Tag Archives: Hiking

Building Bridges: the Excelsior Conservation Corps Lend State Parks a Hand at Mine Kill

Members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC) (an AmeriCorps program) recently visited Mine Kill State Park to help the State Parks staff with a few projects.  The ECC is a non-profit organization within the Student Conservation Association. The members involved in this program range from ages 18-25 and learn skills and methods on conserving and maintaining the environment. The ECC crewmembers were given the tasks of building a bridge and creating a new trail.

The members started off their workweek by focusing on rerouting the trail. The original trail was on an old tractor road. It was dangerous due to the steep slope, and would also become muddy and slippery when it rains. The ECC members chose to create a new trail that led uphill into a woodsy area.

When making a new trail “from scratch”, there are a few guidelines to follow to identify good areas for foot travel. Prior to the ECC arriving, Park staff confirmed that no sensitive resources like artifacts or rare species were present along the route. Then the ECC crew could move forward on the project.  One of the key factors is to make sure the path is a fairly flat surface with no obstacles in the way. When you’re in the middle of a wooded area, finding a natural path that meets these standards can be difficult, but the crew was able to fix a majority of the problems with the tools they brought. Another factor to keep in mind is to avoid putting a trail at the bottom of a slope, because water can collect and make it muddy and hazardous. If there is no other option than putting a trail in an area where the water pools, trail features can help diminish the impact of the water.

After the team marked off the proposed path with flagging tape on tree branches, they reviewed the route and identified needs. They brought out their tools and began digging up the dirt to make a more obvious trail. Shovels, pick mattocks, loppers and hoes are normally used for digging dirt up, picking out rocks and roots, and cutting down tree branches that are hanging over the path.

In certain areas, the path would hit a steeper slope. In order to even it out, the work crew needed to “bench” it. This required digging out a flat wall in the steep slope and dragging the dirt out to make it flatter for foot travel. This can help reduce erosion of the soil too, to make for a more durable and lasting trail.

ECC Benching
Two members of the ECC “benching” a steep path to make it flatter for hikers, taken by an ECC member.

In the end, the rerouted trail was measured to be a quarter of a mile long!

ECC Chainsaw
An ECC member using the chainsaw to cut notches into the cedar tree, taken by another ECC member.

The other project was building a 14-foot long bridge. The ECC team began the task by cutting down two cedar trees in the woods to use as an under support system for the planks. After the trees were cut down, they carried them over to the site where they used knives and axes to “debark” the trees. Cedar is resistant to rot and by peeling off a few outer layers of the cedar trees, it delays decay even further in the future, which would potentially destroy the bridge.

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The cedar trees cut flat so they can support the planks And you can see how Red cedar get its name

After they took off the bark, they used chainsaws to split the logs lengthwise to create flat side to lay the planks. Once the trees were flattened out and put into place, the planks were drilled and bolted to lock them onto sturdy blocks of wood on either side of the creek. Finally, they placed each short plank on the cedar rails, spaced them out evenly and drilled the planks in, completing the bridge.

Now, thanks to the work of the Excelsior Conservation Corps, Mine Kill State Park has a new improved trail route and bridge crossing ready for patrons to enjoy.

ECC Bridge
The finished 14-foot long Bridge, ready for hikers., photo by ECC members.

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC member

Late Spring Flora

Finally the weather is warming and the flowers are popping out. Time to get outside and look for spring flora! You can find wildflowers in the woods, at the pond or along a stream, in the dunes, or maybe even in your back yard or neighborhood. Here are some native wildflowers in bloom to look out for in May and June.

In the Woods

One of the best places to see an abundance of spring flora is in moist hardwood forests with sugar maple, basswood, ash, and red oak. These are often on slopes and along streams. More acidic forests or drier forests dominated by pines, black or scarlet oak, huckleberries, and blueberries tend to have a less-diverse spring flora. These are common on rocky soils, ridgetops, sandplains (like Long Island or Saratoga). Below are some common wildflowers to look for in either of these types of forests.

Wood anemones (Anemone) are named after the Greek word for “wind”. They have five white petals, divided leaves – shaped kind of like an outstretched hand – and start to bloom before the trees are fully leafed-out. Believe it or not, these are actually related to buttercups!Wood anemone S Young NYNHP1

Bellworts (Uvularia spp.) are common woodland flowers in our parks. They have delicate bell-shaped flowers with six pale yellow petals. There are three common bellwort species in NY state: large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) that likes nutrient-rich or calcareous soils, perfoliate bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata), and sessile-leaved bellwort (Uvularia sessilifolia). The latter is the most common across the state and is also known by the name “wild oats.”

Large bellwort Steve Young NYNHP1

Our native dogwoods (Cornus spp.) have white to pink flowers and include one flowering tree species, several shrubs, and one non-woody (herbaceous) wildflower species. Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) grows low to the ground, but its flowers look just like those of the flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida). They may even be blooming at the same time. Dogwoods are identified by the curving veins on the leaves, and flowers with four white or pink bracts that look like petals.

Bunchberry Steve Young NYSNHP1

Shrubby dogwood Gregory Edinger NYNYP1

In Wetlands, Ponds or Streams

Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) is an easy one to spot because it grows in big clumps or sometimes in large patches. It is always in wet spots, either along slow streams or in open or forested wetlands or seeps. Like the anemones above, this too is in the Buttercup (Ranunculaceae) family.

Marsh marigold Steve Young NYNHP1

Canada lily (Lilium canadense) grows in somewhat open forested wetlands and wet thickets — habitats that are often harder to see from trails and boardwalks. This beautiful lily is widespread across the state, but not nearly so common as marsh marigold.

Canada lily Timothy Howard NYNHP.1jpg

In June, start looking for water lilies in vegetated ponds. We have several native pond lilies, including this stunning White pond lily (Nymphaea odorata) and several yellow pond lilies (Nuphar spp.). Water lilies often serve as landing pads for insects like bees, beetles, damselflies, dragonflies and frogs often hide in the water nearby. You may see some of these critters if you approach slowly and quietly; it’s a good way to keep kids interested too.

White pond lily Kimberly Smith NYNHP1

Sunny Spots from High to Low: Outcrops, Shorelines, and Dunes

Some plants need a lot of sun and can tolerate extremes of heat, wind and/or drought. Here are some of those rugged spring wildflowers to look for:

On rocky trails and summits in the Palisades and Hudson Highlands Parks and elsewhere, look for the pale, yellow flowers of bush honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera). Bush honeysuckle is one of our native honeysuckles and it attracts many pollinators. It is much less common than the non-native honeysuckles, so a little harder to find and often overlooked.

Bush honeysuckle Gregory Edinger NYNYP1

Find a rocky outcrop, rocky lakeshore, or streamside outcrop anywhere in the state and you may find this delicate looking flower: the Bellflower or Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia). You can find it on the rocky shorelines of Lake Ontario in Wehle State Park or other Thousand Islands Parks, on streamside outcrops in the Finger Lakes or Whetstone State Park gorges, or on the rocky summits and slopes of parks like Minnewaska, Hudson Highlands, or Taconic State Parks. This is the bellflower you are most likely to see, but there are native and non-native lookalikes (though usually not in these open rocky spots).

Harebell-bellflower J Lundgren NYNHP1

How about on the sunny dunes of Long Island? Have you ever seen Beach heather (Hudsonia tomentosa) in full bloom? It grows in gray-green mounds on the dunes and sports its tiny but profuse yellow blooms in June. Visit duneside trails at Jones Beach, Hither Hills, Napeague, or Orient Beach State Park. Remember to stay on trails to protect this fragile ecosystem. Local native bees take advantage of this food source.Beach heather Steve Young & Kimberly Smith NYNHP

What’s in a name?

Did you know that every plant (and known organism) is given a unique scientific name? Those are the names in parentheses above. The scientific name consists of a genus followed by a species name like Lilium (genus name) + canadense (species name) = Lilium canadense. While there may be few different plants referred to as Canada lily, or someone might call this plant a meadow lily or wild yellow-lily, the scientific name of Lilium canadense refers to just one kind of plant. So, biologists and landscapers and other people working with plants or animals will use the scientific names when they want to make it clear exactly what species they are referring to. You will see these names in the wildflower guides (books or websites) noted below.

The scientific name also helps to see what species are related — organisms with the same genus name are closely related. So Lilium canadense and Lilium superbum are closely related because they are both in the Lilium genus. Common names are not reliable for this purpose. For example, the white water lily is not a close cousin of the Liliums, as it is in a different genus (Nymphaea). In fact these two kinds of “lilies” are in completely different plant families, the Liliaceae and the Nymphaceae, like distant branches on the family tree.

Both called lilly Timothy Howard and Kimberly Smith, NYNHP

TO LEARN MORE:

Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb. Paperback. 1989. The standard field guide for flora in the northeast. Relies on flower structure so takes a little more time to learn, but includes more species than Peterson’s guide.

Peterson Field Guides, Wildflowers – key by color and shape. Great for the casual observer, or if just starting out, try the Peterson First Guide to Wildflowers.

Go Botany – a great online plant key to flora of New England, but includes most of plants you will see in New York.

NY Flora Atlas – the most current taxonomy, atlas, see what is native or not, rare or common, links to other sources.

NY Flora Association – information about field trips, classes, “Learn 10” programs for all levels, calendar of botany field trips and events across the state, links to other information on flora.

NYNHP Conservation Guides – These provide descriptions of the Natural Communities in New York – different kinds of forests, wetlands and other habitats. Use Advanced Search to find what types are in your county. Each Guide gives a few examples of where you can see it and some characteristic plants.

Post by Julie Lundgren, State Parks Ecologist with New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP).

Images by NYNHP 2018; may be used with permission only.  http://www.nynhp.org

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!

National Trails Day, Saturday, June 3, 2017

From the tip of Long Island, to the St. Lawrence River, the forests of the Taconic Mountains to the Niagara River Gorge, New York State is home to thousands of miles of trails. Every year on the first Saturday in June we celebrate these places with National Trails Day®.

9fe63f0013d7b070eeaf04be3b93f145Created by the American Hiking Society in 1993, the 2017 celebration marks the 25th anniversary of the event. National Trails Day® seeks to connect people and trails across the country. Organized trail events are hosted at parks and recreation locations across the country and people are encouraged to “participate, recreate, and give back”. Many locations have events where folks can join other trail lovers in an organized hike, paddle, bike or horseback ride. Other spots host trail work days where volunteers can lend a hand and clean up their favorite stretch of trail or even help a trail crew construct a new one. In 2016 there were over 100 events in New York alone!

Outdoor recreation is more popular than ever and many people are finding enjoyment on trails. Whether it’s cycling on a greenway trail, hiking to a scenic view, or paddling a river, trails provide a connection to the natural world.  That connection is important as studies now show that, in addition to our hearts, lungs, and legs, trails are good for our brains as well![1]

With greater numbers of people heading out on the trail, it’s more important than ever to recreate responsibly by following the seven principles taught by the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics.

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The Seven Principles are:

  1. Plan Ahead and Prepare
  2. Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
  3. Dispose of Waste Properly
  4. Leave What You Find
  5. Minimize Campfire Impacts
  6. Respect Wildlife
  7. Be Considerate of Other Visitors

It is also good practice to prevent the spread of damaging insect pests and weeds by brushing off your boots or boat before you leave the trail or water. Following these steps will help you have a safe and satisfying experience and ensure that the trail will be there for the next person to enjoy as well.

To find out more information on National Trails Day® including links to events near you, visit the American Hiking Society’s website. To learn more about the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, visit their website. For maps and information on trails in New York State Parks, visit Trails webpage. National Trails Day® events in State Parks can be found here.

See you on the trails!

Post by Chris Morris, State Parks

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[1] New York Times, How nature changes your brain.

State Parks Encourages New Yorkers to Celebrate the New Year Outdoors with First Day Hikes at State Parks and Historic Sites on January 1, 2017

This New Year’s Day, many New York state parks and historic sites are inviting the public to celebrate 2017 in the outdoors with a First Day Hike.  The guided hikes are part of the sixth annual First Day Hikes program taking place throughout the nation, giving people of all ages an opportunity to connect with nature and experience the guided walks with family and friends.

Here in New York, fifty hikes are being hosted, nine more than the previous year, at 44 state parks and historic sites with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill level and destinations within the park.  State park staff and volunteers will lead these family-friendly walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location.  This past year’s program welcomed more than 2,860 people who hiked a total of 6,897 miles.

The start of the new year is the perfect time to leave the hectic holiday pace behind and embrace the outdoors with a walk or hike in New York’s breathtaking scenic settings.  First Day Hikes are a family-friendly tradition that offer a fresh seasonal perspective of the state’s natural treasures and vast opportunities open year-round at State Parks.

Among the many programs being offered this year are a seal walk, winter woodlands, a walking history tour, a snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, gorge walks, canal artifacts, nature detectives and more.  New entries for 2017 include the Jones Beach boardwalk, Gilbert Lake’s wilderness trail, Green Lakes’ hike around the lakes, Seneca Lake and the Cayuga-Seneca Canal, exploring Grafton’s lakes and following along the Old Croton Aqueduct.

If weather conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing.  Many hikes will be offering refreshments.  A listing and details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are available at nysparks.com.

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