95 Years of Environmental Education

This August, the Regional Nature Museums at Harriman State Park, Orange County, will be celebrating 95 years of environmental education. Instituted in 1919 by Benjamin “Uncle Bennie” Babbit Talbot Hyde, the nature program at Harriman is one of the longest-running in the country. Currently, the Regional Nature Museums consists of four facilities at Tiorati, Twin Lakes, Kanawake, and Stahahe, supported by the Trailside Museum and Wildlife Center at Bear Mountain State Park.

Celebrate 95 of nature education at Kanawake Museum at 10am on August 8th. This free event will feature programs and games run by the museum staff, including storytelling, animal demonstrations, museum tours, local history, and much more!

For more information, see the NYS Parks events calendar

Green Parking At FDR State Park

A project at Franklin Delano Roosevelt State Park aims to redesign the 6.2 acre parking lot in order to greater serve the goals of environmental sustainability and stewardship. The project will rehabilitate the lot’s surface, improve the efficiency of the parking layout and improve drainage and storm water runoff quality. The new parking lot will feature native trees and vegetation to visually soften the hard surface of the parking lot. Ultimately, the redesign will create a more welcoming and pleasant entrance experience to patrons visiting the popular pool and provide important benefits to the park’s wetland and lake by reducing the amount of nutrients (e.g. phosphorus) and typical parking lot pollutants that are currently flowing into these resources untreated.

This is a joint project between NYS OPRHP and the NY Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT has been tasked with reducing phosphorus loading from storm water runoff from public highways and other impervious surfaces within the Croton watershed. They identified the large pool parking lot at FDR as a project that would help them meet their phosphorus reduction goals. As this lot is in need of rehabilitation, DOT’s assistance with its upgrade will result in a net benefit for both agencies. DOT will provide design and construction management funding and assistance. OPRHP will fund the construction contract.

 The Environmental Impact of Parking Lots

Parking lots can be bad for the environment for many reasons. More pavement means less green space, thereby reducing the number of trees and plants that serve as natural “air cleaners” by absorbing carbon dioxide in the air and releasing oxygen. It also means less open soil that can collect rainwater, which helps to replenish natural aquifers. Impervious surfaces, like asphalt, don’t allow rain to percolate into the ground; instead they channel rainwater to a storm drain. Stormwater runoff can be highly polluted with oil, grease, coolant, and other fluids which leak out of cars and collect on pavement until rain washes it into our lakes and streams, negatively impacting our health as well as the habitat and living conditions of fish and other aquatic life.

Another negative effect of parking lots is that they raise local temperatures through a process known as the “heat island” effect. Asphalt and concrete absorb and retain heat from the sun’s rays more than the surrounding ground. This in turn raises surrounding temperatures a few degrees.

The Project at FDR State Park

FDR State Park is located along the Taconic State Parkway, approximately 40 miles north of New York City. The park offers day use recreational facilities including picnicking, trails, fishing and boating and areas for field games. One of the central features of the park is a large outdoor pool that can accommodate up to 3,500 bathers at a time. The park is popular with local residents for walking, hosts many events throughout the year and is also used for winter activities.

To accommodate all these visitors, FDR State Park also has a very large parking area. The lot is 6.2 acres in size and primarily services the pool complex during the summer. It is also used year-round for access to nearby trails, picnic areas, and events. Storm water drainage from the existing lot is directed to storm drains that flow to a nearby wetland and then into Mohansic Lake, a large lake within the park.

Bioswales are landscape elements designed to filter silt and pollution from surface runoff water.
Bioswales are landscape elements designed to filter silt and pollution from surface runoff water.

The primary elements of the proposed design include:

  • Parking Lot – The existing asphalt surface will be removed and replaced. The removed asphalt will be milled and reused or recycled. In addition, approximately 15,000 square feet of asphalt will be removed from an adjacent service road entrance and replaced with grass.
  •  Storm water treatment – The proposed plan includes the construction of new bioswales throughout the lot which will consist of a combination of soil, cobbles and native vegetation. Storm water drainage will flow into these areas before entering into the existing storm water drainage system. These bioswales will allow for biological filtration and treatment, breaking down many of the nutrients and pollutants found in typical storm water runoff. Native trees, shrubs, and ornamental grass species will be planted to reduce the lot’s heat island effect, improve aesthetics, and provide shade and wind breaks. Below is a photo of a typical bioswale that is similar to what will be installed.

green parking 1

BioBlitz results!

On May 3, 2014, over a hundred volunteers with scientific backgrounds gathered at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Ulster County and Clark Reservation State Park in Onondaga county for two concurrent Bioblitzes, 24-hour inventories of the park’s biodiversity. Our objectives were to search the park for as many rare species and natural communities in the park as we could find. This was a collaborative effort between NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP), State Parks, and Parks & Trails New York. Participants included biologists with various specialties and affiliations including NYS DEC, NatureServe, Syracuse University, SUNY-ESF, Mohonk Preserve, U.S. Geological Survey, and the Student Conservation Association. At least 9 different organizations were represented.

Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense), a rare plant documented at Minnewaska. Photo by Alyssa Reid
Rhodora (Rhododendron canadense), a rare plant documented at Minnewaska. Photo by Alyssa Reid

The main survey period was between 9am and 5pm on May 3rd, but some intrepid volunteers stayed through the night to look for nocturnal animals, while others arose on May 4th between 5am and 11am to identify spring migratory birds. In both parks, small teams sought out rare species and high biodiversity areas. The weather was overcast and cool on May 3rd, which made some of the surveys particularly difficult.

At Minnewaska State Park, we were able to document approximately 262 plants, animals, and fungi, as well as 7 of the NYNHP significant natural communities. The summary of our findings includes at least 100 plants and 150 animal species: 89 birds, 6 fish, 16 herps (amphibians and reptiles), 16 mammals, and 23 invertebrates. The species included cool mammals like the American mink (Neovison vison), shy amphibians like the northern dusky salamander (Desmognathus fuscus), delicate insects like the spring azure (Celastrina ladon), and steadfast trees like the American chestnut (Castanea dentata).

Painted turtle, by Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP
Painted turtle, by Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP

At Clark Reservation, we documented over 372 different species of plants, animals, and fungi and updated records for the 4 high-quality natural communities known in the park. The tally includes 193 species of plants (including lichens) and 96 species of animals, including 6 mammals, 7 herps, 46 birds, 4 fish, and 116 invertebrates. Of the many invertebrates identified, some of the largest groups were beetles (18), millipedes (10), caddisflies (10), and snails (6). The list of species included some entertaining names, such as bugle sprite (a snail), poverty grass, tortured tortella moss and seductive entodon moss. The Bioblitz proved to be an invaluable opportunity to get experts out in the park cataloging groups of species, like mosses and snails, which are often overlooked in typical biological inventories.

Due to the timing of the Bioblitz to coincide with I Love My Parks Day on May 3rd, our bird surveys included both passing migrants and potential park residents. Whip-poor-wills (Caprimulgus vociferous), a species of special concern, were sighted in several locations at Minnewaska, and based on last year’s NYNHP surveys, they are known to nest in the park. At Clark, the highlights were osprey (Pandion haliaetus) and sharp-shinned hawk (Accipiter striatus), both of which are species of special concern in New York.

The invertebrate team working hard at Clark Reservation. Photo by Julie Lundgren
The invertebrate team working hard at Clark Reservation. Photo by Julie Lundgren

The bioblitz was an extension of the long-standing partnership between NYNHP and State Parks to document rare species and natural communities in New York State Parks. Scientists found a wealth of biodiversity and enjoyed collaborating across organizations and areas of expertise in a beautiful natural setting. We hope to continue these valuable efforts to bring experts together to share knowledge, contribute to our understanding of the biota in New York State Parks, and to encourage further opportunities for park staff and the public to learn more about the special features in parks.

featured image is a spring azure butterfly by Mike Adamovic, post by Paris Harper, Erin White and Julie Lundgren

Be A Good Egg!

Audubon New York, the state’s largest bird conservation organization has teamed up with New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to launch the 2014 “Be a Good Egg” campaign: A community engagement initiative to protect threatened and endangered beach-nesting birds. The goal of the Be a Good Egg project is to help people learn more about birds like Least Terns, Piping Plovers, and American Oystercatchers that nest and rest on the beaches of New York and New Jersey every spring and summer.

Piping Plover Chick, photo by Patrick Comins
Piping Plover Chick, photo by Patrick Comins

Between April and August every year, thousands of birds nest on the bare sand of New York beaches and inlets, including 30% of the Atlantic Coast Piping Plover population and many other migratory shorebirds that rest and refuel on the New York and New Jersey coastlines on journeys as long as 9,000 miles.

These hardy little birds are threatened by predators, extreme weather conditions, and humans. When a person or dog walks through a nesting area, the adults run or fly off in fear. During the nesting season, this exposes the eggs or chicks to fatally high temperatures and drastically increases the risk of predation. The survival and recovery of these species is dependent upon being able to nest and raise their young in an undisturbed environment.

An Oystercatcher chick, photo by New York Audubon.
An Oystercatcher chick, photo by New York Audubon.

Audubon New York, State Parks, and other partners are reaching out to visitors at New York beaches and asking them to pledge to “be a good egg” and share the beach with our native birds. As part of this project, volunteers are helping us reach out to people at beaches where Audubon is working with the local community to protect hundreds of nesting and migrating birds. To date, nearly 2,000 beach-goers have signed the “Be a Good Egg” pledge. Volunteers are an important part of this campaign and more are needed to help outreach events and shorebird surveys. To take the pledge, and to get more information about Be A Good Egg, including dates of the outreach events, visit www.goodeggnjny.org

The featured image is a nesting Least Tern. Photo by New York Audubon.

iMapInvasives

We’re celebrating Invasive Species Awareness Week, and so here’s some information on a cool new software that’s used to document the occurences of invasives species in New York:

iMapInvasives is an online mapping tool that collects and displays geographical data for invasive plant and animal species. Invasive species are non-native plants, animals, and pathogens that cause harm to the environment, the economy, or to human health. In the past, early detection of invasive species has been difficult, and management typically only began well after the invasive population was well-established. iMapInvasives is a tool sophisticated enough for monitoring and management projects, but easy enough to use for a citizen scientist to upload point data on a patch of pernicious weeds growing in his or her backyard. In this way, the software broadens the scope of invasives monitoring, promotes early detection of invasive populations, and helps natural and agricultural resource managers know where to look for potentially harmful invasives.

While iMapInvasives is available to everyone who requests a login, training in the online software is available, and it’s required for anyone who wants to use the more advanced features of the program. I was able to participate in the beginner and advanced training courses for iMapInvasives, provided by the Capitol/Mohawk PRISM (Partnerships for Regional Invasive Species Management) in Voorheesville.

In the basic course, we learned identification techniques for some common invasive plants and insects, including Japanese Barberry, garlic mustard, Asian long-horned beetle, and hemlock wooley adelgid. We also learned how to input our data into the software and perform searches based on different parameters which might be used by project managers.

The advanced course covered agricultural pests, aquatic plants, and some additional terrestrial plants, and we learned how iMapInvasives can be used to record treatment data and to survey large areas for the presence or absence of invasive species.

I attended the training as an employee of State Parks and the Student Conservation Association, however, other attendees were from other state agencies, as well as members of Park Friends groups, gardeners, and non-profit groups such as the Sierra Club.

If you would like to get involved, go to www.NYiMapInvasives.org and:

1)      Request a login

2)      Get trained with online video training, or sign up for the course

3)      Login and begin mapping on your computer or smartphone!

Featured image is of Japanese knotweed, an invasive species in New York. Photo by Troy Weldy, NYNHP. Post by Paris Harper

The official blog for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation

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