Tag Archives: Outdoor Safety

Park Police Spring into Action for 2023

For the first time in four years, New York State’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s Park Police have a new graduating class.

That’s right, a group of 32 recruits answered the call, made it through a trying six-month training term, and are now ready to patrol our parks. While we still have a long way to go to get our Park Police numbers in a healthier place, this influx of personnel is a great start to filling depleted ranks, primarily on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley.

Four 17th Academy recruits were honored at the recent Saratoga Spa State Park Hall of Springs graduation ceremony:

  • Erik Torkildsen – Firearms Proficiency
  • James Hopkins – Physical Fitness
  • Matthew Olsen – Academic Achievement
  • Robert Costanzo – Leadership

For the family and friends gathered on that May 3 morning, the highlight was the recruit recap video that showed the rigors of just what the new officers had to go through. There were written tests, physical fitness activities, pursuit driving drills, snowmobile safety and water rescue lessons, the mental challenges of returning to their barracks to find their living space (purposely) in shambles, plus being tased and pepper sprayed. Some video onlookers laughed, some gasped, some pointed wide-eyed. Most of the new officers didn’t react – they had lived it and earned their badges.

The new class was also offered wisdom and well wishes from leadership at State Parks and Park Police:

“The call to service comes at all hours of the day,” Commissioner Erik Kulleseid reminded them.

“Always make your bed,” suggested Colonel Michael Daddona, Assistant Director of Law Enforcement, referencing making a practice of the first accomplishment of their day, every day.

“Protect precious and beautiful places in New York State,” urged Lieutenant Zachary Voegler, head of the Park Police Academy.

2023’s NY State Park Police graduating officers prior to their May 3 ceremony.

After graduation, PBANYS President and University Police Lieutenants Director James McCarthy underscored the immense benefits of building the Park Police force. “We welcome the addition of these specialized officers who have made a commitment to keeping their neighbors and communities safe,” he said. “At a time when law enforcement agencies face tremendous challenges in recruiting and retaining the best and brightest, the residents of New York state are extremely fortunate that these 32 individuals answered the call to serve and protect.”

Our Park Police graduation, however, was just one of two major events recently hosted at Saratoga Spa State Park. The other event unfolded a few days earlier when Park Police staged an emergency exercise on how to respond to a disaster during a concert at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, commonly known as SPAC, a venue within the park.

SPAC, which will host many Live Nation concerts and events this year, was the setting for a simulated mass casualty training exercise. After being in the planning stages for months, the emergency drill gathered about 300 volunteers on that Sunday morning to participate, including a few of the Park Police recruits to watch and learn from their experienced mentors and future colleagues.

The scenario – a pickup truck crashing into a line of concertgoers waiting to get into a hypothetical Dave Matthews Band show, plus a rogue gun shot – was designed to be both chaotic and realistic. Roughly 20 agencies came together to create a coordinated emergency response, ensuring that injured people were tended to properly, bystanders and staff got out safely, and the message for the public was disseminated clearly and effectively.

Learn more about NY State Park Police’s simulated mass casualty training exercise at Saratoga Performing Arts Center on April 30, 2023.

“[This exercise] gives us a very good opportunity to test our communications capabilities inside the facility with county and local law enforcement and the state agencies that are responding,” said Park Police Colonel Daddona.

Sirens blared around SPAC, officers taped areas off, and volunteers posing as victims were treated at the scene.

Word travels fast through social media these days, and you can likely imagine how the old game of “telephone” could distort a message at a large venue during an emergency situation. Smartphones often intensify that chatter. Questions began to surface: Where did the car come from? Who was driving? Was this deliberate or coordinated? Did the driver have a medical condition? Who shot the gun? Was it even a gunshot? All concerns that Park Police have trained hard to address.

With thousands of attendees still outside of SPAC, and many already inside the venue, Park Police were tasked with assessing the situation and ensuring the safety of everyone on site. It took a coordinated effort, many prior tabletop simulations, and even a closed-circuit social media signal to get the response right.

“We’re doing this to make sure we are as safe as we can be for the patrons of the park and for concertgoers,” said NY State Park Police Sergeant Jeffrey Santor that day as he led the exercise.

With 32 new officers and a renewed sense of teamwork, Park Police are certainly ready for the State Parks’ busy season.

-Written by John Craig, Public Affairs Bureau

Flocking Together for Black Birders Week

Black Birders Week 2023 kicks off at the end of May, and in collaboration with the organization Black AF In STEM, State Parks’ environmental educators from New York City invite you to join in celebrating and uplifting Black birders. From budding novices to seasoned experts, all birders, including those who aspire to learn more about birding generally, are welcome.

What is Black Birders Week?

On May 25, 2020, Christian Cooper – a Black man – was riding his bike through Central Park when he encountered a white woman with her dog in the Ramble and politely asked her to put her dog on a leash. As an avid birder, Mr. Cooper knew that the period between March 1 and July 31 is the main breeding period for ground nesting birds, and the Ramble is a prime nesting area. In response to Mr. Cooper’s request, the woman called 911 and asserted that an African American man was threatening her and her dog.

Video courtesy of NOVA PBS Official‘s YouTube channel.

When the recorded cell phone video of Christian Cooper’s encounter went viral, it made national news and demonstrated the unique challenges Black people may face when engaging in outdoor activities. The incident, and others like it, led to the creation of “Black Birders Week” by Black AF In STEM, fortifying efforts to highlight Black nature enthusiasts and increase the visibility of Black people in environmental issues.

“Black Birders Week has made me even more aware of the dangers Black people face when we spend time in outdoor spaces, but it also helped me discover a vast community of Black birders and nature lovers around the country,” said Roslyn Rivas, Public Programs Manager at NYC Audubon and a guest facilitator for New York State Parks.

How and when can you participate?

From May 28, 2023 to June 3, 2023, NY State Parks is hosting a week-long series of events at two state parks named after historically prominent Black women who lived in New York City: Marsha P. Johnson State Park and Shirley Chisholm State Park.

All programs are free and materials are provided, including binoculars and bird guides. At each event, participants may enter a raffle to win special prizes including binoculars, plush Audubon birds, or a New York State Park Empire Pass!

“I never imagined there would be so many of us, and I have absolutely loved getting to make so many connections and new friends in this network,” said Rivas. “Black Birders Week is a time when we can come together and enjoy being outdoors without fear, especially when access to green space has been purposely limited for Black people throughout history.”

If you are interested in attending any of the eight Black Birders Week events in the NYC region, an overview of each event (and links to register) are below. We hope to see you there!

Beginner Birding with NYC Audubon

Shirley Chisholm State Park– Pennsylvania Side
Sunday, May 28, 2023
10:00 AM to 12:00 PM
All ages– 1.5-3 mile hike on gravel trails with gradual incline
Binoculars provided
Registration is required

Join Roslyn Rivas from NYC Audubon and discover the incredible birds of Shirley Chisholm State Park. Whether you’re an expert birder or just curious about our feathered friends there is always something fun to discover on the trails. All attendees can enter to win a pair of Binoculars or NYS Empire Pass.


Beginner Birding

Marsha P Johnson State Park
Sunday, May 28, 2023
5:00 PM to 6:30 PM
All ages
Binoculars provided
Registration is required

If you are interested in learning about birds, but don’t know where to start, join us for a walk to learn the basics of bird identification. Birders of every level and every age are welcome. At the end of the program, we will be raffling off a new pair of binoculars to get a beginner birder started!


Sunset Birding with NYC Audubon

Shirley Chisholm State Park– Fountain side 
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
6:30 PM to 8:00 PM
Ages 8 years and older 
2-3 miles on gravel trails with gradual incline
Binoculars provided
Registration is required

Sunsets are beautiful, but they are also a great time to go birding as many birds are active at dawn and dusk! Join NYC Audubon’s Roslyn Rivas and discover the joys of urban birding as the sun sets over Manhattan. All attendees can enter to win a pair of Binoculars or NYS Empire Pass.


Puppets at the Park House: Karen Cardinal’s New Neighbors

Marsha P. Johnson State Park
Thursday, June 1, 2023
3 PM, 4 PM, and 5 PM
All ages
Registration is encouraged

Diversity is important, even in nature! Puppets at the Park House presents an original show in honor of Black Birders Week: “Karen Cardinal’s New Neighbors!” When some migratory birds settle into Karen Cardinal’s neighborhood, she learns that our differences are what make us special and that there is space for birds of all colors and sizes.


Ruby’s Birds: Story Time and Craft Workshop

Marsha P. Johnson
Friday, June 2, 2023
3:30 PM to 4:30 PM
All ages
Materials provided
Registration is encouraged

Read a story about a young girl named Ruby and the birds she finds in New York City! Then make a bird decal that helps prevent window strikes, a pinecone bird feeder to support migratory birds, or both!


Birds and Brews: Sunset Birding and a Tour of Brooklyn Brewery

Marsha P. Johnson State Park
Friday, June 2, 2023
6:30 PM to 7:30 PM
Ages 18 and older
Binoculars provided
Registration is required

Come to our sunset birding with our special guest facilitator, Roslyn Rivas from NYC Audubon. Spot songbirds as the sun sets behind the Manhattan skyline. After the program you can choose to attend a free tour of the nearby Brooklyn Brewery offered specifically for participants and receive a drink voucher for a beer, wine, or soda. Learn about the connections between birds and beer, while making new connections with other birders. Birders of all experience levels are welcome!  


New York City Raptors: Live Bird Demonstration

Shirley Chisholm State Park – Pennsylvania side at Hendrix Creek Patio
Date and time to be announced
1 PM to 2 PM
All ages
Registration
is encouraged

Ever wanted to meet some of New York’s fiercest predators? Join Wildlife Rehabilitator Bobby Horvath and get up-close and personal with his wildlife ambassadors and learn about these incredible feathered friends– including hawks, owls, and falcons– at Hendrix Creek Patio.


New York City Raptors: Live Bird Demonstration

Marsha P. Johnson State Park
Saturday, June 3, 2023
1 PM to 2 PM
All ages
Registration is encouraged

Volunteers for Wildlife will give us an up-close introduction to their wildlife ambassadors, including owls and kestrels! Meet some feathered friends while we discuss the many different species of birds of prey native to New York and all of their interesting adaptations!

Written by Jenna Marie Otero, Environmental Education Assistant in the New York City Regional Office


Explore NY State Parks On Snowmobile

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Snowmobilers enjoying some of New York’s 100,000 miles of snowmobile trails. Photo by OPRHP

You may not see any snow when you look out the window right now, but winter is here and now is the time to think about all of the outdoor activities it brings. One of the best ways to experience the natural beauty of New York in the winter is on a snowmobile, exploring The New York State snowmobile trail system which crisscrosses 45 counties through woods, fields, towns and our State Parks.  Snowmobiling is a fun, family-friendly way to enjoy winter scenery and wildlife, especially for those people with disabilities who are unable to do strenuous activities like cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

With over 10,000 miles of public trails, there’s something for everyone to enjoy from local loops to weekend getaways. A Google Earth map of the trail system is available on the snowmobile page of the State Parks website.  Many of our parks have trails connecting to the statewide trail system.  And some parks, like Allegany State Park, not only have over 60 miles of groomed trails, they also have winterized cabins which are open year-round for a warm winter weekend retreat.

If you’re new to the sport, or have never been on a snowmobile before, the New York State Snowmobile Association is teaming up with State Parks to offer Take a Friend Snowmobiling events where you can learn more and take a free snowmobile ride, conditions permitting. An event is scheduled at Selkirk Shores State Park on January 31, 2015. Necessary equipment will be provided; participants are urged to dress appropriately for outdoor weather conditions.

State Parks recommends all snowmobilers attend a certified New York State snowmobiling safety course, and never drink & ride!

Post: Bennett Campbell, OPRHP

Links:

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Winter Snowmobiling Fun, Photo by OPRHP

 

Take a friend snowmobiling full calendar

Parks Website snowmobile information

Take a Friend Snowmobiling Day

Want to learn how you can explore New York’s more than 10,000 miles of snowmobile trails this winter? The New York State Snowmobile Association and Grafton Trail Blazers snowmobile club are teaming up with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation at the Grafton Lakes State Park 30th Annual Winter Festival Saturday, January 24th, for “Take a Friend Snowmobiling” day.  The event is a demonstration of the basics of snowmobile operation and ownership.

The New York State snowmobile trail system crisscrosses 45 counties through woods, fields, towns and our State Parks.  Snowmobiling is a fun, family-friendly way to enjoy winter scenery and wildlife, especially for those with physical conditions or disabilities preventing more strenuous activities like skiing and snowshoeing.  The “Take a Friend Snowmobiling” event is a great introduction to the sport for new riders or reintroduction for those who haven’t been on a snowmobile in years, and an opportunity for current snowmobilers to meet and share their interests.

Representatives from the New York State Parks Snowmobile Unit, the State Snowmobile Association, and the Grafton Trail Blazers snowmobile club will be on hand to answer all of your snowmobiling questions and provide short demonstration rides, conditions permitting.

The event will be held at the playground near the main parking lot from 11:00am to 3:00pm.  Necessary equipment will be provided, but participants are urged to dress appropriately for outdoor weather conditions.  Anyone age 16 and older is welcome to join (if conditions permit snowmobile operation, youth ages 16-17 must have a valid safety certificate to operate). Another “Take a Friend Snowmobiling” event will be held at Delta Lake State Park on February 8th, with more details to be announced.

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Jim MacFarland and Bennett Campbell from the OPRHP Snowmobiling Unit hit the trails near Old Forge.

Click here to view the full Winter Festival schedule of events.

Click here for more information on other Take a Friend Snowmobiling events. 

Click here to visit the NYS Parks website for more information about snowmobiling in New York, including a free Snowmobiler’s Guide.

NYSOPRHP recommends all snowmobilers attend a certified New York State snowmobiling safety course, and never drink & ride!

Post by Bennett Campbell, photo by John Rozell.