Get outside to a State Park this New Year’s Day! New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) is putting RECREATION at the top of this year’s New Year’s resolution list with First Day Hikes. Now in its 5th year, First Day Hikes are a great way to help you get your New Year’s resolutions started on the right foot.
On January 1st State Parks is hosting 41 First Day Hikes in parks and historic sites across the state from eastern Long Island and Staten Island, to the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, Lake Erie, and much more. Hikes range from accessible, level walks; a leisurely stroll across the world’s longest elevated pedestrian bridge, explorations of historic landscapes or quiet forest; dog-friendly rambles, mountain hikes, family-orientated activities and more. If there is snow, bring your skis or some parks have snowshoes you can borrow.
During your hike you’ll be able to meet new people, see new places, spend time with family and friends, get a bit of exercise, and enjoy time outdoors. Could there be a better way to spend the first day of 2016?
Remember to dress in warm layers, wear appropriate footwear, and bring water and a snack for your group. Most hikes range from one to three miles in length.
Remember your camera and please share your photos on State Parks’s Facebook Page!
Click here for a complete listing of “First Day Hike” events and registration guidelines.
Have you ever gone hiking and wondered where the trail came from, who built it, and when? Many of the oldest trails in New York began as Native American hunting paths, eventually becoming established trade and migratory routes. Until the Industrial Revolution, trails mostly served a functional purpose, but trail building boomed as a new ‘leisure class’ emerged and became interested in outdoor recreation. Today, 16,000 miles of trail run through New York, accommodating hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and more.
In 1891, the New York State Legislature assigned funding to build a trail network across the state, which turned into the greenway system we know today. To promote and advocate for these trails, groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NY-NJTC), and the Adirondack Mountain Club were founded. They provided the volunteers and training necessary to build enough trails to satisfy the demand. Many of these groups exist today and continue to train volunteers in trail construction and maintenance.
The first long distance hiking trail, the Appalachian Trail, was built by The NY-NJTC in Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks in 1923. Conceived in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, the original idea combined recreation, conservation and economic socialism, with wilderness camping. It was seen as an opportunity for people to get away from the city and renew themselves. While MacKaye’s vision of interconnected mountain resorts was never fully realized, the trail was completed in 1937. Today, the Appalachian Trail stretches 2,175 miles from Maine to Georgia.
The Great Depression was a time of enormous parks and trails growth. As part of the New Deal, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt founded the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), based on a similar program he started while serving as governor of New York. This program, in operation between 1933 and 1942, provided unskilled laborers with jobs in the conservation and natural resources fields. During the nine years it ran, three million men participated (220,000 of which were in New York). They planted over three billion trees, and they built more than 800 parks nationwide.
As bicycles increased in popularity, cyclists began advocating for paved surfaces. Paved roads allowed cars to go more places and drive faster than they had been able to previously, thereby making road biking more dangerous for cyclists. In the 1960s, the government began converting unused rail corridors into rail trails to provide a safe space for biking. In the 1970s, rail trails also allowed inline skaters to venture outside of roller rinks and provided ideal corridors for the first recreational snowmobilers.
Following a funding slump in the 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s saw renewed interest in trail building. In 1987, New York City began planning a greenway system; the project was amended in 1993 with a proposal to develop 350 miles of bike and pedestrian trails throughout the city. As of 2010, 140 miles of trail were open to the public.
These days, most trails are built by volunteers through programs like the NY-NJTC, the Student Conservation Association, Park Friends groups and other organizations. Anyone can get involved to help build or maintain a pathway and contribute to the legacy of trails in New York.
Enjoy this short video about safety and preparedness tips for hiking in New York!
Ah, Labor Day Weekend, a perfect weekend to take a hike through your favorite state park. If you do take a hike, try the Symbols of New York State Scavenger Hunt – let us know how you did.
Red-Spotted Admiral or White Admiral butterflies are one our newest state symbol, they were designated as the state butterfly in 2008. These butterflies are polytypic – meaning that there are different coloration patterns for this butterfly depending on where it lives. The white admiral variation has blackish blue wings with wide white band.
The red-spotted admiral lacks the wide white bands and sometimes has a row of red spots along the top of the wing. Overall the wings are a dark blue color with a light blue dusting on the hindwing.
If you are hiking in northern New York, you will only see the white admiral. If you are hiking in any other part of the state, you will see either the red-spotted or white admiral.
Look for Eastern Bluebirds in Park grasslands and on utility wires. These birds are primarily cavity nesters, utilizing hollowed out holes in trees and man-made nest boxes to lay their eggs. Bright blue males are easy to spot while females are a bit more challenging with blueish grey plumage. Both have rust-colored chests and white bellies. Eastern bluebirds have been our state bird since 1970.
New York’s largest rodent, the Beaver, can be found in wooded streams, marshes, and along the edge of ponds and lakes. When you are walking near these wetlands, tree cuttings and chewed trees or shrubs near the shore is a great indicator that beavers are live nearby. If you hear a slap on a pond or marsh, the beaver has spotted you and has slapped its tail on the water to warn other beavers that you are around. If you can find a spot to hide and have time to wait, you might get a glimpse of these shy animals. Beavers have been our state mammal since 1975.
Snapping Turtles can be found in marshes, rivers, streams, lakes, and even in urban waterways. Our largest turtle, their shells can be upwards of 20” long and they can weigh up to 35 lbs. The upper part of the snapping turtle shell or carapace has three keels or ridges. The turtle’s shell can vary in color from tan, brown, olive gray or black. They have a long tail with saw-toothed ridges. Interestingly, snapping turtles have the smallest plastron (or bottom part of their shell) in proportion to their body of any turtle in New York State. Most of their defense strategy is their large size. Look for these turtles swimming slowly through the water with their head poking out of the surface or perched on rocks near the water’s edge. Remember to keep your distance from these turtles; their jaws have a powerful snap! Snapping turtles became our state reptile in 2006.
The rare Nine-Spotted Ladybug has been our state insect since 1989. Slightly bigger than a dime, these oval-shaped insects typically have nine-spots on their backs. If you think you found one, please take a photo, record where you found it and send all the information to The Lost Ladybug Project.
The Sugar Maple was designated as our state tree in 1956. The bark of a young sugar maple is smooth and dark gray; as the tree ages the bark becomes furrowed in uneven long plates. Sugar maples have easily recognized leaves that are between 3”-5” long and 3”-5” wide, usually with 5 shallow ‘u-shaped” lobes. Perhaps you will see the leaves a few of these beautiful trees turning red or yellow during your walk.
And remember to stop and smell the Roses during your hike. If you do, perhaps you will see some late flowers on some of our native roses such as this Common Wild Rose. The flowers can be observed either individually or in small bunches. Look for the common wild rose along roadsides, fields, and salt marshes. Roses were designed our state flower in 1955; they are our oldest state symbol.
When you are done, why not enjoy some New York state goodies: milk, the state beverage (designated 1981); apple muffin, the state muffin (designated 1987); apple, the state fruit (designated 1976); or yogurt, the state snack (designated 2014.).
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.
Walking in the woods this spring, especially in wet areas, you may notice these popping up through the snow. On closer inspection you will notice that it is, in fact, a plant! What you are seeing is the large spathe of the Skunk Cabbage plant. This plant has a very interesting flower structure and strategy for pollination.
Let’s learn about the flower structure first: The large fleshy hood is called the spathe; which encloses and protects the club-like spadix. The spadix is the surrounded by tiny flowers.
Skunk Cabbage is one of the first wildflowers that emerge in spring. This is possible because the plant produces heat, thereby melting the snow around it. The coloration of the spathe varies from greenish to purple, often accompanied by spots or stripes. Two color variations are depicted below:
Notice how the plant on the right resembles the look of raw meat, and if you smelled it you would notice a rather pungent skunky odor; hence the name Skunk Cabbage! These characteristics attract flies which pollinate these plants. You can experience the intense smell by scratching the leaf next time you see this plant in the woods.
Skunk Cabbage can be found in many of our state parks in swamp or wetland habitat. Though the plant has the “Cabbage” in name, it is not edible. The leaves contain calcium oxalate crystals that cause a painful burning sensation in the mouth when consumed. Even boiling the leaves does not rid them of all the irritating crystals.