Since January, we have been members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps, an AmeriCortps program. We work in New York State Parks and state-owned campgrounds and improve the infrastructure (structures that we use to access and enjoy spaces – such as roads, trails, buildings, etc.) of these natural areas. One of our first experiences as members of this program took place in Saranac Lake, in the Adirondacks. Our project was to work with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) workers, and produce thunder boxes (box toilets), outhouses, and register boxes (for trailheads). We helped cut, paint, and attach all of the pieces, and then put them together in a way that would help people in the future easily assemble them in the field. Our crew enjoyed carpentry projects such as this. We did more than just improve our carpentry skills during those cold March days, we created friendships within our own crew and with the workers in Saranac Lake. To show their appreciation for our hard work, our project partner took us to the summit of White Face Mountain, the fifth tallest mountain in New York! We got to ride in an elevator made by the Civilian Conservation Corps – the group that our Corps is based on. We also explored the weather station that is situated at the summit and marvel at the gorgeous high peaks of the Adirondacks. This was a great time and was just an introduction to the adventures that would follow!
Marlena testing out one of the outhouses, photo by Michaela Aney
Marlena and Rebecca at the Summit of Whiteface Mountain, photo by Michaela Aney
In June, our crew ventured to Robert H. Treman State Park in Ithaca. Our job was to rebuild steps on the Gorge Trail. When we arrived, we found a steep trail covered by asphalt and parking barriers and we had the task to remove it all. We started by prying up the heavy concrete barriers and chipping away at the asphalt. Once removed, we then had to carry it all either up or down the hill, depending on what part of the trail we were on. We estimate that we moved more than 20 tons of material over the course of about 18 days! We then began cutting wood and digging dirt to install box steps – 147 steps to be exact! These steps were made from 3 pieces of wood, continuously stacked on top of each other and filled with gravel. The new steps are safer for hikers and will slow down trail erosion allowing park visitors to enjoy the trail for many years to come!
It was a lot of hard work, but we were rewarded with thousands of thank yous from park visitors, beautiful views (Ithaca really is gorges!), and the satisfaction that comes with another completed project.
These were two of the amazing projects we completed this year.
Post by Michaela Aney and Marlena Vera-Schockner, 2016 ECC members
Southern pine beetle has killed thousands of pine trees since it was first found in New York State in 2014. This bark beetle is native to the southern United States, but arrived in New York after working its way northward for many years. Although the beetles are small (2-4 mm; less than 1/8th inch), they are able to kill trees in 2 to 4 months by attacking in large numbers. Once beneath the bark, the thousands of beetles create S-shaped tunnels as they feed on the inner bark, which soon cuts off the nutrients the tree needs to survive and grow.
Southern pine beetle adults somewhat resemble a chocolate sprinkle. These magnified adults are shown over a 1mm ruler. Photo credit: Molly Hassett, NYS DEC
S-shaped tunnels created by southern pine beetle are visible in this round “cookie” or slice of wood from beneath the bark of a pitch pine tree. Photo credit: NYS DEC
In New York, pitch pine trees have been attacked by southern pine beetle more than any other species. Pitch pine trees are often a part of unique, globally and statewide rare ecosystems such as Pitch Pine-Scrub Oak Barrens, Pitch pine-oak heath woodlands, Pitch pine-heath barrens, Pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summits, Dwarf pine plains, and Dwarf pine ridges. In New York, southern pine beetle has been found in trees across Long Island and in traps as far north as Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Shawangunk Ridge. Large forested and unique areas such as the Long Island Central Pine Barrens Preserve and the Shawangunk Ridge are of the highest priority to protect. Maps of the pitch pine communities of statewide significance created by NY Natural Heritage Program provide further guidance on priorities. Although there are no known means to eradicate southern pine beetle, there are measures to reduce the beetles’ impacts and save some of the susceptible pines.
To help fight against southern pine beetle, the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) Forest Health team has conducted trapping, aerial surveys, and ground surveys to monitor for the beetle and cut infested trees (suppression) to manage the beetle. Currently, suppression efforts are focused in the Central Pine Barrens of Long Island. In some cases, pines are replanted along trails or in areas where impacts have been high. The beetles do not attack small, young trees, so the hope is that some trees will survive and produce seed to maintain pine in these ecosystems.
A southern pine beetle trap hanging from a tree in pitch pine community. The traps are used to detect if beetles are in an area. Photo credit: Tom Schmeelk, NYS DEC
Infested pitch pine trees marked with flagging for suppression (cutting). Photo credit: Molly Hassett, NYS DEC
Southern pine beetle is expected to work its way up the Hudson River corridor. The pitch pine-oak-heath rocky summit community occurs scattered along the eastern NY ridges from the Hudson Valley to the Thousand Islands. DEC monitors sites across the region so that teams can act quickly to contain SPB outbreaks and slow the spread. Photo credit: J. Lundgren, NYNHP
In areas that the beetles were captured in traps, but were not found in trees, such as at Bear Mountain and Minnewaska State Parks, the focus continues to be on early detection and surveying for infested trees. DEC conducts aerial surveys over Bear Mountain and Minnewaska State Parks to map out areas potentially infested with the beetle. These aerial surveys are quickly followed up by ground surveys by DEC, State Parks, NYNJ Trail Conference, and others to verify if the trees are infested. So far, no ground surveys have found infested trees in either of these parks.
Efforts at Connetquot River State Park Preserve on Long Island, one of the hardest-hit areas, are focused on removal of dead trees. State Parks, with help from the Excelsior Conservation Corps (an AmeriCorps program) has been cutting down dead trees killed by southern pine beetle along trails to keep the trails safe and open to visitors. State Parks is also chipping up some of these dead trees to help speed up decomposition.
On the trunk of infested trees, the main symptom of southern pine beetle attack is an abundance of pitch tubes which are usually about the same size and color of popcorn. Photo credit: NYS DEC
Volunteers plant pitch pine trees in white protective netting along a trail at Connetquot River State Park. Hazard trees were cut (piled in the left of the picture) while some non-hazard dead pitch pines were left standing (visible in the background) to provide seeds (cones still present on trees), wildlife habitat, and forest structure. Photo credit: Molly Hassett, NYS DEC
Eastern towhees are common in pitch pine-oak communities and scrub oak shrublands. Photo credit: R. Marshall.
DEC, Parks and Trails New York, and State Parks co-sponsored tree planting as part of I Love My Park Day in Connetquot River State Park Preserve on May 7th, 2016. DEC’s Tree for Tributaries trained volunteers to plant the 600 pitch pine that were donated from New York State’s Saratoga Tree Nursery. The pitch pine trees were raised from seed originating from Long Island and will help maintain the local pitch pine genetics that is adapted to the conditions of Long Island. Through hazard tree mitigation, chipping, suppression, and re-planting pine trees in areas attacked by southern pine beetle such as Connetquot, hopes are that forests will remain safe for public use and maintain their pitch pine components in the wake of southern pine beetle.
What started in 1931 as a simple idea to put unemployed New Yorkers to work on state-funded public works projects through the New York Temporary Emergency Relief Administration grew to become the largest peace time utilization of people and equipment in US history – the Civilian Conservation Corps, the CCC. Many New York State Parks including Thacher State Park, Fahnestock State Park, Lake Taghkanic State Park, Selkirk Shores State Park, Thacher State Park, Green Lakes State Park, Letchworth State Park, Hamlin Beach State Park, Chenango Valley State Park, Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park and more benefited from the work that was performed by over 200,000 CCC members from 1933-1942. During these nine years, 61 camps of 200 CCC members built roads, trails, cabins, and stonewalls, planted trees, worked on early invasive species detection and removal and more. The Allegany and lower Hudson Valley regions were considered the highest environmental priority and had CCC camps each year, while other encampments would last a season or two, moving on to another location when the job was done.
About 40 different CCC camps were spread across the state each year. The typical CCC member was between 18-25 years old, “unemployed, unmarried, healthy, not in school, from a needy family, and capable of doing work” (Thompson). Most CCC members were white males; however New York also had CCC camps for Native Americans, African Americans, WWI veterans (separate camps for white and African American veterans), and separate camps for women (known as She-She-She Camps).
This January, New York State is reviving the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration conservation corps with the inaugural New York State Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) and a 10-month residential program modeled after the CCC. The program is open toNew York State students and residents aged 18-25, with an emphasis on veterans and expanding diversity. The 50 ECC members will be based at SUNY Morrisville where they will receive eight weeks of specialized trainings and certifications lead by the Student Conservation Association – Hudson Valley Corps . Then, starting in March and running through early November, ECC members will work in State Parks, Department of Environmental Conservation and other state agency lands on projects across the state focused on:
Open Space Management, maintaining and improving hundreds of miles on New York’s hiking trails
Recreation and Access Mapping, monitoring and mapping over 10,000 acres of public land for safe recreational use
Natural Resource Stewardship, invasive species removal and protection of native species and ecosystems
Environmental Education and Outreach, educating New Yorkers on conservation and stewardship of public lands
Infrastructure and Sustainability, helping to cut New York’s energy consumption and energy costs through the construction of renewable energy projects.
During the 10-months, ECC members will get a chance to work on their education plans and develop career skills. At the end of their service they will be given a Segal AmeriCorps Education Award.
Building on their hands-on experiences and training, ECC members will be poised to become New York’s next generation of conservation leaders. Learn more about the ECC in future blogs.
Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP. Slideshow photos courtesy of OPRHP.
Thompson, Craig; 75 Years Later: The Legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corp; Conservationist, New York State Department of 85 Environmental Conservation, February 2008; http://www.dec.ny.gov/pubs/42768.html.
In August 2011, Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee devastated the Catskill Mountains and Schoharie Valley with a torrent of wind and rain. Several bridges were washed out, including the historic Blenheim Covered Bridge located just north of Mine Kill State Park. A culvert over a tributary of the Mine Kill on the Long Path was subsequently destroyed. On June 6th, the Student Conservation Association (SCA), Long Path North Hiking Club and New York State Parks will join together to construct a new bridge spanning 40 feet over the drainage to once again allow safe passage over this creek for hikers.
SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps members remove invasive species in the Habitat Garden at Hudson River Park in Manhattan.
SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps members working to replace interpretive signage along the trail at Esopus Meadows Preserve.
SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps members are all smiles after completing a new section of trail including split rail fencing at Saratoga Spa State Park.
Every year, on the first Saturday in June all across the country, people celebrate National Trails Day by getting out and going hiking, biking, geocaching and more. National Trails Day is not only about getting out and recreating, but is a great day to give back and volunteer on projects helping to build and maintain trails that we all love and enjoy. This year, three Trails Day projects will be organized and led by SCA AmeriCorps members at Mine Kill State Park in North Blenheim, John Boyd Thacher State Park in Voorheesville, and Hudson River Park in Manhattan. These projects not only accomplish vital work on trails in the region, but also provide SCA members with valuable experience in project management and peer leadership.
For many years, the SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps program has been partnering with New York State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation as well as New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and several non-profit organizations providing internships across the Hudson Valley region. Currently, 46 SCA members serve for up to ten months at sites from Saratoga Springs to New York City. To learn more about the SCA and Trails Day projects you could get involved in, visit www.thesca.org/events.
Post by Nick Marcet, Student Conservation Association (SCA). Photos by SCA.