Category Archives: Winter Activities

Human Zamboni Machines of Moreau Lake State Park

On of my favorite childhood memories was going to an outdoor ice skating rink behind a warehouse in South Glens Falls in Warren County. It was only a field with a large frozen puddle but to me it was amazing. Years later now in my role as manager at Moreau Lake State Park, I wanted to give people near my park the same opportunity.

I started researching ice rinks and how to make them safe but also affordable for the park. While we do have the lake to work with, lake and pond ice usually is bumpy and cracked, thus making stumbles and falls more likely. As I continued researching online, an image of a homemade Zamboni apparatus popped up. Major ice rinks use large Zamboni machines to lay down smooth coats of ice on indoor rinks, but that kind of heavy machinery was not in my budget, so the hand-made model I saw looked like the way to go!

Using a steady flow of warm water to apply a continuous smooth ice surface just like the big machines, a small, human-powered Zamboni was my solution to make lake ice smooth and safe for skaters.

Our two homemade units were created by Aaron Aiken, a staffer at Moreau, who fabricated them after seeing the online photo. It was amazing. Aaron simply gathered all the materials he needed and finished in a day. We had most of the parts needed on hand at the park so there was little to no cost to us.

Aaron assembled a 55-gallon poly tank (used to hold the warm water), a 10-foot piece of 2-inch PVC pipe, a 2-inch PVC valve, a 4-foot piece of felt or wool (for trailing the water and flattening it out as smooth ice) and a sturdy wheeled cart. With that and a bit of ingenuity _ presto, a human powered Zamboni machine!

Moreau staffers Donna Fortner (left), and Jay Hauser, load up the Zambonis with warm water before going to lay down ice on the rink.

Zambonis work by slowly drizzling out warm water over the surface of existing ice. The warm water melts all the high spots and fills in all the lows before freezing to create a perfectly smooth surface perfect for skating. The operator judges how fast they want water to come out by adjusting the flow with the valve.

At Moreau, our crew pulls a Zamboni around the rink three times before it runs out of water, and then the other Zamboni takes its place. It is important to have two setups because ridges can form in the ice if you stop putting down warm water even for an instant. To create a smooth rink, it took about 110 gallons of water, applied by two Zambonis over six laps, for a total of about an hour of work.

Measuring 250 feet by 100 feet, the outdoor skating rink at Moreau Lake State Park welcomes skaters! The Park has free loaner skates.

Another service that Moreau Lake State Park provides to visitors is the Daily Ice Report. Parks staffers measure the thickness of the ice starting a day after rink ice is laid on, meaning when the ice totally covers the surface of the lake, we wait a day and then start the ice thickness report. Two staff members start at shore with an ice auger and drill through the ice and measure the thickness. If it is under 3 inches they stop at that hole. If it is over 4 inches, they move out 20 feet and drill another hole. They follow the same procedures until it is determined that the average thickness (average readings taken from multiple places on the lake) is at least 6 inches.

When that happens, the lake is opened to skaters, pedestrians and ice fishermen. These ice reports are published over social media every day at 8:00 a.m. until the ice is safe and then these reports are replaced by the open one.

All this comes together to make the lake a safe and enjoyable place to recreate in the winter. At our rink, located just off the beach, a campfire is usually going nearby so skaters can warm themselves. So grab your skates (or borrow ours) and give us a visit!

Cover shot – Moreau staffer Jay Hauser (foreground) pulls a homemade Zamboni around the skating rink at Moreau Lake State Park, as fellow staffer Donna Fortner comes along behind with the second Zamboni . All images NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

Post by Al LaFountain, Park Manager, Moreau Lake State Park and Grant Cottage State Historic Site

More about Moreau Lake State Park


Covering some 6,250 acres in Saratoga County, Moreau Lake State Park features hardwood forests, pine stands, and rocky ridges. More than 30 miles of hiking trails are available, and can be used for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Snowshoe rentals are available.

Last year, Governor Kathy Hochul announced an 860-acre expansion of this park to include spectacular natural habitat along an undeveloped stretch of the Hudson River that will be known as Big Bend Point.  This acquisition makes Moreau Lake State Park one of the ten largest parks in the state park system.


Resources


Learn about a Gilded Age ice skater who helped promote figure skating for women from this previous blog post by the curator at Staatsburgh State Historic Site.

Gilded Age Ice Skater Carved Early Path

Staatsburgh State Historic Site, formerly the Gilded Age estate of the very wealthy and socially-prominent Ruth Livingston Mills and her husband, financier and philanthropist Ogden Mills, sits along the eastern bank of the Hudson River in the mid-Hudson Valley. Commanding a view of the river and the Catskill Mountains, the estate’s Beaux-Arts mansion was once … Continue reading Gilded Age Ice Skater Carved Early Path

A hand-operated Zamboni machine is on display at the Original Hockey Hall of Fame in Museum, in Kingston, Ontario, where it is also described as a “hand flooder.” (Photo credit – Wikipedia Commons)

“Skating is in my heart, not my head.” – Olympic Medalist Michelle Kwan

Volcanoes On A Great Lake

If you were told there could be volcanoes along the shore of Lake Erie in winter, would you believe it? While it may be hard to imagine, Lake Erie does in fact produce volcanoes and Evangola State Park can be one of the best places to see them!

Unlike traditional volcanoes, the ones found at Evangola State Park are not made of rock and magma, but rather water and ice. Ice volcanoes are a temporary outcome of a partially frozen lake. When ice begins to form on the water’s surface, powerful winds push large waves towards the shore. As they do, the water is sandwiched between the shore and the ice, creating a buildup of pressure.

A gap in shelf ice allows for potential formation of an ice volcano.

Eventually with nowhere else to go, this pressure causes the water to burst through cracks in the ice. The resulting spray from this burst, freezes on the ice surface, accumulating in the shape of a cone with an open, unfrozen center. With each successive wave, plumes of water erupt from the newly formed ice volcano, building this winter wonder to potential heights of 20-plus feet! Occasionally the ice may build up in the shape of a cone, but without an open center. These rolling hills of ice become so called ice-dunes.

While Lake Erie is one of the best locations to see ice volcanoes, Lakes Ontario, Michigan, and Superior can also produce these icy cones when conditions are right. For example, such volcanoes have also recently formed during the cold snap at Hamlin Beach State Park in Monroe County and Fair Haven Beach State Park in Cayuga County.

Ice Volcano at Hamlin Beach State Park in February 2022. (Photo Credit – Friends of Hamlin Beach State Park/Denise Bianrosa Duffy)

Further from home but to the excitement of many, in 2021 a 45-foot tall ice volcano formed in southeastern Kazakhstan as water from a hot spring gushed through a thick layer of ice, creating a massive volcano for all to enjoy. 

But also, to be clear, the shelf ice on a lake where these structures form can be extremely unsafe and people are strongly advised against venturing out on it to get closer to ice volcanoes.

Confine sightseeing to the shoreline or stick with a guided tour by a trained Parks naturalist. One such hike is scheduled for Feb. 8 at Evangola State Park. Check with the park to learn if the volcanoes have formed.

As a recent warning from the police department in Halton, Ontario, describes, if someone falls through shelf ice or down the opening of an ice volcano into the lake water below, it can be nearly impossible to get out even if aid is nearby. Cold lake water can quickly induce hypothermia, which can lead to death.

This graphic below illustrates the danger:


A shoreline guided tour past ice volcanoes at Evangola State Park. Remember, DO NOT venture out on shelf ice or approach an ice volcano. It is EXTREMELY DANGEROUS with the potential for falling into the lake water below with little chance of getting out.

Leaving earthly risk behind for a moment, scientists have even been able to detect ice volcanoes from several planets and moons deep in space. Typically called cryovolcanoes, these are defined as volcanoes that erupt with ice, water, or other materials such as methane and ammonia. In 2010, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft found possible ice volcanoes on Saturn’s moon Titan and in 2016 images from the Dawn space probe revealed dozens of ancient ice volcanoes on the dwarf planet Ceres

Ahuna Mons, an ice volcano on the dwarf planet Ceres, as seen by NASA’s Dawn spacecraft. (Photo Credit – NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS, DLR and IDA

Back on earth, favorable conditions for ice volcano formation here in New York haven’t been consistent in recent years. Warmer winters have resulted in less ice on all the Great Lakes. In 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that only 2.4 percent of the Great Lakes surface was covered by ice in late January, the smallest amount in nearly 50 years. It was also noted that it was ninth-warmest January on record. While strong waves are needed to form ice volcanoes, strong waves with warmer temperatures will result in their destruction or prevent them from forming at all.

Despite our changing climate, ice volcanoes can still be a common occurrence during the winter months. The biggest change is in their longevity. For example, in the past several years, ice volcanoes at Evangola State Park have only lasted a few weeks or even just a few days after forming, as sudden warm spells take hold and break them apart.

For your best chance to experience ice volcanoes, be sure to keep a close watch on your local weather forecast and head towards the lake shore after a push of cold artic air passes through. To add to the adventure of enjoying these frozen phenomena, our team of environmental educators offer guided hikes all winter long, sharing what makes our Great Lakes environment so unique.

For those interested in learning more, look for guided hikes through the Niagara Region Parks Interpretive Programs Office.

An ice volcano “erupts” (on left) at Fair Haven Beach State Park on Lake Ontario. Photo credit – Caroline Lamie, Office Manager/Senior Researcher/Tour & Event Coordinator, Fort Ontario State Historic Site

Cover shot – Ice Volcanoes in 2021 at Evangola State Park. All photos NYS Parks unless otherwise noted.

Post by Matt Nusstein, Environmental Educator, Niagara Region NYS Parks

Resources

Learn about ice volcanoes on the the Keweenaw Peninsula of Lake Superior.

Learn about the presence of Cryovolcanism in the Solar System in this report from the BBC.

Learn about other Great Lakes wonders to look for at NYS Parks in previous Parks Blog posts.

Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!

Along the shores of Lake Erie, Evangola State Park becomes a winter sports mecca as the lake’s famous lake-effect snowstorms blanket the park! Lake-effect snow occurs when cold, Canadian air moves across Lake Erie evaporating its open waters and causing intense, local snow bands which can drop one to two inches of snow per hour. … Continue reading Evangola State Park: Lake Erie’s Winter Playground!

Geocaching in a Winter Wonderland for 2022

While the ground may soon be frozen or covered in snow (or not), that doesn’t mean the hunt for a hidden treasure in a state park has to stop.

Through this summer and fall, more than 220 people searching in three State Parks regions found enough geocaches – hidden little containers of trinkets whose locations are identified by Global Position System (GPS) coordinates – to be awarded special 2021 New York State Geocache Challenge coins.

To earn the coins, geocache hunters had to locate at least 45 out of more than 230 concealed caches, with 35 “finds” coming from one of the three regions and the balance from either of the other two regions. Cache-seekers used coordinates with their own GPS devices to locate the caches, and were able to take some trinkets and leave some of their own for subsequent seekers to find.

Altogether, nearly 4,700 people took part in the seasonal challenge, which wrapped up in mid-November and covered 56 state parks and historic sites in Central New York, the Saratoga-Capital District Region, and the Hudson Valley. Odds of finding enough caches to earn a coin worked out to roughly 1 in 20. So obviously, the caches were not in plain sight!

Use the slider bar to compare the front and back of the 2021 New York State Parks Geocache Challenge coin. This coin was available in the Saratoga/Capital District Region, where 78 people found enough caches to qualify for the free coin.

This season, three Parks regions are hosting winter geocache events,

Tthe Saratoga-Capital District Region is hosting a “Winter 33” Geocache Challenge, which will offer 33 “winter-friendly” caches placed in three parks in the region. This challenge will run from Jan. 15 to April 15, 2022. There will no geocoins available during this winter challenge, so it it all just for the fun of it!

In the Taconic Region of the Hudson Valley, the 2022 Winter Geocache Challenge will take place at Lake Taghkanic State Park in Ancram, Clarence Fahnestock Memorial State Park in Cold Spring, and Mills Norrie State Park in Staatsburg.

And in the Central Region, there will nearly 70 geocaches placed at 14 Parks and Historic Sites, including Battle Island, Fort Ontario, Green Lakes, Chenango Valley, Robert Riddell, Glimmerglass, Hyde Hall, Herkimer Home, Chittenango Falls, Clark Reservation, Old Erie Canal, Lorenzo House, and Verona Beach.

And what might a “winter-friendly cache be? Well, that means the items will be hidden in a way that prevents them from being buried in the snow, such as being hung from tree branches or tucked up under a bench or a picnic table.

To find the caches, download the Geocaching app or follow the coordinates of the caches listed on the Geocaching.com website. When you find a cache, stamp your passport with the stamp inside each cache the turn it in to the state park indicated on the passport. Remember to leave the stamp behind for others that come after you.

Geocaching in winter presents its own challenges of snow and cold weather. Make sure to dress for the weather, with warm clothing, gloves and winter boots. Carrying extra water during the winter is advisable to avoid dehydration. And always carry a flashlight or headlamp, as daylight hours are shorter in the winter.

The geocoins awarded previously are trackables, since each coin carries a unique identifying number that can be activated online and then tracked as coins are located, reported and moved to new locations by their owners or subsequent geocachers. “Owners” of the geocoin, along with anyone else who knows its number, can follow its travels online.

So far, the geocoin that has traveled the farthest from a state park is from the 2015  Saratoga-Capital District Region Geocache Challenge. Most recently located in the southernmost point in the U.S. on the Big Island of Hawaii last month, this token (TB6Y60Y) has so far trekked 190,655 miles to such places as the Mediterranean island of Malta, Germany, the Kapaleeshwarar Temple in India, Japan, Israel, and more than 350 other places.

According to the owner’s page, they want to “travel to at least one state park in each state across the USA.” Now there is a mission that we can all get behind!

Happy Holidays and Happy Geocaching!

Seek and You Might Find: Geocaching In NYS Parks

I am not stealthy. This is not new information, but I didn’t realize how sloppy I was at sneaking around until I tried geocaching—a worldwide game of locating some of millions of little hidden stashes. This outdoor activity relies on the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, where participants place caches of trinkets, also … Continue reading Seek and You Might Find: Geocaching In NYS Parks


Post by Chris Kenyon, Park Manager, Mine Kill State Park

Welcome 2022 With a First Day Hike!

As the year and its challenges draw to a close, New Yorkers can look forward to 2022, hoping the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused so much stress and tribulation will recede from our lives.

During the pandemic, many people have embraced outdoor activity as a safe and healthy response, and the 11th annual First Day Hike events on Jan. 1 are a great way to ring in the New Year on public hiking trails across the state.

More than 80 such hikes will be held at State Parks, Historic Sites, state Department of Environmental Conservation lands, wildlife areas, Forest Preserve trails and environmental education centers.


In light of the ongoing pandemic, event options for hikes range from self-guided treks to small staff- or volunteer-led hikes to multiple event options that day, allowing participants the time and space to social distance while still enjoying nature’s winter wonders. 

Because of the recent surge in COVID-19, Governor Kathy Hochul last week announced new masking requirements for going inside all public places and businesses. Read more about that here.

There are a variety of hikes from seal walks, fire tower treks, lakefront trails, boardwalks, and canal towpaths, to walks along waterfalls, historic estates, military forts and more.

The walks and hikes are family-friendly, and typically range from one to five miles depending on the location and conditions.  Some First Day Hike events may include drawings for an annual Empire Pass, as well as keepsake giveaways.

Click on this slideshow below to see previous First Day Hike events…


Click here for a listing of Parks events for 2022, or use this interactive map below to locate hikes.

Additional information can be found online at parks.ny.gov and dec.ny.gov. Interested participants are encouraged to check the details of their preferred host site and pre-register where required; alternate locations should be considered as capacity restrictions and registration limits may impact availability.  

As always with winter hiking, remember to dress warmly and in layers, while keeping in mind this old Scandinavian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.”

And with snow and ice possible on many hiking trails, make sure to use proper footwear, and consider adding traction devices, like Microspikes, for additional stability.

Whether maintaining a safe distance in a group or hiking on your own, remember that you are still part of something that is happening across the U.S. in all 50 states, and dates back to the initial First Day Hikes that started in Massachusetts in 1992.

So, get outside, keep safe, and let’s ring in 2022 to welcome better days ahead!

Lights in the Night at Niagara Falls

A custom energy-efficient LED lighting system that produces a rainbow of colors nightly at Niagara Falls State Park is a far cry from the simple technology used at the start of the Civil War when the falls were illuminated for the first time in honor of a visiting English prince.

The evening of Sept. 14, 1860, the falls were lit up for a short time using so-called Bengal lights, which were a centuries-old type of chemical flare that burned with bluish light. While it worked for the prince’s visit, this short-term and cumbersome method of lighting the falls was not to be used again.

A few years later, a new technology developed during the recently concluded Civil War came to the world-famous falls.  Spotlights used then were powered by heating up piles of calcium quicklime until it glowed brightly, which is the origin of the phrase of putting something “in the limelight.” Union forces had used such spotlights during the war to illuminate Confederate positions at night.

The emerging technology of electric lights arrived at the falls in 1879 to herald the arrival of an official couple from the government of Canada. More than two decades then passed before Walter D’Arcy Ryan, an innovative lighting engineer with Schenectady-based General Electric Co., designed a massive new searchlight system in 1907 that used colored gelatin films changed by hand to project different colors onto the face of the falls.

For 30 nights in a row in 1907, Ryan used 44 searchlights with colored filters, and powered with steam engines, to illuminate the entirety of Niagara Falls for the first time. Following this acclaimed success, he was named head of GE’s Illuminating Engineering Laboratory, the world’s first institution for research into lighting, created the following year in Schenectady.

According to the New York Tribune of Sept. 5, 1907, Niagara Falls looked far more dramatic lit up at night such that “words fail to describe the magnificence of the spectacle”. Another observer wrote: “It was a riot of glorious beauty, so new, so strange, so marvelous – so like some unearthly and unexplained magic that it held the spectator startled, then spellbound, speechless and delighted.”

Officials pose with the General Electric searchlight system used to illuminate Niagara Falls in these undated photographs. (Photo Credit- NYS Parks)

Ryan’s system was incredibly powerful for its day, producing more than 1 billion candela (a measurement of luminous intensity). That was the equivalent to more 8.3 million standard 110-watt lightbulbs!

By then, the illumination of the falls was proving to be an increasingly popular attraction, and in 1925 a joint U.S.-Canadian group was formed to manage and operate lighting – the Niagara Falls Illumination Board. The five-member board saw to it that new, even more powerful electric lights were installed for a ceremony that year. Lights were upgraded again in 1958, 1974, and 1997.

Today, visitors to Niagara Falls State Park are witnessing the work of an array of energy efficient LED lights that was installed in 2016. This $4 million custom system produces any color desired and has twice as much illumination as the previous lights, producing an enormous 8 billion candela. (For the lighting techies, that is more than eight times more powerful that the turn-of-the-century GE system, equivalent to the illumination from 66.6 million standard 110-watt lightbulbs!)

The array contains 12,600 LED lights, evenly divided among red, blue, green, and white. Red, blue, and green are the primary colors of light in physics and adjusting the ratios of each produces the full palette of colors. When all three colors are equally combined, that produces white light. The system at Niagara is powerful enough to span the 1,900 feet needed to reach the both the American and Horseshoe Falls.

A technician tests the new LED lighting system at Niagara Falls. (Photo Credit- Mulvey & Banani Lighting Inc.)

Click this slideshow below to see aspects of the LED array, including a close-up of the lights, their appearance once grouped, and use in action.

A schematic of how the LED light beams illuminate American Falls and Horseshoe Falls. (Photo Credit- Mulvey & Banani Lighting Inc.)

This unique custom system was designed by a consortium of companies including ECCO Electric Ltd., Salex Inc., Mulvey & Banani Lighting Inc., Sceneworks, and Stanley Electric. To test whether the LEDs could cast beams of light the distance needed, the crew successfully tested mockup systems across a lake in Ontario and along an abandoned aircraft runway!

The lights are operated via computer but can also be operated by two staff members who watch guard over the lights each night. They can even be programmed to perform shows such as “Inspired by Nature” which features colors and movements inspired by nature, including the sunrise, aurora borealis, rainbows and sunset.

Today the world-famous falls are lit up every night of the year in an ever-changing light show, the colors chosen to reflect a wide variety of causes, events, and people, all of which reviewed and approved by the board.

On June 15th, 2021, for example, the falls were illuminated in the official New York State colors of blue and gold in celebration of reaching 70 percent of New York adults receiving their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

In 2016, when Queen Elizabeth turned 90 on April 21, the falls were colored purple in her honor. It did cause a bit of unintended confusion.  The musician formerly known as Prince, who was closely associated with purple, died the same day so many people mistakenly thought the lighting was for him!

Other recent illumination highlights might be less well-known, including highlighting of the Republic of Bashkortostan, Wrongful Conviction Day, and Dress Purple Day, Bullying Prevention Month, Latvian Independence Day, and Dysautonomia awareness.

The falls have been illuminated blue to mark playoff appearances of the NFL Buffalo Bills, purple and gold to mark the tragic death of NBA star Kobe Bryant, a combination of red, white, and gold to honor the Canada’s gold-medal Olympic women’s soccer team, and blue and green for the Canadian professional basketball team Niagara River Lions.

The falls also have been lighted green for St. Patrick’s Day, rainbow colors for Pride Month, blue to mark the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), and red to welcome Chinese New Year.

One night a year, March 26, the falls go dark for an hour in honor of Earth Hour, a global initiative aimed at drawing attending to ongoing human-induced climate change. Click on the slideshow below to see some of Niagara Fall’s amazing colors!

With the ability to shine light through mist and flood both the American Falls and Horseshoe Falls with every color under the sky, the nightly illumination is the highlight of any visit to Niagara.

Hours of illumination vary by seasonal timing of nightfall, starting between 4:30 and 8:30 p.m., and wrapping up from 1 to 2 a.m. With the earlier nightfall in winter, the falls are illuminated earlier in the evening. When the falls freeze in the winter, creating massive ice formations, the lights take on another beautiful dimension.

The Illumination Board is an example of international cooperation between the U.S. and Canada, with its membership consisting of New York State Parks, Niagara Parks (Canada), the New York Power Authority, Ontario Hydro (Canada) and the cities of Niagara Falls in both the U.S. and Canada, which pay annual dues to cover the expenses associated with this special attraction.

The group is also charged with fulfilling requests for lighting for charitable organizations, special causes, global events, and other special occasions.  As the Falls is such a global icon, hundreds of requests are received each year.

Under board rules, requests cannot be considered for commercial purposes, personal occasions like birthdays or marriage proposals, religious or political events, and institutions, such as hospitals and schools.

Be sure to include an overnight on your next visit to Niagara Falls to catch the illumination. Pro tip: The best viewing from the American side is from Terrapin Point or Prospect Point.

Check out the schedule of lightings and learn more about the nightly illumination here.

Post by Angela Berti, Marketing and Public Affairs Coordinator, Niagara Region, NYS Parks

Watch this Youtube video below by Mulvey & Banani Lighting to learn more about how the Niagara Falls are illuminated…


Learn more about the color of light from the American Museum of Natural History.

Click below for a slideshow of historic Niagara Falls’ postcards showing its illumination…