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.

gps.jpg
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

Yes, We Have Pickles

Long before refrigeration and supermarkets made it possible to get fresh fruits and vegetables from around the world, our predecessors relied upon drying, salting, fermenting, and pickling summer’s bounty for winter meals.

Allowing the wind and sun to dry food is the oldest method of food preservation. The Seneca and other New York Native American tribes dried millions of bushels of corn each year. The dried corn was turned into hulled dry corn and corn flour to sustain people during the colder months.  Native Americans also dried meats, fish, and fruits such as blueberries for their winter meals.

Ganondagan Husking Bee10_Carol Llewellyn
Ganondagan State Historic Site Husking Bee, photo by Carol Llewellyn

Pickling vegetables and fruits goes back as far as 2030 BC. Pickling can be done in two ways, soaking the fruit or vegetable in either vinegar or saltwater (brine). The word pickle is a variation of the Dutch word for brine – pekel. Soaking vegetables in a brine bath is known as lacto-fermentation where lactic acid bacteria turn sugar in food to lactic acid.

Pickles of one sort or another have been produced and eaten in New York homes for many generations.  Early European settlers sometimes used New World ingredients in their Old-World pickle recipes.  One example of this is black walnut pickles, a variation of Old World English walnut pickles.  Pickle recipes were passed down from one generation to another, with housewives recording the recipes in their special recipe book.

New York’s first European colonists were the Dutch, who maintained settlements along the Hudson River as far north as Fort Orange (now Albany).  The van Rensselaers were a prominent Dutch family in the Hudson Valley.  When sturgeon was abundant in the Hudson River, Maria van Rensselaer (a cousin to the Fort Crailo van Rensselaers) would use this hand-written recipe to pickle the sturgeon.

On the score of hospitality p12
van Rensselaer family recipe to pickle Sturgeon, from Kellar, p. 12

And this recipe to pickle cucumbers:

Keep the Fruit n pickle till green, changing it often, then in cold water 2 days changing very frequently, then wipe and dry them & to every six lb fruit 8 lb Sugar, 6 lemons, ¾ raw ginger a bit of Mace- boiled to a clear Syrup.  When cold pour it on the fruit, the day after pour it off & give it another boil – the next day as the same & as often as necessary, never pour it on hot, for it will spoil them.

Eggs were one of many foods that were pickled because egg production is linked to day length; hens need about 13 hours of light a day to lay eggs.  Staff at Loyalist home Philipse Manor Hall may have used a recipe similar to this recipe from The Lady’s Assistant (p. 277) to make pickled eggs.

To pickle Eggs.

BOIL the eggs very hard: peel them, and put them into cold water, shifting them till they are cold.  Make a pickle of white-wine vinegar, a blade of mace, a bunch of sweet herbs, and a little whole pepper; take the eggs out of the water, and put them immediately into the pickle, which must be hot; stir them a good while, that they may look all alike; untie the herbs, and spread them over the top of the pot, but cover them with nothing else till they are turned brown; they will be fit to eat in nine or ten days.

Bruise some cochineal; tie it up in a rag; dip it in the vinegar, and squeeze it gently over the egg, and then let the rag lie in the Pickle. This is a great addition.

During his stay at the Hasbrouck House in the Hudson Valley it is possible that George Washington, who was a big pickle fan, dined on some of his wife’s pickles. Recipes from Martha Washington’s hand-written Booke of Cookery includes recipes (or receipts as they were once called) for pickling a variety of food from cowcumbers (cucumbers) to mackerel – George probably enjoyed them all!

220px-American_Cookery_(1st_Ed,_1796,_cover)

Cooks in the Jay, Livingston, and Schuyler families may have had access to Amelia Simmons American Cooke, the first American cookbook  It was first published in Hartford, Connecticut 1796, with a second publication in Albany New York also in 1796.

Pickling recipes in Simmons cookbook included pickling the barberry fruit:

The Lincklaen family recipe book from Lorenzo House included to pickle Chalottes (shallots) and to pickled cucumbers.

Pickled charlottes and cucumbers
Recipes for pickled Chalottes (shallots) and cucumbers from the Lincklaen family cookbook.

Frederic Church’s family maintained a farm and gardens at Olana in the Hudson Valley.  Some of the produce from the farm was used to make pickles, including this Sweet Variety pickle:

OL2000-959
Church family recipe for Sweet Variety pickle

Pickles were not only important part of many New York family meals, they were also a menu staple on the military bases in New York as this menu from Fort Ontario illustrates.

Fort Ontario Christmas dinner menu 1939
Christmas dinner menu, 1939, Fort Ontario.

If you would like to learn more about preserving the summer harvest, maybe you can join in on the We Can Pickle That! program at Clermont State Historic Site on September 8.

Please note: recipes in this blog are for historic reference only and should not be made at home.  The National Center for Home Food Preservation provides a wealth of information about food preservation as well as food preservation recipes for the modern family.

Resources:

Avey, Tory. (2014) History in a Jar: The Story of Pickles

Colonial Williamsburg, Food Preservation Fact Sheet

Extra Slaw, Pickled Green Black Walnuts

Kellar, Jane Carpenter. (1986) On the score of hospitality : selected recipes of a van Rensselaer family, Albany, New York, 1785 – 1835 : a Historic Cherry Hill recipe collection. Albany, NY, Historic Cherry Hill.

Mason, Charlotte. (1778) The Lady’s Assistant 3rd Edition, London.

National Center for Home Food Preservation, Historical Origins of Food Preservation

Washington, Martha. (1799) Booke of cookery.  K. Hess commentary, New York, NY, Columbia University Press

Wikipedia, Pickling.

Still_life_with_sausages
Still Life With Sausages, accessed from WikiCommons

The Ghost Plant: A Closer Look At The Spookiest Plant In The Forest

What’s black and white and spooky all over? The ghost plant! More commonly known as Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) since it is said to resemble a Native American peace pipe, it is also known as corpse plant, death plant, and ghost flower. This unusual looking plant is often mistaken as a fungus because it is mostly white and doesn’t have any chlorophyll… but it is really a flowering plant and is actually part of the same Family (Ericaceae) that includes blueberries, cranberries, azaleas, and Rhododendrons. Weird, right?

indian_pipe (missouri department of conservation)
Photo by Missouri Department of Conservation

You’ll often find Indian pipes in dark and spooooky environments. Since it doesn’t have any chlorophyll it doesn’t need light to photosynthesize its own food. Instead, the food source for this plant is a lot more sinister, for it is actually a parasite! Specifically, Indian pipes are parasitic on mycorrhizal fungi in the soil. Mycorrhizal fungi have a symbiotic relationship with trees (epiparasitism), meaning both the fungi and trees both benefit from each other. The tree gathers sunlight and use it to turn water and carbon dioxide into sugars and other carbohydrates. The fungi harvest minerals in the soil. The tree and fungi then exchange these resources in a process that resembles a harmonious story of cooperation and mutual benefit. It is then exploited by the Indian pipe.

What happens is the tree obtains its energy (sugars and other carbohydrates) from photosynthesis and the fungus obtain some of those sugars directly from the tree roots. So how does the Indian pipe get its energy from the fungus? Some menacing tom-foolery, that’s how! The Indian pipe actually tricks the fungus into thinking it is forming a mycorrhizal relationship, but in fact the Indian pipe is parasitizing the fungus! The Indian pipe essentially gets a free ride and doesn’t have to produce its own energy or absorb its own minerals. Typically, when a parasite exploit a host the host fights back, but for some reason the fungus and tree goes along with the Indian pipe’s menacing ploy.

By Staben, accessed from Wikicommons
Indian pipe flowers, photo by Staben, accessed from Wikicommons

After months, and sometimes years, of gathering its nutrients from the fungus into its root system, the Indian pipe, almost rather suddenly, develops above ground. White stalks and then flowers are produced, which are then pollinated by insects. Once pollinated the Indian pipe releases tens of thousands of extremely tiny seeds, which hardly have the food storage capacity to start a new plant. Those seeds are dispersed long distances by wind and settles to the ground. Once there, the seeds actually don’t start growing right away. In fact, the seeds chemically mimic a tree’s root systems and wait for certain types of mycorrhizal fungus to come along. The fungus then attaches to the seed as it would to a tree, but then is forced into providing nutrients the tiny seeds needs to grow! So essentially, from seedling to growth to pollination to seed dispersal, the Indian pipe does almost absolutely nothing itself!

Ryan Hodnett, accessed from Wikicommons
Dried Indian pipe flowers, photo by Ryan Hodnett, accessed from Wikicommons

Due to its fascinating nature, the Indian pipe has been immortalized by many poets and storytellers in their works, including Emily Dickinson, whose favorite flower was the Indian pipe. She drafted the poem “‘Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe-” in 1879:

Tis whiter than an Indian Pipe –
‘Tis dimmer than a Lace –
No stature has it, like a Fog
When you approach the place –
Not any voice imply it here –
Or intimate it there –
A spirit – how doth it accost –
What function hath the Air?
This limitless Hyperbole
Each one of us shall be –
‘Tis Drama – if Hypothesis
It be not Tragedy –

Post by Matt Brincka, State Parks

A Spider Sampler

Few creatures are as iconic in the public imagination as the spider. From the ancient Greek myth of Arachne, the Akan folktale character Anansi, or the titular hero of Charlotte’s Web, these stealthy, silk-spinning predators have a long history of popping up in our shared myths and stories.

However, despite their cultural prominence, these awesome hunters are often unfairly feared and misunderstood. Spiders play an important role in balancing our ecosystems, such as by consuming pests that may destroy crops or carry disease. Fortunately, there’s no better way to learn about our fascinating eight-legged friends than by getting out to our state park system and seeing them first hand!

Spiders belong to the class Arachnida, which encompasses other joint-legged invertebrates such as scorpions, ticks, mites and harvestmen – some 100,000 species all in all!

In New York’s seasonal northern climate, spiders typically live about a year. They typically survive the winter as eggs and develop into adulthood during the summer. All spiders produce silk – thin, strong protein strands produced in the abdomen. Although best-known as the raw material for spider webs, not all spiders use their silk to catch prey – they may also use it to cover egg sacs, create waterproof retreats or to produce draglines to help them travel long distances on the breeze.

There are about 40,000 identified spider species worldwide. Here, we’re going to focus on just a handful of the more common species you might find in New York state – and imagine what they might say if they could speak for themselves.

Marbled Orb Weaver (20)bst
Marbled Orb Weaver (Araneus marmoreus)

As a Marbled Orbweaver, I tend to get around. We’re found all over the continent grasses – basically anywhere in the woods or near streams or other running water. So when people ask me where I’m from, I tend to be at a loss – North America, I guess? When I look in the mirror I don’t see just another Araneus –  I see me.” – Jose, Marbled Orbweaver, Brooklyn.

Shamrock Spider
Shamrock spider, Araneus trifolium

“I wake up early every day to at what’s left of yesterday’s web and build a brand new one in its place. Some people call me a perfectionist – I think I just see the value of a job well-done, even if you don’t always get noticed for it. Personally, I think it’s more satisfying to find meaning in the work you do – which you can control – rather than on being recognized, which you can’t.” Mike, Shamrock Spider, Utica.

yellow garden spider DWSP
Yellow garden spider, Argiope aurantia

“It can be lonely being a Garden Spider sometimes. I’m diurnal, so I like to be out during the day, unlike my nocturnal orb weaving cousins. But I just try to keep my head down, refreshing that web glue every day and eating my lunch out in the sunshine.” – Shereen, Black and Yellow Garden Spider, Niagara Falls.

Learn more about New York Spiders:

Borror, Donald J. and Richard E. White, A Field Guide to Insects: America North of Mexico; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1998

BASF Spider Identification Guide

NY State Dept. of Conservation  Common Spiders of NY Brochure

Post by Ben Mattison, State Parks

Be a Voyageur!

Since the 1980s, there has been a 36-foot long, 16 passenger (plus two staff), fiberglass Voyageur canoe at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center in Wellesley Island State Park. No one really knows where the canoe came from or exactly what year it arrived, but there are a few stories told about its origins.  Some say there used to be five Voyageur canoes located in parks along the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario and some say the canoe was made by NYS Parks’ employees.  Ultimately, the mystery of its origin is part of its mystique.  What they will say is that every summer for about the last 30 years park visitors and Nature Center staff have headed out on daily trips in our canoe to learn about the history of the Voyageurs and to explore the ecology of Eel Bay, the Narrows, and Escanaba Bay.

Voyageur canoe trips leave the Nature Center docks at 9 am and return at 11 am, but there is plenty for staff to do before anyone ever steps foot into the boat.  If it has rained, staff must bail the canoe and dry the wooden seats for passengers.

Unknown photographer 2003
Novice voyageurs head out on their first journey, photo by State Parks.

They also move the boat into place on the docks so it is ready for the day.  When that day’s voyageurs come down to the dock house they are fitted with personal floatation devices (PFD’s) and paddles while being taught about the fundamentals of paddling before heading out to the canoe.  Loading the canoe with passengers can be quite tricky, as people who are likely to be stronger paddlers must be strategically positioned in the boat and the canoe must be balanced on the water to safely leave the docks.  Once the canoe is balanced and its passengers comfortable, staff jump in at the bow (front) and stern (back) and slowly steer the boat out into Eel Bay.

The staff member sitting at the bow of the boat begins the interpretation as the large boat gets underway.  They talk about how the canoe weighs 1,000 pounds empty and how it is made of fiberglass.  As the passengers paddle, they discuss the importance of Eel Bay as a large, shallow water bay on the St. Lawrence.  Then conversation shifts to the Voyageurs who were part of the French fur trading companies that existed in the 18th and 19th centuries.  The interpreter weaves a tale about the adventures Voyageurs had as they transported furs, predominately beaver, from Montreal to trading posts along the shores of Lake Superior.  As the boat rounds the sharp turn into the Narrows passengers learn what a day in the life of a Voyageur was like, from what they ate to how they were paid.  The staff member sitting in the stern who has been quietly working to steer the boat will ease it to a stop as the canoe coasts into Escanaba Bay.  Passengers will spend a little time admiring the plentiful water lilies that dot the bay before reversing course and heading back towards the Nature Center.  On the return trip to our docks, some time is dedicated to floating along in silence, taking in the sights and sounds of the majestic St. Lawrence River.

Molly Farrell
Pat and Aziel Snyder standing next to the newly restored Voyageur canoe. Doesn’t it look beautiful? Photo by State Parks.

The canoe had begun to show its age in recent years but last winter Pat Snyder of River Restorations, a local boat restoration company, beautifully restored it to top condition.  A few sections of the gunnels were replaced, the gunnels and seats sanded down and refinished, the seats reinforced to help prevent deflection when people are stepping into the boat, and the fiberglass shell was repainted.  The canoe once again looks majestic and is ready to go out on the water!

Each July and August, look for the return of our sleek Voyageur canoe to the Nature Center’s dock.  For just $4 (anyone over 13) or $2 (under 13) you can join staff from the Nature Center on a memorable journey on smooth waters, travelling the shorelines of Wellesley Island.

For information on upcoming trips, please visit our Facebook page (Minna Anthony Common Nature Center- Friends).  To have enough paddle power to steer the boat, we must have at least 8 people over the age of 18 on board.  To reserve a spot on a trip, please call the Nature Center at 315-482-2479.

Post by Molly Farrell, July 2018

Learn more about Voyaguers:

Durbin, William; The Broken Paddle; Delacorte Press, NY, 1997.

Ernst, Kathleen; The Trouble and Fort La Point; Pleasant Company Publications, Middleton, WI, 2000.

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