Tag Archives: letchworth state park

Efforts to Control Invasive Species in Parks Gain a Four-Footed Team Member

One sniff at a time, an energetic Labrador retriever named Dia is changing the way we combat invasive species in New York State Parks.

Along with her handler Joshua Beese, this invasives-fighting team from the nonprofit New York-New Jersey Trail Conference is on the hunt for Scotch broom, a threat to the native ecosystems in Bear Mountain and Harriman state parks in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Dia uses her powerful sense of smell to help find small and sparsely distributed invasive species that might be missed by human searchers. Since November 2018, her incredible nose has been specially trained to sniff out the invasive plant Scotch broom.

Joshua Beese with Dia. Photo by nynjtc.org

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius)is one of the most destructive invasives on the Pacific Coast, where it has had costly implications for agricultural industries. When it began showing up in New York’s parks, land managers became concerned. Scotch broom forms dense clusters that can displace native plant species and reduce biodiversity that is essential for a healthy ecosystem.

The Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (LHPRISM), which works to minimize the harm caused by invasives, ranks Scotch broom as a tier 2 priority invasive species. That means it is present in such low numbers in the Lower Hudson Valley that with proper action it could be completely eradicated from the area before the population becomes established.

Scotch broom plant in flower on May 2015 at Harriman State Park. Photo by Shelby Timm, nynjtc.org.

The New York State Parks Invasive Species Strike Team and the Trail Conference’s Invasives Strike Force (ISF) Crew of AmeriCorps members, volunteers, and interns have collaborated over the past several years in a bid to eradicate Scotch broom in the region. The ISF Crew has been finding and removing Scotch broom in state parks since 2014, when 37 separate populations were recorded at Bear Mountain and Harriman.

A Scotch broom infestation at Harriman State Park in 2014. Photo by Jennifer Breen, nynjtc.org
After the Scotch broom removal . Photo by Jennifer Breen, nynjtc.org

While a few locations no longer have any plants, other locations are harder to manage. It becomes challenging to find the few remaining individuals among all the other vegetation, which means this destructive plant could still propagate. That’s where Dia comes in!

“Dia first comes into the field with her nose up, smelling what’s in the air, working to detect the Scotch broom scent,” explains handler Beese. “She’s using what are called scent cones; she works her way into a cone and uses that cone to help her narrow down the source.”

Once in a cone, she will search until she gets to the source and put her nose to the ground to sniff out smaller plants that may be tiny and low to the ground. She alerts Beese that she’s found the species by standing or sitting. “The most important thing is that she’s committed to an area where she’s detected the plant until I come and reward her,” Beese says. “Then we can mark it and remove it.”

Dia’s reward: Her ball on a rope with a game of tug and fetch. See Dia in action by following her on Instagram @diasavestheforest.

Dia on the hunt for invasives. Photo by Arden Blumenthal, nynjtc.org

Utilizing their exceptional sense of smell, dogs have been commonly used for search and rescue, as well as weapons and narcotics detection. These tracking and detection skills are now being used to protect our wild spaces. In 2010, the journal Invasive Plant Science and Management published a study that concluded trained dogs could smell and detect twice the number of invasive plants that humans could observe with their eyes.

Although other groups have used dogs for short projects to detect of invasive species, the Trail Conference’s Conservation Dog Program is the first permanent program of its kind in the Northeast.

This is Dia’s first season in the field; she has already been on more than 20 surveying trips. In several instances, the Trail Conference’s Invasives Strike Force Crew had been to a site and completely removed every plant they were able to find—and then Dia found a few more.

Trail Conference Conservation Corps members removing Scotch broom plants in 2016. The flags indicate where plants have been removed. Photo by Matt Simonelli, nynjtc.org

Dia came to the Trail Conference from a farm in Wisconsin that breeds dogs for hunting competitions. She was selected for the program by Beese, an experienced search and rescue dog handler, who is assisted by volunteer Arden Blumenthal. He has trained Dia with the mentorship of Aimee Hurt from Working Dogs for Conservation in Montana, an organization that has been working with dogs on conservation projects for more than 20 years.

In a metropolitan region highly prone to invasive infestations, early detection when populations are small is a key component of successful invasive species management. Not only does Dia make search-and-destroy efforts more thorough within infestations, she is also able to find stray plants outside the known boundaries where people had focused their searches. Dia helps make sure the area is really cleared to reduce the potential for reinfestation or further spread. With better search efficiency, it should be possible to declare New York State parks Scotch broom-free in the near future. 

Crew from New York State Parks Invasive Species Strike Team removing a Scotch broom plant. Phot by Linda Rohleder, nynjtc.org

Up next for Dia is slender false brome (Brachypodium sylvaticum), an invasive grass that can outcompete existing vegetation, including threatened and endangered species, and harm wildlife populations by altering food sources. Slender false brome has recently been found in Letchworth State Park, and this location will serve as a training ground for Dia.

Conservation dogs can learn to detect up to three new species each year, meaning Dia’s incredible talents will continue to develop. “In three or four years,” Beese says, “we’ll be pushing forward the science on what can be done with invasive species detection using dogs.”

New York-New Jersey Trail Conference Conservation Dog team, from left, Arden Blumenthal, Dia, and Joshua Beese. Photo by Heather Darley, nynjtc.org

Post by Linda Rohleder, Director of Land Stewardship, New York – New Jersey Trail Conference and Coordinator, Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM)

Letchworth State Park Snowmobile Trails

Snowmobile trails at Letchworth State Park offer more than 25 miles of trail passing through some of the most beautiful scenery in Wyoming and Livingston Counties.  The corridor trail (C3) extends through most of the length of this 17-mile-long park.  Entering the park in the North from the Genesee Valley Greenway, the corridor trail follows along the main park road.

Between the Perry and Castile entrances, the trail is the main park road.  This stretch of the corridor gives riders spectacular views of park gorge overlooks not seen by many patrons during the winter months.  On the corridor, south of the Castile entrance, riders can view the iconic Archery Field Overlook of the Genesee River Gorge.  Continuing south, the corridor trail passes by the Humphrey Nature Center and Trailside Lodge where it then traverses the mature oak-hemlock forests of the park.

Parking areas to offload snowmobiles are located at the Highbanks Recreation Area, the Highbanks Campground Parking Lot, and at the Trailside Lodge.  The South Highbanks Shelter and Trailside Lodge are available as winter warming shelters with comfort stations available nearby.

Riding at night requires a Genesee Region night time snowmobile riding permit.  For more information regarding snowmobiling, winter accommodations, trail conditions, and permits online or call the Letchworth State Park Visitor Center at (585) 493-3600.

State Parks reminds all snowmobilers that their machines must be registered and insured to enjoy the trails in Letchworth State Park and the over 10,000 miles of additional trails throughout the state. The bulk of the registration fees is directed to the many volunteer-run snowmobile clubs across the state for trail development and maintenance. For information on joining a snowmobile club, visit New York State Snowmobile Association.

To help ensure a safe and enjoyable season, OPRHP offers the following tips:

– Young riders are required to attend a snowmobile safety course, but all riders can benefit from safety education. State Parks maintains a list of snowmobiling safety classes, check for course availability and age requirements.

– Use caution while traveling across frozen waterways. Check local ice conditions (ice should be at least 5” thick,) carry or wear a flotation device and self-rescue picks, limit travel at night, and “if you don’t know, don’t go.”

– Use the buddy system, leave a travel plan, and emergency contact information with someone at home.

– Wear proper clothing and remember that helmet use is required whenever operating a snowmobile. Using of a rigid chest and back protector is also recommended.

 

Grafton Lakes State Park is another great place to go snowmobiling. Grafton Trail Blazers will be offering free snowmobile rides during WinterFest, January 27, 2018.

Post by Bennett Campbell and Doug Kelly, State Parks

Fall in Love with Autumn Camping

If you think camping in a state park campground is enjoyable in the summer, wait until you experience an overnight getaway in September or early October, when New York’s outdoors is awash in enough colors and sounds of the season to overwhelm the senses.

The autumn mist rising from the water’s surface on a brisk morning, paddling along a tree-lined shore edged in spectacular reds, oranges and golds, the crunch of leaves underfoot on a hike, the aroma of coffee over a crackling fire — these are just a few of the experiences awaiting those campers who prefer to camp once the crowds thin, schools are back in session, and Labor Day is in the rearview mirror.

Benefits to fall camping include fewer neighbors, fewer bugs, and a greater selection of sites from the peak summer season.  With the right clothes and gear, the slightly cooler temperatures make fall camping more comfortable than in the commonly muggy dog days of summer.

Plan to extend a leaf-peeping day trip and sleep under the autumn stars. You can book ahead to reserve a spot or opt for a spontaneous adventure and just grab your gear and go. Many state park campgrounds throughout New York are still open with availability for tent and trailer sites, yurts, cabins, and cottages.

Here are just a few of our fall favorites:

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Listen to the rustling leaves while you camp at Allegany State Park, photo by State Parks.

At 65,000 acres, Allegany State Park is the perfect setting for embracing nature’s colorful palette in the fall months.  Lakes, ponds, and miles of trails, beckon outdoor lovers for hiking, biking, nature walks, fishing, paddling, and more.  Choose from tent and trailer sites, cabins, and cottages.

The Middle Falls At Letchworth State Park
Ballooning at Letchworth State Park, photo by Jim Vallee.

In the Genesee Valley, the sweeping views at Letchworth State Park are jaw-dropping in every season, but add vibrant foliage to the mix and prepare to be amazed by the sheer grandeur.  For campers, the park offers tent and trailer sites and cabins.  Visit the new Humphrey Nature Center or explore the gorge trail on your own — views from Inspiration Point and Middle Falls are a must-see.

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Enjoy the waterfalls at Taughannock Falls State Park, photo by State Parks.

The Finger Lakes gorge parks also provide a stunning backdrop for camping this time of year.  Take a break from campfire cooking and enjoy the bounty of farm-to-table restaurants or the premier wineries in the area. Home to 19 waterfalls, Watkins Glen State Park on Seneca Lake welcomes campers to an array of wooded campsites (many with electric hookups) and rustic cabins.  Walk along the winding paths of the gorge or take a bike ride on the nearby Catharine Valley TrailTaughannock Falls State Park on Cayuga Lake leaves visitors spellbound with its namesake waterfall and rocky cliffs that perch high above the gorge.

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Fall camping with a furry friend at Green Lakes State Park, photo by State Parks.

The only thing more colorful than the fall foliage at Green Lakes State Park is the actual Caribbean-like hues of the glacial lakes themselves.  With campsites nearby including many full-service sites and renovated cabins, campers also have easy access to the park’s 20 miles of hiking trails and championship golf course.

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If you camp at Moreau Lake State Park, take a hike around the lake, photo by State Parks.

Moreau Lake State Park is situated in the foothills of the Adirondacks with tent and trailer sites, cabins and cottages. Hike or bike on the 27 miles of trails and enjoy paddling and fishing on the scenic waters of the park’s beautiful lake or the Hudson River.  Wildlife viewing is a favorite!

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Autumn campers at Taconic State Park, photo by State Parks

Taconic State Park offers autumn campers incredible sites for tents or trailers, cabins and cottages, and plenty to see and do including biking, hiking, fishing, paddling, and more.  As part of the adventure, be sure to check out the Harlem Valley Trail, the South Taconic Trail, Bash Bish Falls, and the Copake Iron Works Museum.

 

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Fall colors at Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site, photo by State Parks

Tip:  Whether planning a fall camping adventure or taking a leaf-peeping day-trip, a good resource to determine peak color location is the I Love NY Fall Foliage Report issued weekly.

Lose the Loosestrife: Beetles for Biocontrol

Purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is an invasive plant from Europe and Asia that can overcrowd native wetland plants. It is easily recognized by its tall and showy purple spike of flowers in the summer, lance-shaped leaves and square stems. As an invasive species, it lacks its natural predators and can spread quickly, producing as many as 2.7 million seeds a year.

Loosestrife flower, photo by A McGinnis
Purple loosestrife flower spikes at Silver Lake State Park. Photo by Amy McGinnis

Wetlands are rich habitats that support a diversity of plant, insect and animal species, such as marsh marigold (Caltha palustris,) twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly (Libellula pulchella,) painted turtle (Chrysemys picta,) green heron (Butorides virescens.)  The introduction and spread of purple loosestrife has resulted in the loss of native plant and animals that depend on wetland habitats. In addition, purple loosestrife limits the growth of rare plants and can clog drainage ways and ditches, negatively affecting adjacent land and crops.

Loosestrife in bloom, photo by Amy McGinnis
Purple loosestrife plants in bloom at Silver Lake State Park. Photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Since purple loosestrife grows in wetlands, methods to control this plant and promote native biodiversity aren’t always easy. Small young infestations can be removed using hand tools, but care must be taken to dig out all of the root portions to avoid regrowth. This may not be feasible for larger, more established infestations. The flower heads cut be cut, bagged and disposed of to prevent seed production and the spread of this plant. Chemical herbicides can be utilized by licensed applicators that follow strict protocols to avoid contaminating water bodies and non-target native species. However, there is an easier way to fight this invasive: biological control or biocontrol. Biocontrol is the control of an invasive species by introducing a natural predator of that species following very specific federal and state regulations and testing to make sure there will be no other negative impacts on the ecosystem. In this case, the biocontrol is the small purple loosestrife beetle, a beetle of the genus Galerucella. These are native to Europe and Asia and feed on purple loosestrife in its native range, keeping the plant in check.

Scientists must thoroughly test any biocontrol species to make sure they only affect the target invasive species and don’t negatively impact native species. In the U.S., studies have shown the beetles to be very host-specific, feeding and reproducing predominately on purple loosestrife. The beetles do not completely eradicate purple loosestrife, but they suppress the plants’ growth and ability to reproduce by feeding on its stems, buds and leaves. Thus, they reduce the plants’ dominance and impact within the ecosystem.  Since 1992, biologists working under state and federal permits have released millions of these beetles at numerous sites across the northeast, including at several New York State Parks, such as Silver Lake State Park in western NY.  In NY, the Department of Environmental Conservation continues to monitor the numbers and effectiveness of the beetles and to ensure there are no unforeseen problems.

The beetles are released in the summer when loosestrife is actively growing. They overwinter in the soil near the host plants and emerge in the spring to reproduce, with females laying eggs from May to June. When they hatch, the larvae feed on the loosestrife’s young growth and work their way down the plant where they eventually enter the soil to pupate. They emerge as adults in the summer and the cycle continues. Though they are not strong fliers, occasionally the beetles have been found 10-12 miles away from the initial release site.

Release sites for the beetles are determined by the dominance of purple loosestrife. These sites usually have a high percentage of loosestrife plants where hand removal of them is difficult. Biologists must submit an application to the Department of Environmental Conservation to justify the need for the beetles and receive a permit. The number of beetles depends on the size of the purple loosestrife infestation. Silver Lake State Park is one location where the beetles have been used as a biocontrol for this invasive plant. Silver Lake has an approximate 40 acre wetland with a purple loosestrife population of about 15%. In 2010, 800 Galerucella beetles were released in an effort to control the loosestrife. One meter by one meter plots were established in order to monitor the survivorship of the beetles and the defoliation, or the loss of leaves, stems and flowers, of the plants where the beetles have fed on them. Each summer after the beetles have emerged, the plots are assessed to determine the effectiveness of the beetles and if any more should be released. This is done by looking at the number of loosestrife plants that are defoliated (eaten, not flowering) vs. the number that are flowering, as well as the number of beetles that are seen. More beetles have been released at Silver Lake State Park since the initial 800 in 2010; the purple loosestrife plants have remained contained to that area and their growth has been restricted.  In 2016, State Parks biologists expanded the program to Letchworth State Park.

The extent of purple loosestrife has declined dramatically in areas with this biocontrol. It is unlikely that the beetles will eliminate purple loosestrife populations entirely. The hope is that as more Galerucella beetles are released across the state, the invasive loosestrife will be diminished, making room once again for the native flora and fauna at these sites.

Beetle on loosestrife at Silver Lake SP, photo by A McGinnis
Galerucella calmariensis beetle on a purple loosestrife leaf at Silver Lake State Park, photo by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Post by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Featured image, Galerucella calmariensis beetle on a purple loosestrife, by Amy McGinnis, State Parks

Parks Goes Solar

As we celebrate Earth Day we’d like to tell you a little bit about some of the projects our Energy & Sustainability Office is working on that benefit the environment. Particularly we’d like to tell you how they are developing renewable energy projects all across the state. State Parks has developed several solar arrays over the last few years. Solar arrays use panels to catch sunlight. You’ve probably seen them on the roofs of houses in your neighborhood or maybe even your own house. The panels catch the light from the sun and turn that into electricity for use in the house or building.

NYS Parks has completed 13 solar installation projects to date. Our goals is use the sun to power part or all of our Parks. As a result of their work State Parks is recognized as the leading renewable energy agency in the state. Most installations were completed by trained in-house State Parks employees after they went through a solar power training course at HVCC. By training employees to install solar arrays, Parks is able to save money and give employees the opportunity to learn valuable skills that give them a better understanding of the project. State Parks currently has about 50 staff members with this training and continues to train more each year.

Beginning in 2012 with the construction of the rooftop array on the Niagara Falls Discovery Center State Parks renewable energy projects have grown in number and size. State Parks Staff have installed arrays in several parks across the state including, Niagara Falls, Letchworth, Robert Moses, and Grafton Lakes.

The 13th solar installation was at Robert Moses State Park in Long Island, and will become the first energy neutral State Park in the United States. The nearly 700 kilowatt solar array will save more than $100,000 each year. Built with 2,432 panels, this pole-mounted array is located in the back of parking field 4 of Robert Moses State Park. The solar panels are made in the United States by SolarWorld and supplied by National Solar Technology in Buffalo. This is the largest solar installation by State employees in the State’s history.

Currently Parks is installing a new solar system with a 144 kW capacity at the headquarters of the Historic Preservation Office, Peebles Island State Park in Cohoes. The array will account for more than 20% of the electricity used by the complex. Parks is also constructing a solar array on the roof of the Bathhouse at Lake Taghkanic State Park.  This 40kW solar array will provide more than 25% of the buildings electric need.

Happy Earth Day!

Niagara
Niagara Falls Discovery Center System Output: 8.74 kW Annual Output: 10,940 kWh, photo by State Parks

Letchworth
Letchworth Visitors Center System Output: 25 kW Annual Output: 29,200 kWh, photo by State Parks

Robert Moses
Robert Moses State Park, Field 4 System Output: 693.12 kW Annual Output: 920,000 kWh, photo by State Parks