Training the Doughboys

Looking over the playing fields at Fort Niagara State Park, it is hard to imagine that 100 years ago those fields were used for a different purpose: training young New Yorkers headed off to the ‘Great War.’

In April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson declared war on Germany, ending 2-1/2 years of neutrality.  This was not an easy decision for President Wilson, but many factors influenced his decision. There was unrest in Russia and German U-boats were indiscriminately sinking US merchant ships. In addition, it was discovered that Germany had secretly offered to help Mexico recover land lost during the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) if Mexico would ally with Germany and declare war on the United States (Mexico did not take up this offer). With all this in mind, Wilson declared war on Germany.

When war was declared, the United States was not ready. The Army was small, with under 100,000 professionally trained soldiers, many of whom had never been on the battlefield.  Sixteen nations had armies larger than the United States.  With the declaration, the Army needed both enlisted men and officers to help defend United States’ interests and allies France, Belgium, and Great Britain.

As the United States inched towards war, Army officials were looking for places to train officers through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC).  One of the places that was chosen to train officers was Fort Niagara, an army training post at the mouth of the Niagara River in Youngstown, New York.  When Wilson declared war, Fort Niagara was training troops headed to Panama or to minor conflicts along the Mexican border.

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ROTC trainees, photo courtesy of Old Fort Niagara

The Army planned two ROTC trainings at Fort Niagara in 1917, one from May through August, and the second from August through November.  Each session would train men on field sanitation and hygiene, care of arms and equipment, drilling, military courtesies, and the realities of trench warfare.  The chief training officer was Colonel John W. Heavey.

Because housing for the trainees was in short supply, the camp quartermaster hired day laborers to build nine 20’ x 300’ barracks and four mess halls during the month of April. The buildings were completed before the first class of ROTC trainees arrived.  Telephone and electrical systems were also installed throughout the training facilities in April.

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The ‘Long’ and ‘Short’ spar in autumn 1917, photo courtesy of Old Fort Niagara

The first officer class consisted of 2,500 young men from Pennsylvania, including some from wealthy Philadelphia families.  Local newspapers noted that a few of the officer candidates “know more about the different brands of face powder than they do about gunpowder.”

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Nora Bayes singing to the ROTC trainees

The second class consisted primarily of New Yorkers, many of which were from Buffalo. These “typical Americans, clean-cut, upstanding fellows, the kind that make fighters” were lucky enough to have a concert by Nora Bayes (Eleanora Sara Goldberg) just after their training started.  Ms. Bayes was a popular actress, singer, and comedian of the time who co-wrote Shine on, Harvest Moon with her husband Jack Norworth.

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Bayes’ concert was a brief reprieve from the daily 16-hour training.  Each day the trainees had inspections, signal practice, mapmaking, long marches, mock battles and marksmanship, and trench construction.  The trenches were dug on the Fort Niagara Beach.  Military ceremonies marked the end of the training, with the ‘graduates’ learning which regiment they were assigned in the American Expeditionary Forces. American Expeditionary Forces troops were also known as ‘doughboys.’

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Advance Guard, photo courtesy of Old Fort Niagara

After the second ROTC training, the fort became training grounds for 1,772 Polish-American soldiers who were part of the Polish Blue Army.  They trained at Fort Niagara from December 1917 through February 1918 before joining the Western Front.

After the war, Fort Niagara served as the home of the US Army 28th Infantry Regiment until the regiment was relocated to Fort Jackson, South Carolina in 1940.

Blog adapted from:  Emerson, Robert, Clean Cut, Upstanding Fellows: Fort Niagara’s ROTC Training Camps, 1917 March 2017 Fortress Niagara, p 5 – 15.

Sources

Wikipedia United States in World War I

Katonah Record, July 27, 1917

The Honeoye Falls Times, July 26, 1917

Buffalo Evening News, September 25, 1917

Special thanks to the staff at Old Fort Niagara for their assistance with this post.

Hiking Hidden Gems

Planning a hike this fall? State Parks staff recommend you try one of these hidden gems:

At Golden Hill State Park in Niagara County, Renee recommends the Interpretive RED Trail. The 1.7-mile-long trail provides a magnificent view of the 30 Mile Point Lighthouse as you hike along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.  The lakeshore habitat is very important for migrating birds. They use this area to rest and refuel before making their way across Lake Ontario. The hike will take you through diverse habitats including shrublands, grasslands, deciduous woodlands, a variety of evergreen forests, and an oak grove with 300-year-old trees.   The trail follows Golden Hill Creek where an abundance of wildlife can be seen. Watch for herons, kingfishers, warblers, great horned owls, white tailed deer, red fox, chipmunks, and woodchucks. This hike is rated easy to moderate.

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If you are looking for a moderate four-mile hike, Mike suggests the Fire Tower Ramble which features scenic views in Sterling Forest State Park in Orange County.  Climbing the fire tower, you can see Sterling Lake, Cedar Pond, Greenwood Lake, Schunnemunk Mountain, and the surrounding Hudson Highlands. On a clear day, New York City is visible in the distance. This 60-foot fire tower was built in 1922 by the Department of Conservation. It was one of the first all-steel fire towers built outside of the Adirondack and Catskill Preserves.

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Mark notes that the trail system at Robert V. Riddell State Park in Delaware County provides a diversity of experiences and opportunities. Once a dairy farm, Riddell has many trails which traverse both fields and forest and has access to Schenevus Creek, a tributary of the nearby Susquehanna River. Nature enthusiasts regularly enjoy the trails on the north side of I-88 not only for the scenic views but also for the diverse wildlife along the creek. History lovers can also see the remnants of the former dairy along the trail, including the slate-roofed dairy barn built in the 1830s. The southern part of the park (south of I-88) has a different trail experience with longer, more rugged trails, access to a waterfall, and the spring-fed Mud Lake. Mud Lake is a bog surrounded by spruce and tamarack (larch) trees, low shrubs and a floating mat of peat moss along the edge of the open water. This fascinating habitat makes Mud Lake a destination for local nature enthusiasts.  Plans are in the works to expand the trail system in the southern side of the park to enhance hiking opportunities in the area.

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One of the most popular attractions at Long Point State Park in Chautauqua County is the Point Trail, according to Tom.  Approximately 1/2-mile-long, the trail loops through a forest of maple and oak trees and rewards hikers with fantastic panoramic views of Chautauqua Lake once they arrive at the “point.”  There are a few benches and interpretive signs along the way to sit on and learn about the park and history of the lake.  This level trail is accessible to everyone and state park staff recently put down a new layer of crushed stone to make the walk a bit nicer on rainy days.

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Before you head out, check out our trail tips. See you on the trail!

From Ashes to Awesome: Sam’s Point

In April 2016, a wildfire engulfed around 2,000 acres of the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains. The “Gunks” (a nickname for the Shawangunks) are well-known not only for climbing, but also for the globally unique community of high altitude dwarf pitch pine barrens which hold some interesting and charismatic flora and fauna. This year marks one year after the fire and it has been a very interesting time to be at Sam’s Point. Park staff have taken advantage of what some may consider destruction to learn more about the unique ecosystem that evolved along with fire. Student Conservation Association interns, State Park staff, and volunteer citizen scientists have researched how the ecological community at Sam’s Point is responding to the fire.

In the weeks after the 2016 fire, the State Parks staff set up twenty random plots within the pine barrens to study the regrowth of the forest after the fire. One year later, we continue to collect data on the changes that are taking place as the ecosystem bounces back. At each research site, pitch pines are measured and any new growth, or lack thereof, is recorded. We also search for pitch pine seedlings and this year we found more of them in our plots than last year! Pitch pines are a fire dependent species – this means that throughout their existence they have evolved to grow in areas with high incidence of fire and have adapted to survive and thrive in these areas. Perhaps most importantly to pitch pine survival, their pine cones need extreme heat, like the high heat produced from fire, to open up to release their seed. Although the high intensity of the fire may have damaged many of the older pitch pines, we can see the beginnings of a new forest through our observations.

At four of the 20 fire-regeneration plots, we took photos to collect visual data on changes over time. We are able to see changes in vegetation during the growing season and are able to compare vegetation levels from this year to last year. After a fire burns an ecosystem, the intensity of the burn creates a mosaic pattern on the land, making patches of different habitat. For those areas that are more severely burned, different plants may be found in those areas than areas that were less severely burned.  Through our data collection, we compare what is happening in different areas of the forest that were affected differently after the fire. We also look at any changes that occur over time as plants recolonize the scorched earth.

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Photo Points taken by Park staff and interns at Sam’s Point Area fire regeneration plots showing how the forest understory has changed in the past year, photo by State Parks and SCA.

Another study that was conducted this year was a breeding bird survey, where we compared the different bird species found in the burned area of the pine barrens to birds that were found in the unburned areas. Since the fire burned nearly half of the Sam’s Point Area, we looked at whether this change in habitat displaced breeding birds, welcomed new species, or if the number of breeding bird stayed the same. Interns, staff, and volunteers braved early mornings in May and June to conduct surveys in the park. Most often, we heard the eastern towhee telling us to “drink your tea”, the prairie warbler’s ascending song, and the “witchity witchity” of the common yellowthroat.  These species were found all over the park and we did not see many differences between the species we found within the burned area and outside of it. Generally, the differences we found had more to do with other aspects of habitat (i.e. birds were closer to water, closer to deciduous trees, etc.) than to the damage from the fire.

Fire has a long history on the Shawangunk Ridge and pitch pines are not the only species that has adapted to thrive with fire. Up until the 1960’s, berry pickers swarmed the mountainsides in the summer, picking huckleberry and blueberry and selling their juicy finds to city dwellers. Sometimes, they set fire to the ridge so that the next year, their bounty would be sweeter (in both size and taste!) Going further back into the history of the ridge, the Native Americans would also set similar, controlled fires, which today we would call prescribed burns, to keep the ecosystem healthy and productive. Although the 2016 fire was an intense wildfire and not a prescribed burn, we received the bounty of increased berry production in 2017. In mid-July the blueberries flourished, and modern day berry pickers, as well as animals that eat berries, such as chipmunks, squirrels, deer, birds, and bear, were able to indulge in these treats. By the end of July, the huckleberries had joined in on the fun so that at our August Berry Bonanza event, visitors could taste test and compare blueberry and huckleberry and choose their preference before they entered the berry-lined trails.

The 2016 wildfire at Sam’s Point has given us a lot to think about in the last year. We continue to learn more about our unique little corner of the world, and we share what we have learned with our visitors. We are also able to enjoy the beauty of the rebirth of an ecosystem. This strange, otherworldly beauty inspires park-goers with a new type of scenery they may have never seen before, making this one of a kind ecosystem seem even more special. To learn more about Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve or to get involved in Citizen Science visit https://parks.ny.gov/parks/193 , or even better, come visit us in person! We look forward to sharing our park with you.

Post by Leah Rudge, Student Conservation Association Intern

Featured image by  Leah Rudge, Student Conservation Association Intern

Floating Treatment Wetlands at Rockland Lake State Park

You may have noticed something new in the water at Rockland Lake State Park.  These are floating treatment wetlands!  Read our post below to find out more about these water treatment platforms.

Why are they here? 
In recent years, harmful algal blooms have become common in Rockland Lake. These algae blooms are largely caused by an unhealthy increase in nutrients such as phosphorous in the lake.  The nutrients come from many sources nearby, including excess lawn/garden fertilizers that wash into storm ditches after a rainfall, then drain into Rockland Lake.  One culvert (inlet) with consistently high nutrient levels is located near Parking Field 5 and it was chosen as the location for a new floating treatment wetland.  The goal of adding a floating wetland to the lake is to reduce the amount of nutrients – and by extension, harmful algal blooms – in the lake.

What are they?
Floating treatment wetlands (a.k.a. floating wetlands/islands) help to bring the benefits of natural wetlands to polluted water. They filter water to improve water quality and they provide important habitat for a variety of plants and animals. Floating wetlands can come in different shapes and sizes, but in general, wetland plants are supported atop a buoyant platform, with roots exposed in the lake water below.

What do they do?
Floating treatment wetlands help to create the right balance of submerged and non-submerged wetland habitat based on each individual site’s needs. As the plants grow, they use-up excess nutrients in the water. In addition, communities of beneficial bacteria form a film around the roots, further helping to filter nutrients and pollutants. Higher/lower elevations create areas with varying oxygen levels, promoting these different biological filtering methods. The floating platform blocks sunlight, preventing the growth of algae. Lastly, fish and wildlife enjoy the new addition to their habitat.

This is the first time that floating treatment wetlands have been used in New York State Parks.  Environmental staff will determine the effectiveness of this project by monitoring water quality changes over time (e.g. harmful nutrient levels and algal blooms by the inlet as well as lake-wide).  If successful, then floating wetlands may be used to help treat stormwater pollution and improve other aquatic habitats in New York.

Post by April Brun, Gabriella Cebada Mora, and Erin Lennon.

Rockland photos by Gabriella Cebada Mora, Aissa Feldmann, Matt Brincka, and Erin Lennon.

Resources

Floating Island/Wetland images and information

US Environmental Protection Agency information on nutrient pollution and harmful algal blooms:
(Website)                   (Video)

NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation information on fertilizers and how to reduce nutrient runoff:

(Website)                   (Video)

Fall in Love with Autumn Camping

If you think camping in a state park campground is enjoyable in the summer, wait until you experience an overnight getaway in September or early October, when New York’s outdoors is awash in enough colors and sounds of the season to overwhelm the senses.

The autumn mist rising from the water’s surface on a brisk morning, paddling along a tree-lined shore edged in spectacular reds, oranges and golds, the crunch of leaves underfoot on a hike, the aroma of coffee over a crackling fire — these are just a few of the experiences awaiting those campers who prefer to camp once the crowds thin, schools are back in session, and Labor Day is in the rearview mirror.

Benefits to fall camping include fewer neighbors, fewer bugs, and a greater selection of sites from the peak summer season.  With the right clothes and gear, the slightly cooler temperatures make fall camping more comfortable than in the commonly muggy dog days of summer.

Plan to extend a leaf-peeping day trip and sleep under the autumn stars. You can book ahead to reserve a spot or opt for a spontaneous adventure and just grab your gear and go. Many state park campgrounds throughout New York are still open with availability for tent and trailer sites, yurts, cabins, and cottages.

Here are just a few of our fall favorites:

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Listen to the rustling leaves while you camp at Allegany State Park, photo by State Parks.

At 65,000 acres, Allegany State Park is the perfect setting for embracing nature’s colorful palette in the fall months.  Lakes, ponds, and miles of trails, beckon outdoor lovers for hiking, biking, nature walks, fishing, paddling, and more.  Choose from tent and trailer sites, cabins, and cottages.

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Ballooning at Letchworth State Park, photo by Jim Vallee.

In the Genesee Valley, the sweeping views at Letchworth State Park are jaw-dropping in every season, but add vibrant foliage to the mix and prepare to be amazed by the sheer grandeur.  For campers, the park offers tent and trailer sites and cabins.  Visit the new Humphrey Nature Center or explore the gorge trail on your own — views from Inspiration Point and Middle Falls are a must-see.

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Enjoy the waterfalls at Taughannock Falls State Park, photo by State Parks.

The Finger Lakes gorge parks also provide a stunning backdrop for camping this time of year.  Take a break from campfire cooking and enjoy the bounty of farm-to-table restaurants or the premier wineries in the area. Home to 19 waterfalls, Watkins Glen State Park on Seneca Lake welcomes campers to an array of wooded campsites (many with electric hookups) and rustic cabins.  Walk along the winding paths of the gorge or take a bike ride on the nearby Catharine Valley TrailTaughannock Falls State Park on Cayuga Lake leaves visitors spellbound with its namesake waterfall and rocky cliffs that perch high above the gorge.

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Fall camping with a furry friend at Green Lakes State Park, photo by State Parks.

The only thing more colorful than the fall foliage at Green Lakes State Park is the actual Caribbean-like hues of the glacial lakes themselves.  With campsites nearby including many full-service sites and renovated cabins, campers also have easy access to the park’s 20 miles of hiking trails and championship golf course.

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If you camp at Moreau Lake State Park, take a hike around the lake, photo by State Parks.

Moreau Lake State Park is situated in the foothills of the Adirondacks with tent and trailer sites, cabins and cottages. Hike or bike on the 27 miles of trails and enjoy paddling and fishing on the scenic waters of the park’s beautiful lake or the Hudson River.  Wildlife viewing is a favorite!

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Autumn campers at Taconic State Park, photo by State Parks

Taconic State Park offers autumn campers incredible sites for tents or trailers, cabins and cottages, and plenty to see and do including biking, hiking, fishing, paddling, and more.  As part of the adventure, be sure to check out the Harlem Valley Trail, the South Taconic Trail, Bash Bish Falls, and the Copake Iron Works Museum.

 

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Fall colors at Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site, photo by State Parks

Tip:  Whether planning a fall camping adventure or taking a leaf-peeping day-trip, a good resource to determine peak color location is the I Love NY Fall Foliage Report issued weekly.

The official blog for New York State Parks & Historic Sites

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