Tag Archives: Recreation

Hiking the Grasslands of Knox Farm State Park

Knox Farm State Park (Knox), located in East Aurora, is the former country estate of the celebrated Knox family. Seymour H. Knox, founding partner of the F.W. Woolworth Company, purchased the property in the 1890’s to train Standardbred and carriage horses. The Knox family made significant contributions to the business, educational, and cultural legacy of Western New York and owned the property until 2000 when it was sold to the state. Today the park consists of 633 acres, roughly 400 of which are grasslands and 100 acres of woodlots and wetland areas.

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Enjoying one of the many vistas in the park, photo by Claudia Rosen.

The grasslands provide a unique opportunity to enjoy a diversity of life that cannot be found in many other places in Western New York. Visitors can hike, ride horseback, cross-country ski, or snowshoe through the scenic trails. No matter the season, Knox always provides a memorable experience.

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Birding along the grassland trails, photo by Niagara Programs Office.

After the winter thaw, some of the most anticipated yearly arrivals to the park are the boisterous bobolinks and eastern meadowlarks. Both bird species only nest in grasslands and can be found in large numbers throughout the park. Bobolinks breeding in Knox may have migrated from as far away as Argentina, making them the longest migrator of any of the New World passerines, or perching birds! Males perform a captivating display flight making a series of buzzes and whistles that sound like R2-D2 from Star Wars.

Another grassland representative of the park, the eastern meadowlark, is usually heard before it is seen. They can be found along the trails singing their sweet, lazy whistles from atop a fence post or stalk of high grass. Like bobolinks, female eastern meadowlarks build their nests in a small depression on the ground, hidden amongst the tall grasses. Other grassland birds you may encounter are savannah sparrows, field sparrows, and eastern bluebirds.

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Eastern meadowlark, photo by Paul Bigelow

While walking the trails you may also encounter a striking resident of the park, the Baltimore checkerspot  butterfly (Euphydryas phaeton), named for the orange and black colors of George Calvert, the first Lord of Baltimore. The caterpillars of these beautifully marked butterflies can be found in wet areas of the park where they feed on white turtlehead (Chelone glabra). However, they are more frequently encountered along the grassland trails where they make use of English plantain (Plantago lanceolate). Adults can be found nectaring on common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) and other flowers in the designated butterfly meadow.

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A walk through the grasslands of Knox will always yield an exciting surprise. From incredible vistas to the theatrical display flights of male bobolinks, you’re guaranteed to walk away with a feeling of bliss. All trails in the park are easy to walk and some paths are even paved, making them accessible to all. If you haven’t made a trip to Knox Farm yet, be sure to mark it on your list and enjoy this unique and diverse park.

For those interested in learning more about the grasslands of Knox, guided hikes are offered through the Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office.

Matthew Nusstein, Park Naturalist – Niagara Region

Bear Mountain State Park and PS 218 Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School, Bronx

Since the fall of 2016, approximately 300 seventh graders from the P.S./I.S. 218 Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School in the Bronx have enjoyed an annual field trip to Bear Mountain State Park, thanks to the Connect Kids Field Trip Grant program run by  State Parks.  The hour-long journey from the school affords views of spectacular autumnal foliage and the Hudson River Valley to our urban students.

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Students pause at the top of Bear Mountain, enjoying the views of the Hudson River

Arriving at the site the students divide into two groups: one group hikes a portion of the Appalachian Trail, while the other visits the animal exhibitions at the Trailside Museum and engages in organized outdoor play outside the Bear Mountain Inn.  (Some of our students suffer from asthma and don’t choose the mountain hike.) They return to school thoroughly exercised, full of excitement from their experiences hiking or observing firsthand the animals at the Zoo. The trip coincides with an English Language Arts unit of study focused on memoir, or personal narrative. For many, the hike up the mountain has afforded the first opportunity to hike a woodland trail that our students have ever experienced, and they write about their experience and recall it throughout the year proudly.

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Because we teachers applied late in the fall, we traveled to Bear Mountain in early December of 2016.  The smell of the pines was intoxicating, but a light snow had just fallen, making the trail slippery and a bit treacherous on the way up. We conceded that the mountain top was beyond our reach that day, and did our best to lead the students back down the trail as carefully as we could. We wished we had foreseen the footwear that the students needed to better negotiate the trail under slippery conditions – some were wearing sneakers with little tread.

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PS 218 students on the trail in early December

In our second year, we scheduled our trip in early October, and our mountain hikers encountered a blazing hot Indian summer day.  Though we reached the top of Bear Mountain, a few children had inexplicably brought loaded backpacks, which created all kinds of challenges for our teacher crew. Yellow jackets were abundant near the picnic areas below; one student was stung!  We realized later how much we needed to bring an abundant supply of water for the return trip home on the buses. Vomiting incidents drove home that there were risks related to the heat, but junk food and dehydration played a part as well.

This year, the buses were very late departing the school, which cut short our time and made it impossible to reach the top of the mountain.  NYC morning rush hour traffic can be unpredictable; next year we will be sure to request our buses earlier.  At the end of the day, a shortcut on a loosely pebbled trail led to multiple scraped knees.

Each year, we realize how we can plan better for the next!  So, for your Kids Connect Trip, be sure you …

  • Require comfortable and appropriate footwear, depending on time of year; jackets if appropriate
  • Limit backpack weights. Test as kids leave bus (allow only lunches and a drink)
  • Outlaw sweet drinks, and chips or sweets for the ride! Students should eat a good breakfast!
  • Bring first aid kits for bee stings, cuts, bug bites
  • Stock an abundant supply of water on your buses
  • Secure contacts of individual bus driver
  • Remember your bus permit and paperwork to verify your site visit with a signature from Parks administrative staff

Post and photos by Heather Baker Sullivan, PS 218 Rafael Hernandez Dual Language Magnet School teacher

First Day Hikes 2019

Whether it’s a much-needed elixir after a long holiday season or a first step in making (and keeping!) a resolution to be active in the new year, the 2019 First Day Hikes (FDH) are sure to draw thousands into New York’s great outdoors.

Each year on January 1, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) and the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) host these family-friendly events on public parkland across the State. This year’s line-up of 79 hikes includes some exciting new destinations in communities on the shores of Lake Ontario, Lake Champlain, and many more!

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Hikers at Two Rivers State Park, southern Finger Lakes

The popular, outdoor New Year’s Day tradition is in its 8th year. The first First Day Hikes were held in Massachusetts in 1992, but have since spread nationwide. This year marked the first time the FDH went ‘international’, with events held in neighboring Ontario, Canada.

Here in New York, the event has grown significantly since its inception. The 2019 First Day Hikes will be offered at more than 51 state parks and historic sites with some facilities offering multiple hikes for different age groups, skill level and locations. In addition, DEC will host 19 hikes at wildlife areas, trails and environmental education centers. Staff from State Parks and DEC, along with volunteers, will lead the walks and hikes, which range from one to five miles depending on the location and weather conditions.

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Exploring the trails in Moreau Lake State Park, eastern New York

For last year’s event, Mother Nature really tested people’s mettle. With frigid temperatures and snowy conditions across the state last New Year’s Day, a number of parks, sites, wildlife areas and nature centers cancelled or postponed their First Day Hike program, but many soldiered on and welcomed participants all bundled up who were looking forward to heralding in 2018 in the outdoors.

In fact, a pair of intrepid First Day Hikers braved the elements and joined not one, but two (!) First Day Hikes out in western New York. A Miami couple honeymooning in Niagara Falls attended the morning First Day Hike at DeVeaux Woods State Park, and had so much fun they decided to join the afternoon ice-covered FDH program at iconic Niagara Falls State Park (shown below).

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A beautiful day for a hike in Niagara Falls State Park.

Some host locations welcome dogs on leashes and several have flat, even surfaces for strollers. Participants are encouraged to contact the park for information and pre-registration where noted. A sample of this year’s programs feature a seal walk, walking history tour, snowshoe waterfall hike, pet-friendly treks, bird count gorge walks, military musicology, canal towpath walk, and other fun options.

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HIkers pause for a photo in  Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley.

If conditions permit, some First Day Hikes may include snowshoeing or cross-country skiing with equipment for rent if available, or participants can bring their own. Many host sites will be offering refreshments and giveaways. A map and details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain, registration requirements and additional information are listed at parks.ny.gov and dec.ny.gov.

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This New Year’s Day, be inspired by the Florida newlyweds who attended two hikes in a single day in Niagara, or the hundreds of brave souls who joined the gorge walk at Taughannock Falls State Park in the Finger Lakes (shown above), or the families and friends who embrace the winter wonderland at state parks and DEC sites across our state… and start your own tradition today.

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Trails Accessible To All

Early October is such a great time for families to get out and enjoy our parks: October skies are generally clear, colorful fall foliage enhances any scenic vista, and the cool fall days encourages all of us to explore the outdoors. State Parks has accessible trails (trails for people with diverse abilities) that all family members can enjoy autumn’s beauty.   If you are looking for an accessible trail to explore this fall, check out one of these trails!

The newest state park in Western New York (WNY) was created with a focus on providing access to the Buffalo waterfront and recreational opportunities for the whole community. In just four years, Buffalo Harbor State Park has become a popular destination with universally accessible shelters, docks, nautical-themed playground, and accessible van parking. The paved multi-use trail with shaded sitting areas and lighting, connects visitors with a beautiful view of Lake Erie and the path along the newly rehabilitated break wall provides one of the best views of the city. Buffalo Harbor is also a stop on the Shoreline Trail and the gateway to the Empire State Trail, the 750 mile trail that connects WNY to New York City along the Erie Canal.

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You never know who you will meet along the trail. At Sackets Harbor Battlefield State Historic Site, visitors chat with a War of 1812 reenactor along the trail.

Sackets Harbor Battlefield History Trail tells the story of Sackets Harbor and the pivotal role it played during the War of 1812 through ten interpretive panels along the three-quarter mile loop trail.  Additional panels highlight other historical aspects of the site including the 1860s Sackets Harbor Navy Yard and the importance of historic preservation. This accessible trail offers views of the 1860s Navy Yard structures, the 1913 War of 1812 Centennial 100-maple tree grove, the 1930s Civilian Conservation Corps decorative stonewall, abundant birdlife, and unsurpassed views of Black River Bay on the eastern end of Lake Ontario. The three-quarter mile trail was listed as a National Recreation Trail in 2015.

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High atop Bear Mountain, along a 0.4-mile section of the Appalachian Trail (AT) is a popular trail enables everyone the opportunity to hike along the AT, that famous trail that runs from Georgia to Maine.  From the trail, visitors can see the Hudson Valley and if it is clear, the Catskill Mountains.

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Allegany State Park Red House Wetland Interpretive Trail at sunset.

Allegany State Park’s Red House Wetland interpretive trail, constructed in the fall of 2016, brings visitors right into the heart of a diverse and constantly-changing scrub-shrub wetland located near Red House Lake. With the construction of America Disability Act -compliant boardwalks and crushed stone trails, this overlooked and all but impassable wetland habitat has become a popular destination accessible to all. A large observation deck, wildlife blind, and earthen viewing mound frame beautiful landscape views and offer an up-close look at the plants and animals inhabiting this essential ecosystem. Visitor experience is enhanced by a year-round schedule of educational programs and a collection of interpretive features that emphasize important aspects of wetland biodiversity, ecosystem benefits, stewardship values, and more. Everyone is welcome to visit Red House wetland and experience a landscape that can change practically overnight…you never know what you’ll see!

If you are looking to explore the shore, then check out either the boardwalk and the bike path at Jones Beach State Park.  An entry to the five-mile bike path is on the east side of the park’s East Bathhouse parking lot.  The path travels along Zach Bay, where you can pause to watch the boats in the bay, look for migrating birds, and listen to chirping crickets.  If you are looking for an ocean view, then head over to the Jones Beach Boardwalk, a two-mile boardwalk on the beach.  There are two entrances to the boardwalk one in Field 1, the other in Field 6.

Before you head out, check out our trail tips.

State Park offer safe and enjoyable places to explore and discover New York’s great outdoors throughout the year. venture out and experience the vast network of trails across the state in every season. Don’t miss out on one of the best times to visit. Enjoy State Parks trails this fall.

Additional Resources

Accessibility in New York State Parks

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Bear Mountain State Park Accessible Trail