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Get out And Explore … The Thousand Islands Region of New York State Parks

While it may be best known for world-class boating and fishing, the Thousand Islands region of State Parks also offers miles of hiking trails along shorelines and through forests, stretching from Lake Ontario north along the St. Lawrence River and finally to the shores of Lake Champlain.

Covering Lewis, Jefferson, St. Lawrence, Franklin, and Clinton counties, the region  includes 26 state parks, two golf courses and a historic site that cover a stunning mixture of woodlands, islands and water.

Maps for hiking trails and a variety of other useful information on State Parks, including those in the Thousand Islands Region, are now available on the NYS Parks Explorer app.  The free app, which is available for use on Android and iOS devices, is easy to download, user friendly and allows patrons to have park information readily available.

As with all hikes, there are a few things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Check the weather forecast before you go, and dress appropriately. Wear sturdy, yet comfortable shoes or boots, bring water and snacks, and perhaps carry a camera to capture what you see. Be aware of your surroundings and mindful of hikes on steep terrain or those that go near cliff tops. Having a small first-aid kit available in case of an emergency is never a bad idea.

Hiking poles are also useful and can transfer some of the stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.

Trail maps are also available on each individual park website page at parks.ny.gov and at the main office of each park. Be sure to download maps ahead of time or carry a paper copy as a back up

In addition to the name and distance of each designated trail in a park, the maps include facilities such as parking, comfort stations, park offices, nature centers, campsites, and boat launches. To learn more about NYS Parks trails CLICK HERE.  

Hikers should plan their route in advance, know how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. Since daylight is not an unlimited resource, tossing a flashlight or headlamp into your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.

Parks facilities are carry-in, carry-out, so don’t leave trash behind. Follow Leave No Trace principles to keep trails clean for everyone.

Additionally, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard.

Lastly, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, remember to practice safe social distancing, particularly in parking lots and at trailheads, and use face coverings when a distance of six feet cannot be maintained.  To learn more about important COVID safety guidelines, CLICK HERE.

Clinton County


Point Au Roche State Park, 19 Camp Red Cloud Road, Plattsburgh, NY 12901 (518) 563-0369: The park’s Long Point Trail is a must-see, with its panoramic views of historic Lake Champlain, vistas of Vermont’s Green Mountains to the east, and New York’s own High Peaks visible to the west. The two-mile out and back trail features hardwood forests, steep cliff edges, diverse bird viewing, opportunities for world-class fishing, and much more. This state park is rich in history from the iconic Camp Red Cloud boys’ and girls’ summer camp to the famous ‘Fantasy Kingdom’ amusement park. Hikers will find a memorial to those who attended Camp Red Cloud, marked with a plaque on a rock at an outdoor amphitheater and lecture area. This area was used for chapel service around 1950 and today is used for outdoor seminars, college lecturing, actor performances, a music venue, and more.

Find a trail map here…

A view of Lake Champlain and the nearby mountains from the Long Point Trail at Point Au Roche State Park.
The trail passes the marker for the former Camp Red Cloud.

Jefferson County


Black River Trail, 25534 Ridge Road, Watertown, NY 13601 (315) 938-5083: There are three parking lots to access this trail _ Brookfield Power parking lot:  253W + 84 Black River, Rutland NY; the Ridge Road parking lot at 25534 Ridge Road in Watertown; and the Walker Avenue parking lot at the end of Walker Avenue in Watertown. This 4.5-mile, fully accessible paved multi-use trail is suitable for hikers of all abilities, as well as as perfect for running, walking, biking, and cross-country skiing. A converted railroad bed, the trail winds through a mix of forests, agricultural lands, and quiet neighborhoods. Along it are many small bridges and other concrete features that will remind you of the trail’s past as part of the New York Central Railroad. Several illuminated crosswalks allow safe transition between the multiple access points and parking lots. A newly completed extension allows connectivity to the city of Watertown’s network of trails.

Find a trail map here…

Robert G. Wehle State Park, 5182 State Park Road, Henderson, NY 13650 (315) 938-5302: The former estate of businessman Robert G. Wehle, whose family owned and operated the Genesee Brewing Company, this park boasts 1,100 acres and more than 17,000 feet of spectacular Lake Ontario shoreline. The park’s Snake Foot Trail is a moderate 4.9-mile multi-use loop trail. And no worries _ this yellow marked trail is not named for reptiles underfoot, but after Wehle’s prize-winning English Pointer named Elhew Snakefoot. Wehle was a recognized as a top breeder of pointers.

A statue representing Robert G. Wehle’s prize-winning English Pointer dog, Elhew Snakefoot, at the namesake New York State Park that was once his former Lake Ontario estate.

This spectacular trail runs along the scenic cliff faces of Lake Ontario and is truly meant for all seasons. The shoreline picnic area is equipped with a shelter, tables, and grills that are perfect for a summer BBQ. Fall is ablaze with turning leaves illuminated by the setting sunlight. The trail is among several groomed snowshoe and cross-country ski trails, however the dynamic crystalline waterfront of the Snakefoot is an amazing winter experience that should be enjoyed by all. And in spring the calls of Long-Tailed ducks and other migratory waterfowl can be heard from the rocky outcroppings. Caution!!  The Snakefoot Trail parallels the natural coastline and its steep cliffs, and there is very little obstructing the view _ or the fall hazards that come with outdoor exploration. Watch your step and pay attention especially when taking pictures!!!

Find a trail map here…

Fall colors and evening light can be a magical time at Robert G. Wehle State Park atop the rocky bluff at Lake Ontario.

The power when Lake Ontario’s waves roll crashing onto shore

… contrasts with a lake that also can be placid and flat

Lewis County


Whetstone Gulf State Park, 6065 West Road, Lowville, NY 13367 (315) 376-6630: The park’s North Rim and South Rim gorge trails are a 5.6 mile moderately trafficked loop trail that features a waterfall and spectacular scenic vistas. The trail is rated as moderate and highlights a park that is built in and around a stunning three-mile gorge cut into the eastern edge of the Tug Hill Plateau. Primarily used for hiking, nature trips, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, the trail is best used from March until November. Dogs are welcome on this trail but must be kept on leash. The gorge is steep, so be sure of your footing and stay on the trail at all times.

Find a trail map here…

St. Lawrence County


Jacques Cartier State Park, Route 12, Morristown, NY 13664 (315) 375-6371: This park on the St. Lawrence River might be best known for its excellent fishing, but it also features several short trails through the forest that crisscross the park entrance road into the park. The Krooked Kreek Trail can be accessed on either end from the entrance road trail head or the trail head located on the park office road. This easy-to-walk trail is slightly more than a half-mile long, and meanders along several winding streams through an open hardwood forest. The streams are rock filled with several drop off ledges making for small water falls at high water. The openness of the forest makes for great plant and wildlife viewing along the way. Come spring, hikers can spot a large assortment of forest flowers including Trillium, Jack In The Pulpit, Carnal Flower and Solomon Seal to name a few. White tail deer, mink, owls and hawks are common sighting along the streams. A rare treat is a glimpse at an elusive fisher (a member of the weasel family) prowling the shores along the trail. Two bridge crossings offer wonderful location to pause and reflect as the stream passes beneath and on down through the forest on its way down to the river.  In the winter months, the main park entrance road is closed and not plowed. This adds plenty of great opportunities for cross country skiing and snow shoeing with side excursions down the trails looping around and back to the road.

Sign at Jacques Cartier State Park for the Krooked Kreek Trail.


Cover Shot- Sunset on Lake Champlain at Point Au Roche State Park. All photographs by New York State Parks.


And learn about hikes in other State Parks regions in previous posts in the “Get Out and Explore…” series. See you out there!

Get Out and Explore … The Palisades Region

With autumn leaves now turned, hiking in the Palisades region of State Parks offers spectacular views of the Hudson Valley and the Catskills to go with a fascinating history that includes an outlaw’s lair, the state’s early iron industry, and a traitor’s secret meeting place. Located on the west side of the Hudson River, this … Continue reading Get Out and Explore … The Palisades Region

Get Out And Explore … The Central Region of New York State Parks

With summer now in full swing, hiking trails are calling from the Central Region of State Parks, which stretches from Lake Ontario to the Southern Tier and Pennsylvania border. The region includes glacial lakes, sandy beaches, segments of the historic Erie Canal, and dramatic waterfalls. Covering Broome, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Oswego … Continue reading Get Out And Explore … The Central Region of New York State Parks

Get out And Explore … The Saratoga/Capital Region of New York State Parks

Centered on the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, between the Adirondacks and the Catskills, the Saratoga/Capital Region of New York State Parks offers opportunities for both hikers and paddlers. Covering Albany, Schenectady, Rensselaer, Saratoga Washington, Schoharie, Montgomery and Fulton counties, the region includes a dozen state parks, as well as eight historic sites … Continue reading Get out And Explore … The Saratoga/Capital Region of New York State Parks

Get out and explore … the Taconic Region of State parks

With more than 2,000 miles of marked trails across New York, the State Parks have something for hikers of every ability. That includes the beautiful Taconic Region, located on the east side of the Hudson River and stretching through Columbia, Dutchess, Putnam and Westchester counties. Palatial estates, highland trails, Hudson River vistas and woodland campgrounds … Continue reading Get out and explore … the Taconic Region of State parks

Nature Times Spotlight: Can you guess what the name of this winter guest is?

Good news, bird lovers! Not all birds are leaving New York for the winter. This beautiful bird, the Rough-legged hawk or roughy, spends its summers in the Arctic tundra, but when winter comes along he or she takes up residence in Southern Canada and the Northern United States, including New York State. So this winter you might see them circling high above or sitting at the highest point on a tree scanning an open grassy field for a bite to eat. These birds prefer to hunt on open grasslands, farmland, and large open wetlands. This type of habitat is similar to the grassy tundra of their summer homes. State Parks you may see a Rough-legged hawk are Jones Beach State Park, Golden Hill State Park, Chimney Bluffs State Park, Point au Roche State Park, and Clermont State Historic Site.  Other northern visitors that you may encounter while looking for roughys are Snow buntings and Short-eared owls – they also prefer the same type of open land to find food.

roughlegged_hawk_soaring_usfsw
Rougy in flight – notice the dark feathers in the middle of the wings and the white feathers on the chest. Photo by US Fish and Wildlife Service

Some characteristics to look for when identifying a Rough-legged hawk are the dark patches at the bend of the wing and a dark bellyband and a white bib around the throat (and no red tail like one of its cousins). There are light and dark color varieties of this species, so a bird book should always be on hand when searching for this and other bird of prey!

Roughys search for food from utility poles or while hovering over the ground.  They use their powerful eyesight to spot small mammals like mice and voles far below in grassy fields. Then they swoop down to catch the food in their talons.

Don’t be surprised if you look up and see one (or two) of these high flyers in the next few months.

tom-koerner-usfws
Rough-legged hawk in flight, photo by Tom Koerner, US Fish and Wildlife Service

Post by Greta Alvarado, State Parks

Snow Geese at Point au Roche State Park

snow-geese-at-point-au-roche-photograph-by-larry-master
Snow Geese at Point au Roche, photograph by Larry Master

The most abundant species of waterfowl in the world, snow geese or snows (Chen caerulescens), breed in the high arctic and spend winters in the eastern U.S., primarily along the Mississippi river and Atlantic coastal states. In our area, during both their fall and spring migration, snow geese tend to linger in the Adirondacks for a month or more, often times in huge flocks of thousands of birds. You are apt to hear them before sighting them. They sound like a huge throng of baying hounds moving slowly but steadily into your range of hearing, and then you may spot them flying way overhead. If they are close enough, you immediately recognize their snow white bodies and jet black wingtips. You can see them on Lake Champlain, the St. Lawrence River, and the large lakes and marshes in the Finger Lakes region. Point au Roche State Park is a great place to see them up close in the fall as the birds linger on Lake Champlain.

Strong, graceful fliers, snows come down to land by performing a falling leaf maneuver—all of a sudden they seem to lose their balance and start tumbling out of the sky. To watch a large flock of them tumble out of the blue can be pretty amusing. They rank as one of the noisiest birds, barking continually as they fly and vocalizing even as they feed.

You might notice a dark goose or two. Snow geese occur in white or blue colormorphs or forms which ornithologists considered different species until DNA evidence in 1983 confirmed them as one.  They tend to mate with their respective colormorphs and they also segregate somewhat geographically, with most blues breeding and wintering in the middle of the continent and most whites in the east.

Snows feed almost exclusively on plants, preferably in wet areas such as marshes, lakes, impoundments, and waterlogged soil.  They eat everything from stems to leaves to rhizomes and tubers, and have a decided weakness for agricultural fields, which they work for waste grains and seeds.  Their primary method of feeding involves grubbing for rhizomes, tubers and roots by pulling the entire stem of the plant from the soil, with the result that a large flocks can entirely denude an area of vegetation.

Snow geese mate for life and develop strong family bonds, with young birds staying with their parents until their second or third year. Snow geese populations in North America have increased exponentially and in some regions by as much as nine percent a year, which most ornithologists and wildlife managers consider unsustainable.  Essentially victims of their own success, snow geese degrade the habitat in their nesting colonies by eliminating most plant matter and leaving only exposed peat or bare mineral soil, a situation that not only puts pressures on them but also on other species, such as semi-palmated sandpipers and red-necked phalaropes.  But for now, this boom in the population makes for good chances to see snow geese. So get out and enjoy these beautiful birds.  Enjoy the show.

Post by John Thaxton, Northern New York Audubon

Follow these links to learn more about snow geese, snow geese sounds, and a PBS special on snow geese at Point au Roche State Park.

Painted Turtles of Point Au Roche State Park in Clinton County, New York

Lower pond site at Point au Roche Park where all 4 turtle hoop traps are set. (Danielle Garneau)
Lower pond site at Point au Roche Park where all 4 turtle hoop traps are set. (Danielle Garneau)

Point Au Roche State Park is a beautiful and diverse park with a lot to offer visitors. By visitors we’re talking both the reptile and human kinds.  Not only does the park offer spectacular views of Lake Champlain for park visitors, it also provides great habitat for painted turtles!

Beginning in September 2012, two SUNY Plattsburgh students and Professor Danielle Garneau began their first field experience handling painted turtles. The goal of the project was to compare sex ratio and age structure of turtle populations in both urban, as well as rural ponds in Clinton County, New York. This research is part of the Ecological Research as Education Network’s (EREN) on-going TurtlePop project that is a collaboration among numerous colleges across the country.

Participants perform the same experimental protocol to determine if a greater number of adult males exist within urban turtle populations, and if this is a nationwide trend. The decline in young females is thought to result from their high rate of road kill when laying eggs at roadsides. An additional cause of death for urban painted turtles is an increase in the abundance of mesopredators (e.g., skunks, raccoons, opossum, foxes) who raid nests for eggs. Since starting, the TurtlePop project has offered field research experiences to many SUNY Plattsburgh students.

Painted turtle basking on a log with VHF transmitter glued to carapace (top of shell) at the golf course site (urban). Transmitters are used to track animal locations and note movement behavior, nest site selection, and overwintering spots. Note the shedding of scutes (keratin layers) on the top of the turtle shell, which occurs in the middle of summer as turtles grow. Days later this transmitter device fell off the turtle and was relocated along the pond shore. (Danielle Garneau)
Painted turtle basking on a log with VHF transmitter glued to carapace (top of shell) at the golf course site (urban). Transmitters are used to track animal locations and note movement behavior, nest site selection, and overwintering spots. Note the shedding of scutes (keratin layers) on the top of the turtle shell, which occurs in the middle of summer as turtles grow. Days later this transmitter device fell off the turtle and was relocated along the pond shore. (Danielle Garneau)

About a year into the project, as participants grew ever more curious, a radio-telemetry dimension was added by placing a VHF transmitter on the top of turtle’s shells in order to monitor their movement around a gold course pond complex (urban site) in the city of Plattsburgh. Findings suggest that city turtles do not tend to wander far from the shores of their pond and commonly used basking sites (e.g., downed trees, rocks).

In the summer of 2015, with the help of Point Au Roche State Park Naturalist and SUNY Plattsburgh Ecology alumnus Gillian Dreier-Lawrence, park visitors and college students had the opportunity to participate in and contribute to this growing collaborative research effort at Point Au Roche State Park. We are learning that Point Au Roche State Park has high turtle abundance; approximately 33 individuals were caught over three months of trapping in the lower ponds. Plans to further investigate the turtle population at Point Au Roche are in the works, as the  large number of turtles found indicate that  the population size at the park is likely quite large, only 11 marked turtles have been recaptured so far!

Post by Danielle Garneau, Associate Professor at SUNY Plattsburgh

Useful websites:

http://www.nysparks.com/parks/30/details.aspx

https://www.facebook.com/Friends-of-Point-au-Roche-State-Park-116729181851239/timeline/

http://erenweb.org/new-page/turtle-pop-project/

https://www.facebook.com/#!/ErenTurtlePop?fref=ts

Note: All photos were taken by Danielle Garneau and permissions are granted to use in press.

Invasive Mussels & Snails of Lake Champlain

In my two months as a New York State Parks Boat Steward on Lake Champlain I have already collected two aquatic invasive species: the banded mystery snail and the zebra mussel. I encountered the banded mystery snail at two different boat launch sites by the shore of Lake Champlain near Point Au Roche State Park. The zebra mussels are often found attached to rocks, driftwood, and recreational equipment that has been in the water for some duration.

The banded mystery snail is native to the southern United States and its introduction to this region can be traced back to 1867 when an amateur biologist released 200 of the snails into the Hudson River. This event was followed by subsequent introductions from aquariums owners. The snails can grow to be 1.75 inches long and 1.5 inches wide, with anywhere from one to four red bands on the shell. This species also lives in very high densities. Scientists are still studying the ecological effects of banded mystery snail invasion on natural communities. However, the presence of the species has been shown to decrease the survival rates of large mouth bass eggs in ponds and in the lab, which may eventually lead to a decline in fish populations in Lake Champlain.

The zebra mussel is an aggressive species that has spread very quickly since its first introduction to North America from Russia in 1989. By the mid-1990’s the species had become established in Lake Champlain. It is a D-shaped mollusk that is less than 2 inches long and has a distinctive brown zebra pattern on the shell. It poses great threats to native environments because it lives in dense populations of up to 750,000 specimens per square meter. Zebra mussels will attach themselves to any hard surface including native mussels, plants, man-made objects (such as piers and boat motors), and will even adapt to live on soft sediment. They are able to attach to objects by spinning a mass of tiny fibers called byssal threads that allow them to cling to any surface. Their larvae (veligers) are microscopic and float near the surface of the water which makes them easily transportable by boats or any recreational watercraft. Zebra mussels are strong competitors. One way that they outcompete native species is by grazing on large volumes of phytoplankton, thereby reducing the food resources available for native mussel species. They also take up large amounts of space on the lake substrate that is needed for fish spawning. Additionally, they cause drastic economic damage each year by  clogging pipes and pumps at wastewater treatment facilities and damaging municipal drinking water systems, hydroelectric power plants and irrigation systems.

ariana inspection
Ariana London completing a boater/angler survey about aquatic invasive species at the Great Chazy River Boat Launch (north of Plattsburgh on Lake Champlain). Photo by Megan Phillips, OPRHP.

While it is possible that Lake Champlain may never be free of the zebra mussels and the banded mystery snail, we can still ensure that these species do not spread to ponds, lakes and streams that are not yet infested. I feel incredibly honored to be part of the effort to stop the spread of the aquatic invasive species by educating people on what they can do to help.

Remember to clean, drain and dry your watercraft after use. To reduce the risk of spreading invasive mussels and snails in their veliger stage, boaters may opt to wash their watercraft and flush the engine with hot water. Research indicates that zebra mussels in the veliger stage cannot withstand water warmer than 110 degrees Fahrenheit, and adults will experience mortality at temperatures greater than 140 degrees Fahrenheit. For a list of hot water, high pressure boat washing station in the North Country/Adirondack Park area, click here.

Post by Ariana London, OPRHP Thousand Island Region Boat Steward.

Sources:

http://www.nps.gov/isro/planyourvisit/upload/ZMBoaters.pdf

http://www.watershedmanagement.vt.gov/lakes/docs/ans/lp_zeeb-factsheet.pdf

http://www.adkwatershed.org/invasive-species/invasive-species-information/zebra-quagga-mussel

https://adkwatershed.wordpress.com/2014/04/17/banded-mystery-snail-vs-chinese-mystery-snail/

http://www.lcbp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/LCB_Invasive_Species_Guide.pdf

http://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/FactSheet.aspx?SpeciesID=1047