Tag Archives: MInnewaska State Park

Pitching In For Dwarf Pines at Sam’s Point

With a fire-damaged dwarf pitch pine forest at the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve rebounding slower than expected from a devastating wildfire, a State Parks greenhouse in the Finger Lakes is helping to grow a new generation of trees.

Since fire burned more than 2,000 acres in April 2016 at Sam’s Point, State Parks staff there has been monitoring the health of this globally rare forest ecosystem in Ulster County.

This high ridge in the Shawangunk Mountains is predominantly pitch pines (Pinus Rigida), a fire dependent species of conifer. The pitch pines at Sam’s Point are dwarfed, which means they can be hundreds of years old, while still only roughly as tall as a person.

Pitch pines have serotinous cones, which means the cones require heat from fire in order to open protective scales and cast seed. These trees also have non-serotinous pine cones, which release seeds from November into the winter and do not require heat. Pitch pines take two years to fully develop cones with mature seeds, and the serotinous cones can remain sealed for years until the outbreak of fire.

Burned pitch pine cones at Sam’s Point after the 2016 fire. (Photo credit – Lindsey Feinberg)

The Sam’s Point fire burned hot and quick, which left parts of the duff soil layer still covering underlying mineral soil that is necessary for pitch pine seeds to germinate into seedlings. Duff is made up of partially and fully decomposed organic matter, including pine needles, branches and mulch.

While these exposed pitch pine seeds released after the 2016 fire were a nutritious bonanza for red squirrels, turkeys, and other seed-eating animals, that also meant fewer pitch pine seedlings were taking root to replace trees that had been lost.

Pitch pine forests require regular moderate fires to expose the proper mineral soil and regenerate successfully. The Sam’s Point fire was the first large fire in this area in 70 years and had some exceptionally hot patches. While pitch pines are resilient to fire due to extra thick bark, an especially hot and large fire like 2016 can badly damage or simply incinerate the trees.

During the summer of 2020, it was determined that 77 percent of the pitch pines had died within 20 different plots in the burned zone being monitored by Parks staff. This was a 17 percent increase from an initial survey done in 2016, where 60 percent of the pitch pines were deemed lost to fire damage.

In the immediate aftermath of the fire, State Parks staff went into the burned zone along the Indian Rock path to survey the damage.
In this photograph taken in November 2020, the extent of the fire still shows in this area where pitch pines remain dead (left).

At the same time, fewer seedlings were growing in the aftermath of the fire. Monitoring of the forestry plots has found pitch pine seedling growth peaked in 2017 with 85 seedlings but has continually declined since then. This year only 27 seedlings were found within those 20 plots.

And with fewer trees and lagging replacement growth, it was feared that bird habitat was being lost. Minnewaska State Park Preserve is a designated state Bird Conservation Area as an exceptional example of a high elevation forest community with a diverse forest dwelling bird population.

Some of these birds include the Northern Saw-whet owl, Black-and-white Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Eastern Towhee, Indigo Bunting and Prairie Warbler. Parks staff at Sam’s Point has been surveying for bird activity, but so far has found no clear impacts from the fire to bird populations.

It also is notable that the duff layer at Sam’s Point has increased by almost three-quarters of an inch since the fire. This is due to a lack of any fire succession since 2016. Deeper duff means that the regrowth of this globally rare pitch pine forest will be very slow and difficult, as seedlings continue being inhibited from taking root.

Right after the fire, staff at Sam’s Point wrote a Burned Area Recovery Plan (BARP), using a template created by the National Park Service.  Several important actions are outlined in this plan included:

  1.  Creating and monitoring 20 forestry plots to study pitch pine regeneration     
  2. Monitoring impact of the fire on songbirds which depend on the unique trees and understory found at Sam’s Point for their breeding grounds in the spring through annual species counts
  3. Monitoring and mitigating new fire breaks for erosion, invasive species, and blocking off firebreak and recreational trail intersections with plantings or brush

This work has been carried out carefully by Sam’s Point staff and regional stewardship staff. Assistance was provided by Student Conservation Association Hudson Valley Corps interns as well as interns and staff from regional universities and colleges.

Daphne Schroeder, a Parks staff member from Sam’s Point, takes part in a survey of one of the burned areas.

In early 2019, the Plant Materials Program Staff at Sonnenberg Gardens & Mansion State Historic Park in the Finger Lakes region, reached out to Palisades regional Stewardship staff to discuss restoration projects. Out of nine proposed Palisades projects, two projects were to grow pitch pine seeds collected from Sam’s Point to help regenerate this rare forest.

Sonnenberg Plant Materials Program Lead Technician Dave Rutherford and staff visited Sam’s Point and gathered pitch pine cones in mid-November 2019.

The cones were carefully selected from an area near Lake Maratanza. Specimens needed to have ‘scales’ fully closed, and have a light brown, healthy luster. Older, closed pitch pine cones are dull and grey, so to ensure viability the seeds, these cones were not collected. No more than 20 percent of the cones were collected from any individual tree. Cones were cut from the base of the tree and kept in a woven plastic bag until it was time to process them.

Back at Sonnenberg, cones were heated in small batches at 400°F to simulate the effect of a fire. Crackling and popping as resin softened and melted, cones opened up their protective scales. After the cones had cooled, staff at Sonnenberg turned each one upside down for seeds to fall out for collection.

A healthy, mature pitch pine cone suitable for collecting for seed.
Pitch pine cones arranged for seed harvesting at Sonnenberg Mansion & Gardens State Historic Park.
The heat is on…

These efforts resulted in about 10.5 ounces of seeds, estimated to contain more than 41,000 individual seeds, each one about two-tenths of an inch long. Plant Materials staff started growing some seeds in April of 2020, and now have more than 500 pitch pine seedlings in their greenhouse.

Learn more in the NYS Parks Blog about the work being done at Sonnenberg Mansion and Gardens to grow native plants as part of Parks’ mission of responsible environmental stewardship:


Another area of degradation at Sam’s Point due to fire damage are fire breaks, especially when created by a bulldozer. Crews made these breaks by removing trees and other potential fuel from the path of the fire to contain its spread. 

Fire managers who worked on the Sam’s Point fire added eight miles of new fire breaks around the park preserve using bulldozers. This equates to adding eight miles of new and hastily planned roads in a semi-wilderness.

A fire break made by a bulldozer in the immediate aftermath of the fire. Breaks were made to remove potential fuel from the path of a fire.
One of the fire breaks at Minnewaska created by bulldozers to contain the 2016 fire is blocked off to discourage hikers from using it.

Potential impacts of concern from these dozer breaks are erosion, spread of invasive plants and creation of new, unplanned, travel corridors by hikers within the park preserve.

Existing recreational carriage roads do serve as a natural fire break, but new dozer lines had to be made to control wildfire spread. There are a few places where dozer lines intersected with the park preserve’s carriage road and trail systems. These fire breaks are now open, linear, areas with knee high shrubs (huckleberries and blueberries) growing amongst the rocky duff layer.

This is potentially a perfect storm for invasive species to take hold, if people are out hiking on these new scars. People are a powerful vector for transporting invasive plant species. These dozer lines also provide a clearing for people to wander off in and get lost or injured. The intersections between fire breaks and carriage roads are a perfect place to establish re-growth of pitch pines, to hide these open scars.

These seedlings now growing at Sonnenberg will be a year old in April 2021, and hopefully can be planted at Sam’s Point sometime next year as the final piece to our restoration plan after the Sam’s Point fire. These seedlings will go into dozer break scars and hot spots.

It is important to note that because the seeds were collected from the globally rare pitch pine forest at Sam’s Point, the native biome is preserved. Once these seedlings are planted, these trees will be growing for hundreds of years, eventually blending in and keeping this forest intact and healthy for generations to come.

The new pitch pine seedlings growing at Sonnenberg’s greenhouse in preparation for being planted at Sam’s Point Area in 2021.
Working in fire-burned areas can result in a bit of soot here and there, as these three Parks staffers show after a day doing surveys at Sam’s Point.

Cover shot – Pitch pine seedlings grow at Sam’s Point Area. All photos from NYS Parks.

Post by Rebecca Howe Parisio, Interpretive Ranger, Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve.


Learn more about the immediate aftermath of the 2016 fire at Sam’s Point and initial signs of recovery in the year following in these posts from the NYS Parks Blog:

Rebirth After Fire

Text and photos by Lindsey Feinberg, Student Conservation Association Intern at Sam’s Point  Please ask permission to use photos. Located within Minnewaska State Park Preserve is Sam’s Point, an area of unique ecological significance encompassing roughly 5,000 acres in the Shawangunk Mountains of southern New York. Toward the end of April, during a particularly dry … Continue reading Rebirth After Fire

From Ashes to Awesome: Sam’s Point

In April 2016, a wildfire engulfed around 2,000 acres of the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Shawangunk Mountains. The “Gunks” (a nickname for the Shawangunks) are well-known not only for climbing, but also for the globally unique community of high altitude dwarf pitch pine barrens which hold some interesting and … Continue reading From Ashes to Awesome: Sam’s Point

Monitoring for Southern Pine Beetle

Earlier this year, the Invasive Species Management Team kicked off the spring with the installation of several southern pine beetle (SPB) traps at Minnewaska State Park Preserve and a few other locations. Southern pine beetle, Dendroctonus frontalis, is a 2-4mm long bark beetle, reddish brown to black in color, that hails from the southeastern United States and attacks pine trees. The female will locate a host tree, most commonly one with a compromised defense system as noted by the presence of alpha-pinene, a chemical released by stressed trees. The females then release the pheromone frontalin to attract males for mating, as well as other males and females. Males also secrete a pheromone, endo-brevicomin, summoning more beetles to congregate. The beetles enter the trees through cracks in the bark. In an effort to eject the beetle, pine trees will produce resin to push them out. The resulting little, lumpy sap nuggets are called pitch tubes and are a good indicator of SPB infestation. Once in the tree, SPB starts constructing curved tubes, or galleries, in the cambium to lay their eggs in. It is in the cambium that we find the xylem and phloem tissue, which transports water and nutrients through the tree and therefore helping the tree growth. Larvae move to the inner bark immediately after hatching, and then to the outer bark to feed as they mature. When they become adults, they chew round exit holes in a “shotgun” pattern, large enough only to fit a pencil tip. The exit holes are another sign of infestation to be on the lookout for. The chewing of galleries disrupts the flow of water and nutrients, resulting in the needles fading and ultimately tree death in as little as 2-4 months. The Long Island Central Pine Barrens have been particularly damaged by SPB. This may be due in part to the lack of fire as a management technique to thin stands, reducing competition and therefore resulting in healthier trees. Additionally, smoke from fires overpowers the beetle’s pheromonal communication, thus impeding their spread.

Because of how widespread SPB distribution has become, eradication of the species is simply not possible. The main method employed to suppress invasions is the cutting and removal of infested trees. A more proactive method includes monitoring pines for the early infestations of SPB to enable a rapid response to the arrival of SPB; bringing us back to Minnewaska State Park Preserve. The Sam’s Point area of Minnewaska is home to the only dwarf pine ridges ecosystem in the world, making it a globally unique and rare site. Therefore, monitoring for the arrival of SPB is imperative for the preservation of this rare pitch pine barrens as well as more common pitch pine communities of Minnewaska.

Nick and trap

Entomologist Tom Schmeelk with the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) came to Minnewaska to hoist the traps and explain how they work. The traps used are Lindgren funnel traps, with a chain of funnels that mimics a tree stem. Several lures, or packets of pheromoneswere placed inside the trap which is then hung in a hardwood tree several feet off the ground and from the trunk. The lures utilized are frontalin, the sex pheromone secreted by females, and endo-brevicomin, the aggregation pheromone secreted by males. In addition, alpha-pinene was attached, a host volatile produced by stressed trees. The beetles are lured to the trap and funneled into a collection cup, the contents of which are sent to DEC to be checked for the presence of SPB.

For those concerned that the traps will attract beetles into the park that otherwise would’ve remained absent, rest assured that these are short-range traps that would only lure beetles within a few mile radius- meaning they only attract beetles already in the area. Being unaware of their presence in the park would be the much bigger risk to the park’s pine dominated ecosystems and all the species that depend on these, including the rare dwarf pines. Last year all the traps remained empty, let’s hope for the same this year!

Post by Sarantia Mitsinikos, Invasive Species Project Steward with SCA/Americorps/State Parks

Featured image: southern pine beetle, Steven Valley, Oregon Department of Agriculture, Bugwood.org

Want to try snowshoeing? Park experts tell where to go

Don’t let the snow deter you from exploring State Parks – just grab or borrow a pair of snowshoes and head out to the trail.  Go snowshoeing on a trail in a nearby park or try one of State Park staff’s favorite snowshoeing spots.

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A group pauses during a snowshoe trip at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, photo by State Parks

In western New York, Tina’s favorite snowshoeing spot is at Wilson-Tuscarora State Park located on Lake Ontario in northern Niagara County in Wilson.  This is where you will find the Red interpretive trail nestled along the east branch of Twelve Mile Creek.  As you snowshoe through the changing landscapes, you’ll pass through successional fields, marshland, and finally through a mature forest of old growth beech and hemlock trees.  Keep your ears open for calls of the pileated woodpecker.

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Snowshoe to this historic tower at Allegany State Park, photo by Adele Wellman, State Parks

At Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Adele recommends the Bear Paw Trail located across the road from the Art Roscoe cross-country ski area on the Red House side of the Park.  Bear Paw Trail is the newest trail built for the snowshoeing enthusiast.  The 2.4-mile long, easy to moderate trail has 15 interpretative sights and runs along the ridge above Salamanca to historic Stone Tower. The trail loops through large stands of Black cherry and White ash trees. Look for small secret plants such as wintergreen and princess pines along the trail. Each Monday evening in January and February, the park offers sunset snowshoe hikes. The Environmental Education Department has a few pairs of snowshoes to borrow during programs.

In central New York, Katie’s favorite part about snowshoeing is how the landscape constantly changes during the winter. Even if you snowshoe at your favorite local park, in her case Clark Reservation State Park in Jamesville, everything looks different in the winter.

After the leaves fall off the trees, you can see so much farther into the woods. You will be snowshoeing along at Clark Reservation, and suddenly notice that the ground drops away not far from the edge of the trail into a steep ravine. You might never notice the ravine in the summer because rich greenery hides it from view. Winter’s arrival reveals forests secrets. Soon though, they are covered up again, this time with ever changing blankets of snow. Nature’s snow sculptures change daily, so you really need to hit the trails often so you don’t miss out!

About once a year, the park gets special permission to host a moonlit snowshoe hike it’s amazing how bright the forest is with the light from a full moon reflecting off the snow. You can even see your shadow! Keep your eyes on the calendar to find out when this year’s Moonlight Snowshoe Hike will be, or come out on your own any day to check out this special place.

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Family fun at Wellesley Island State Park, photo by State Parks

At the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center at Wellesley Island State Park, Thousand Islands, Molly notes that there are four trails open to snowshoeing.  Probably the most heavily snowshoed trail is North Field Loop.  Only a half mile long, it meanders through a forest full of white pine trees, passes through a seasonal wetland, and into a forest of towering red oak trees.  School groups explore this trail on snowshoes and the nature center staff lead moonlight snowshoe hikes on the trail throughout the winter months.  There is nothing prettier than snow covered woods on a moonlit night.  The park has both children and adult snowshoes available for rent for $3 a pair.

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Snowshoeing through Grafton Lakes State Park, photo by State Parks

In the Capital Region, Liz at Grafton Lakes State Park suggests the Shaver Pond trail loop. Just under two miles, it offers picturesque views of Shaver Pond, with a trail winding through forest of hemlock and maple trees over easy terrain.  Inquisitive visitors may see mink or fox tracks along the way.  Trail maps are for sale & snowshoe rentals are available at park office on a first-come, first served basis for $5 for four hours.

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Family snowshoe program at Moreau Lake State Park, photo by State Parks

At Moreau Lake State Park, Rebecca mentions that the park has 30 miles of trails and there are new places to explore as the seasons change.  The parks offers snowshoe hikes and classes for all ability levels, including first timers.  The park also has snowshoes available for rent to hikers or people who want to go out and try it on their own for $5 for a half day and $10 for a full day rental.

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Fun times with friends at Thacher State Park, photo by State Parks

At Thacher State Park, the Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail is one of Nancy’s favorite snowshoe walks. This three mile loop in the wilder northern part of the park takes you through beautiful woodlands of mixed hardwoods with stands of spruce and hemlock trees and across a couple of open fields,  without much elevation change.  Midway on the loop, you can take in the scenic snow-covered views from the cliff edge at High Point.  Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center rents snowshoes to the public.

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Heading out on the trail at Fahnestock Winter Park, photo by State Parks

In the Hudson Valley, Kris at Fahnestock Winter Park mentions two unique snowshoeing trails. If you’re looking for more rugged terrain, and challenging descents, “Appalachian Way” treks along a ridge line to a stunning overlook of Canopus Lake. The trail “Ojigwan Path” offers the beginner and intermediate snowshoer a snaking walk through hemlock groves and strands of mountain laurel. Both routes take around 2.5 hours to complete. Snowshoe rentals are located in the newly renovated winter park lodge, where you can also warm up with a cup of delicious chili!

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A beautiful day on snowshoes at Sam’s Point, photo by State Parks

Laura D. recommends a snowshoeing trail that will lead you to expansive cliff top vistas, through the globally rare dwarf pitch pine barrens, and around the glacially carved Lake Maratanza. The Loop Road at the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve is the perfect trail for viewing these breathtaking vistas. While on the three-mile Loop Road, stop at the Sam’s Point Overlook, where on a clear day, you can see four states!  Snowshoe rentals are available at the Sam’s Point Visitor Center for $15 per adult and $14 per junior (17 years and under) for the day or $5 to join a public program.

From Region Minnewaska
Minnewaska Falls, photo by State Parks

A novice snowshoer will find the modest Mossy Glen Footpath loop just right for a snowshoe trip at Minnewaska State Park Preserve notes Laura C.  This approximately four-mile route follows the Mossy Glen Footpath as it hugs the edge of the scenic Peter’s Kill stream, winding through quiet forests. At the end of this Footpath, take the Blueberry Run Footpath to the Lower Awosting Carriage Road back to your starting point. This loop begins at the Awosting Parking Lot.

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photo by State Parks

These are just a sampling of the many trails you can explore on snowshoes .  We hope to see you out on the snowshoe trail this winter.

Post by State Parks Staff