have spent more than 99 percent of our time as a species. The recent pandemic has made one thing clear as unprecedented numbers of people have flocked to parks and preserves across the United States – people need nature. As we restore our relationship with the natural world, we are reminded of the vital reality that we, too, must take care of nature as it takes care of us.
Post by Jane Dobson, Mindful Outdoor Nature Guide, MindtheForest LLC
Don’t worry about being in the forest if that is not possible. Any nearby park or natural open area will do, any time of the year.
Before you begin your hike, do some basic stretches of your ankles, knees, neck, wrists and hips. This relates to a practice in yoga called “the eight churnings,” which will stimulate the fluid that lubricates joints.
Allow yourself three full minutes before starting the hike to just breathe deliberately and relax. This quiets the mind and allows you to notice more. It may be hard to sit still at first, but that will come easier with time.
Once on the hike, move slowly and deliberately. Take time to pause from time to time to take in the surroundings. Pick a feature, like a tree, rock or portion of a stream, that appeals to you. Try to avoid letting your thoughts wander off from where you are and what you are experiencing.
Take time to sit down. Experience quietness, which can allow you to notice small sounds and events that might otherwise have gone undetected. By just sitting, you will begin to connect more deeply with nature.