Growing up in Western New York, I always looked forward to my family’s annual fall trip to Allegany State Park. Late every October we would pack a picnic lunch, put the dogs in the car, and head down to Allegany for a day of leaf peeping, hiking, rock climbing, and wilderness peace.
Some years it was sunny and 65 degrees, while others were a rain/snow mix in the 40s. Whatever the weather, it was always fun, always an adventure, and always absolutely beautiful.
Almost 15 years later, when I took the job as Becoming an Outdoors-Woman (BOW) Coordinator for New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation, one of my goals was to help New Yorkers learn to love our long winters. That is when I knew exactly where I wanted to host a new annual winter workshop.
BOW workshops are designed to teach women a variety of outdoor skills over a three-day weekend. These programs provide information, encouragement, and hands-on instruction in outdoor activities including fishing, shooting, archery, hunting, trapping, outdoor photography, map and compass, survival, camping, canoeing, and outdoor cooking.
These workshops are designed primarily for women who have little or no experience with outdoor recreation.
For 26 years, BOW programs have offered women a unique learning experience, putting everyone on an even playing field to learn new skills from a dedicated group of qualified volunteer instructors.
Since then, close to 4,500 women from all over the state, aged 18-80+ have attended BOW workshops in New York, have embraced outdoor activities, met like-minded women, and challenged themselves. Participants leave our workshops feeling empowered, accomplished, and often with a new group of lifelong friends to join in outdoor adventures.
The first annual ‘BOW in the SNOW Winter Workshop’, was held February 7-9, 2020 at Allegany State Park. The workshop was a success, hosting 55 participants from 23 counties in New York State, as well as three other states.
Participants ranged in age from 18 to 69 years old. Over the course of three days, these women learned a variety of outdoor skills including snowshoeing, Nordic skiing, fat tire biking, trapping, firearms safety, Dutch oven cooking, winter camping & survival, K-9 first aid, tree stand safety, ice fishing, and much more!
Allegany State Park was an ideal and beautiful location that delivered on snow just in time. Leading up to the workshop weekend, the normally snowy Southern Tier had seen little accumulation, and even less ice-up on its lakes. While I was getting a bit nervous, I had faith that the lake effect storms of Lake Erie would come through.
Sure enough, the week of the workshop, all of New York experienced an intense winter storm that delivered the perfect amount of snow for our weekend. While we ended up seeing some participants drop out due to travel restrictions and safety concerns, we had many who braved the storm and made it just in time to enjoy the weekend in an idyllic setting.
The Art Roscoe Nordic ski trails, the snowshoe trail at Stone Tower, and the fat tire bike trails hosted our classes with near perfect conditions. Although we didn’t have enough solid ice for the ice fishing class to go out on Red House Lake, our instructors adapted and offered fishing instruction on land followed by a delicious tutorial on cleaning and frying our winter catch!
BOW offers a three-day workshop every fall and now a three-day workshop every winter. If you’re interested in joining us or learning more about BOW, please visit dec.ny.gov and search ‘becoming an outdoors woman’ to find out about all of our upcoming events.
(Editors note: Check back on the DEC page for future updates as to scheduling.)
Post by Katrina Talbot, Wildlife Biologist & Becoming an Outdoors-Woman Coordinator
Interested in taking part in a future workshop? Here are just a few comments from last winter’s workshop evaluations, underscoring the popularity and benefits of the program:
“Working together with women in a group has been amazing. I learned to snowshoe and ski, and this weekend has made me so grateful.“
“This experience has taught me skills to allow me to enjoy winter in NY! I enjoyed sharing the weekend with strong, capable, empowered women!“
“This weekend was so much more to me than being curious and wanting to learn a new skill. Although both of those were true (I learned to ice fish and obtained my trapping certificate, neither of which I had previous experience with), this was more of a personal goal. Every single person I met at BOW, including the instructors, were amazing, patient, kind, friendly, warm, knowledgeable, fun… just good people. I commend the DEC for offering this program and from the bottom of my heart thank the volunteers and Katrina for her time, warm welcome, and dedication to this program. The spirit and energy of the instructors was contagious. “
“Can you imagine anything freer and more exciting than when you, swiftly as a bird, zoom down the wood-clad hillsides while country air and spruce twigs whiz by your cheeks and eyes; brain and muscles tense, ready to avoid any unknown obstacle which any moment might be thrown in your path? You are one with your skis and nature. This is something that develops not only the body but the soul as well, and it has a deeper meaning for a people than most of us perceive.”
— Fridtjof Nansen – Norwegian explorer, scientist, humanitarian and advocate for cross-country skiing, 1890
The use of skis to cross winter terrain dates back millennia, with the oldest-known image of a person on skis carved about 5,000 years ago into the rock of a Norwegian island.
When winter graces the state with snow, State Parks are a great place to enjoy cross-country skiing, with many miles of ski trails for all abilities, from beginner to expert across 104 state parks and eight historic sites spanning the state.
Known in shorthand as XC (or also as Nordic) skiing, this family-friendly sport is a full-body, low-impact cardio workout as well as a wonderful way to get outdoors during winter to see how beautiful the season can be. Skiing is quiet as well, so skiers often have a chance to spot wildlife (and also get a close look at its tracks) that has not been scared off by their approach.
After a promising December start for XC skiing, this season has suffered from a dearth of snow. Perhaps a snowstorm or two is still to come before spring, or if not, this list can be held until the start of next season. Always call ahead to check on snow conditions.
This online map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also is a handy tool for getting a picture of snow cover across the state when planning a ski trip.
Either way, to help decide where to go in State Parks when conditions allow, here are some staff favorites. Check each park’s website for a map of their trails:
With 24 miles of trails, the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski Area at Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, offers some of best groomed skiing in western New York. Novices can try the 3.5-mile Christian Hollow Trail, a loop with gentle grades, or the multi-use, 3.5-mile Red House Bike Path.
Intermediate skiers can try the 3.3-mile Patterson Trail, which is a former rail bed. There are parking areas at both ends of the gently sloping trail, so a shuttle trip can be done by leaving cars at both ends.
Other more adventurous skiers can tackle the Ridge Trail for a 7.7- mile trek geared to intermediate to advanced skiers.
Ski equipment rentals are available at the park’s gift shop at the Red House Administration Building. Trail reports can be found online here.
Finger Lakes Region
The extensive trail network at Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area in Springwater, Livingston County, has grooming and is about an hour’s drive south of Rochester. Be prepared to share some of the trails with fat tire bikers on occasion.
A golf course can be a great place for novices to learn and practice, since such terrain is open, free of obstructions and tends not to be very steep. Going doing hill as a beginner? Remember to hold those skis in a “V” shape to control your downhill speed as you test out the friendly terrain at Soaring Eagles Golf Course at Mark Twain State Park in Horseheads, Chemung County.
There are 12 miles of trails at Selkirk Shores State Park in Pulaski, Oswego County. A staff favorite is a beginner/intermediate three-mile loop that incorporates the Front Pond Trail, Pine Grove Trail, a section of the 52C snowmobile trail, and Red Fox Trail, before returning to the Pine Grove Trail
Verona Beach State Park, in Verona Beach, Onedia County, offers miles of trails where they might encounter wildlife like white tailed deer, squirrels, foxes, and more. The two-mile Hog’s Back Trail loop follows a natural rise along Verona Beach’s massive swamp. Keep your eyes open at the overlooks for a potential glimpse of the nest of a mated pair of bald eagles.
There are about 15 miles of trails at Gilbert Lake State Park in Laurens, Otsego County. The mile-long trail around the namesake lake is periodically groomed, as is the two-mile Ice Pond Trail to the Twin Fawns Lake Trail.
In Wyoming County, head for Letchworth State Park in Castile, and its Humphrey Nature Center and the Winter Recreation Area at Trailside Lodge. Here, there are three beginner trails, each about 1.5 miles long.
The park contains seven different parking areas to access about 15 miles of (usually ungroomed) trails. Glide through old-growth forest on the Gravel Loop and the Bishop Woods Loop. For great views of the spectacular Great Bend Gorge, check out the Chestnut Lawn Loop.
Long Island Region
There are two ungroomed trails at the Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown, Suffolk County _ the 1.5-mile beginner Green Trail that goes through woods, fields and wetlands, and the 1-mile Orange Trail that offers view of Willow Pond.
At the Connetquot River State Park Preservein Oakdale, Suffolk County, there are many miles of marked hiking trails that can be skied. There is no grooming, and trails range from one to eight miles in length. The preserve includes an historic former sportsmen’s club and a newly-restored 18th century gristmill.
About six miles of ungroomed trails, ranging from intermediate to advance, are found at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, Suffolk County. Take the Field 4 Trail to ski through woods before reaching overlooks for Sunken Meadow Creek and Long Island Sound. No skiing is allowed on the golf course.
At Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, Erie County, explore the Outer Loop Trail that begins at the Red Barn Parking Lot. A 2.7-mile trail suitable for beginners, it meanders through open pastures and fields, with some short legs through forests and views of farmlands and valleys.
Explore trails at Evangola State Park in Irving, Chautauqua County, to capture views of Lake Erie. The trail network covers about five miles, with the Rim Trail running along the edge of the lake.
At Mine Kill State Park in North Blenheim, Schoharie County, start at the park office for the moderate, three-mile Long Path/Bluebird Trail Loop, which offers sweeping views of the Schoharie Valley and the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir. Snowshoes and a small assortment of XC skis are free to borrow from the Park Office with a small deposit.
The moderate/intermediate Shaver Pond Trail at Grafton Lakes State Park in Grafton, Rensselaer County is a two-mile loop around the pond, where you can often see signs of beaver activity. The trail has some roots and rocks, so be mindful of snow cover. The park office rents snowshoes, but not skis.
Skiers have been going to Thacher State Park in Voorheesville, Albany County, for years because of its extensive trail network. Try out the lesser-used North Zone of the park, and its Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail, a three-mile intermediate loop through fields and forests. Use the Carrick Road parking area.
Beginners can practice on groomed trails that run for a total of three miles through the camping loops and around the lake at Moreau Lake State Park in Moreau, Saratoga County. There is skiing on ungroomed trails through the rest of the park.
While there are no marked or groomed trails for skiing at James Baird State Park in Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County, the park’s golf course and many small, undulating hills there are a great place for beginners to practice climbing, turning, slowing and (maybe a little) falling.
Skiers could spend days touring the 25 miles of carriage roads at Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville, Westchester County. Some favorites are the beginners’ 1.15-mile Brothers Path/Swan Lake Carriage Road, with views of the lake; the Thirteen Bridges/Gory Brook Carriage Roads, which along 2.5 miles of intermediate terrain offer view of the Pocantico River and waterfalls; and the intermediate Rockwood Hall Middle, Lower and Foundation Loop Carriage Roads, that go past the Hudson River.
There are 12 miles of trails at Fahnestock Winter Park in Carmel, Putnam County. Equipment rentals are available at the lodge, which also marks the start of the popular Lake Trail. Weather permitting, trails are also groomed on the lake. The trail will take you by a beaver lodge, over the dam built by the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and past many small islands.
Cross-country skiing at Old Croton AqueductState Historic Park in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County can be as near as one’s own backyard, as most of the ungroomed 26-mile trail is bordered by homes. As the park is level, the area is great for those who are new to the sport.
The Aqueduct is crossed by many streets, and the best cross-country skiing is found in the sections with the fewest road crossings. Top on the list is the section from Gory Brook Road in Sleepy Hollow to Country Club Lane in Scarborough, about two and a half miles of level trail through the woods. This section connects to Rockefeller State Park Preserve. Those who like hills should enter Rockefeller Preserve just north of the Weir chamber and follow the Peggy’s Way trail south for some gentle hills before returning to the Aqueduct.
Another popular area is at the northernmost section by the Croton Dam. Here the trail clings to the sides of a steep gorge through which runs the Croton River. The Gorge is a park of its own, operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation and called the Croton Unique Area. Only two lightly-traveled roads cross the 2.5 miles of wooded Aqueduct trail as it heads south to Croton.
Curiously the most densely-populated area through which the trail runs also features a fine area for skiing. This section, likewise of about 2.5 miles, has two road crossings, but almost all of it runs through the woods, with unparalleled winter views of the Hudson River and Palisades.
There are stunning clifftop views from trails at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Kerhonkson, Ulster County. Being free of rocks, roots and other obstructions, the 16-mile network of carriage trails are wide and “skiable” even with only a few inches of snow.
Thousand Island Region
At Robert Moses State Park in Massena, St. Lawrence County, there are more than five miles of trails through the woods and along the St. Lawrence River in NY. The Nicandri Nature Center offers ski and snowshoe loans for all ages as well as ski instruction.
In the western Adirondacks, Higley Flow State Park in Colton, St. Lawrence County, has the popular 1.3-mile Overlook Trail that passes through a pine and spruce forest. This trail connects with the Backcountry Trail (1.9 miles) and the Warm Brook trail (1.6 miles) for those wishing to challenge themselves further.
This is just a sampling of the ski trails at State Parks. So, when snow is on the ground, grab your skis, and get out there!
Cover Photo: Skiers at Saratoga Spa State Park. All photos by State Parks.
By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for NYS Parks
Read this history of cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks.
The wild turkey is native to North America, but suffered severe declines due to wide-scale forest clearing and over hunting. By the mid-1800’s, this great bird was gone from New York state and much of the northeast. However, in the mid to late 1940’s, some wild turkeys were observed along the NY and PA border from Allegany State Park to the Genesee River Valley, a sign that the habitat might be recovering and able to support them again. So, in the early 1950’s, the New York State Conservation Department (forerunner to the NYS Dept. of Conservation) began a restoration effort in the early 1950s. They started with game farm turkeys, but after a few years, this effort failed because the game farm birds were not wild enough to avoid predation and lacked the capacity to survive.
Meanwhile, a healthy breeding population of wild turkeys expanded from Pennsylvania into the Allegany State Park region of New York. Park managers then gave the Conservation Department permission to trap turkeys in the park, initiating the wild turkey trap and transfer program which began in 1958 and concluded successfully in 1974. This program allowed for more rapid expansion of the turkey population to suitable unoccupied habitats.
The turkeys trapped in Allegany State Park were moved to several areas in the Region and then throughout the state. In addition to the in-state trap and transfer, turkeys from the park were also sent to Connecticut, New Hampshire, New Jersey and Vermont. Other trapping efforts in the region and elsewhere in New York sent birds to Delaware, Minnesota, Rhode Island and the Canadian Province of Ontario. New York turkeys helped re-establish populations throughout the Northeast, Midwest and southeastern Canada.
Nets ready to trap a flock of turkeys.
Turkeys caught in a net.
Conservation Department staff and local volunteers place the turkeys into boxes. Afterwards, the birds were moved to their new homes.
New York State Conservation Department was one of the pioneers among state agencies to restore wild turkey populations in the United States. This program would not have been successful without the cooperation of Allegany State Park and to this day is recognized as one of the greatest wildlife management success stories of North America.
Early October is such a great time for families to get out and enjoy our parks: October skies are generally clear, colorful fall foliage enhances any scenic vista, and the cool fall days encourages all of us to explore the outdoors. State Parks has accessible trails (trails for people with diverse abilities) that all family members can enjoy autumn’s beauty. If you are looking for an accessible trail to explore this fall, check out one of these trails!
The path awaits you at Buffalo Harbor State Park
Areal view of Buffalo Harbor State Park accessible trail
The newest state park in Western New York (WNY) was created with a focus on providing access to the Buffalo waterfront and recreational opportunities for the whole community. In just four years, Buffalo Harbor State Park has become a popular destination with universally accessible shelters, docks, nautical-themed playground, and accessible van parking. The paved multi-use trail with shaded sitting areas and lighting, connects visitors with a beautiful view of Lake Erie and the path along the newly rehabilitated break wall provides one of the best views of the city. Buffalo Harbor is also a stop on the Shoreline Trail and the gateway to the Empire State Trail, the 750 mile trail that connects WNY to New York City along the Erie Canal.
Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail tells the story of Sackets Harbor and the pivotal role it played during the War of 1812 through ten interpretive panels along the three-quarter mile loop trail. Additional panels highlight other historical aspects of the site including the 1860s Sackets Harbor Navy Yard and the importance of historic preservation. This accessible trail offers views of the 1860s Navy Yard structures, the 1913 War of 1812 Centennial 100-maple tree grove, the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps decorative stonewall, abundant birdlife, and unsurpassed views of Black River Bay on the eastern end of Lake Ontario. The three-quarter mile trail was listed as a National Recreation Trail in 2015.
High atop Bear Mountain, along a 0.4-mile section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) is a popular trail enables everyone the opportunity to hike along the AT, that famous trail that runs from Georgia to Maine. From the trail, visitors can see the Hudson Valley and if it is clear, the Catskill Mountains.
Allegany State Park’sRed House Wetland interpretive trail, constructed in the fall of 2016, brings visitors right into the heart of a diverse and constantly-changing scrub-shrub wetland located near Red House Lake. With the construction of America Disability Act -compliant boardwalks and crushed stone trails, this overlooked and all but impassable wetland habitat has become a popular destination accessible to all. A large observation deck, wildlife blind, and earthen viewing mound frame beautiful landscape views and offer an up-close look at the plants and animals inhabiting this essential ecosystem. Visitor experience is enhanced by a year-round schedule of educational programs and a collection of interpretive features that emphasize important aspects of wetland biodiversity, ecosystem benefits, stewardship values, and more. Everyone is welcome to visit Red House wetland and experience a landscape that can change practically overnight…you never know what you’ll see!
Miles of beaches to explore along the Jones Beach Bike Path.
If you are looking to explore the shore, then check out either the boardwalk and the bike path at Jones Beach State Park. An entry to the five-mile bike path is on the east side of the park’s East Bathhouse parking lot. The path travels along Zach Bay, where you can pause to watch the boats in the bay, look for migrating birds, and listen to chirping crickets. If you are looking for an ocean view, then head over to the Jones Beach Boardwalk, a two-mile boardwalk on the beach. There are two entrances to the boardwalk one in Field 1, the other in Field 6.
State Park offer safe and enjoyable places to explore and discover New York’s great outdoors throughout the year. venture out and experience the vast network of trails across the state in every season. Don’t miss out on one of the best times to visit. Enjoy State Parks trails this fall.
Millions of people visit Allegany State Park every year, but how many have ever visited the zoo?
Tucked up on the hill, behind the Red House Administration Building among the maples, Scotch pine, and cherry trees, sits the stone foundation of what was once a highly-visited tourist attraction.
Like so many other places on the East Coast, this area (in what is now Allegany State Park) was logged from the 1860s to the 1920s. Hemlocks, white pines, and hardwoods were harvested to supply large cities with building materials. While humans built houses, many local animals lost their homes and habitat.
The Outdoor Museum and Zoo was built in 1933 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was intended to exhibit the local animals, birds, plants, fungi, and rocks of this area. The Zoo’s rectangular foundation (25×40 feet) and 3 ½ foot high walls were built from local sandstone quarried off the hill behind the museum. Chestnut and cherry posts supported a shake shingle roof. Shelves and brackets around the sides of the museum building supported animal cages, insect trays, unique plants, and rock and mineral exhibits. Cement pools with dry platforms housed aquatic creatures such as frogs, turtles, muskrat, and fish. Since this was a seasonal museum, the CCC oversaw collecting specimens for the Zoo. Upon its opening in 1933, the exhibit hosted a raccoon, skunk, woodchuck, rabbit, chipmunk, porcupine, five types of turtles, and several different species of frogs, toads, and salamanders. Five kinds of snakes had their own special snake pit separate from the rest of the museum. Irving Knobloch, a National Park Service naturalist oversaw the museum and its animals during the CCC days, after which the Allegany State Park (ASP) rangers and naturalists operated the zoo.
Display boards, image courtesy of Allegany State Park Historical Society.
Exhibit cases, image courtesy of Allegany State Park Historical Society.
Two of the first residents of the Zoo were “Smoke” and “Soot.” The bear cubs were rescued by forest rangers during a fire caused by sparks from the smoke stacks of the trains carrying lumber out of the area. The rangers decided to take the bears home, but as they grew, the small cubs became too much for the rangers to handle; so, they built them a small bear den surrounded by wire. They eventually escaped and roamed the area for handouts.
Soot and Smoke near their bear cave, photo courtesy of Allegany State Park Historical Society.
Bear cave entrance today.
Another famous creature of the zoo was Cleopatra, a golden eagle, owned by Egbert Pfieffer, a world-renowned bird specialist and ASP naturalist. Cleo was a trained eagle who would sit on Mr. Pfieffer’s arm as he walked around the area. Pfieffer also supplied the museum with a red-tailed hawk, great blue heron, owls, and other birds of prey.
The Zoo was open from May until early October, when all the animals were released back into the wild. It was closed in 1944 due to World War II and was never reopened. The building was torn down in the 1960s, but the foundations remain.
The cages and displays are long gone; but the Environmental Education Department still tells the story of the zoo. You can find amazing small wildlife like millipedes, salamanders, toads and frogs in or near the pools once inhabited by turtles and fish. One of the frogs, Louise, a green frog, was named by a kindergarten class who first discovered her two years ago.
Come visit the zoo, sit quietly on the moss covered stone walls, and imagine the sounds of excited children as they rush from one exhibit to another, looking at and learning about the wonderful wild things of long-ago Allegany.