Tag Archives: Sam’s Point Preserve

The Ellenville Fault Ice Caves – A National Natural Landmark

The most popular features of the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve are the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves. This remarkable system of crevice caves fills up with ice and snow each winter, and retains some of its ice well into the summer. Even when the ice is completely gone, the caves remain cool all year round. This unusual phenomenon has drawn people to the caves for generations.

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A postcard from c. 1909 showing the snowed-over entrance to one of the caves. The man in the image is an illustration, and slightly exaggerates the scale.

The significance of the caves has even been recognized by the National Park Service. In 1967, the NPS designated the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves as a National Natural Landmark. This designation is given to natural sites that exemplify the special or unique biological or geological features of a region.

Geologically, the Ice Caves are unlike other caves in the Northeast. Most cave systems are made of limestone, which is easily eroded and dissolved by water. This results in the large, open caverns that most people imagine when they think of caves. The Ellenville Ice Caves, on the other hand, are formed out of extremely hard and insoluble quartz conglomerate. When underlying rock layers were folded by tectonic movement, the hard conglomerate separated along existing joints in the rock.

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Cutaway images demonstrating two forms of crevice cave formation. Source: Jack Fagan, Scenes and Walks in the Northern Shawangunks

The caves remain cold because of the natural refrigeration system that exists within them. When air moves across the top of the crevices, the colder, heavier air sinks down into them. The cold air then becomes trapped in the caves, keeping them at a comfortable temperature even during the hottest days of the summer.

While they received the National Natural Landmark designation because of their unique geologic importance, the Ice Caves have a great deal of ecological impact as well. The NY Natural Heritage Program recognizes the ice cave talus community as globally uncommon and rare in the state and a priority for protection. Because of their cold microclimate, the Ice Caves are home to several species that are infrequent in the region. These include goldthread (Coptis trifolium), mountain ash (Sorbus americana), and black spruce (Picea mariana), among others. Scientists have also taken interest in the presence of a species of cave-dwelling crustacean (Stygobromus allegheniensis) that is only found in four states: New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. This little arthropod lacks eyes, as it does not need them in complete darkness. It is also able to survive being frozen, a necessary attribute for surviving winter conditions in the caves.

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Strygobromus allegheniensis. Note the pale coloration and lack of eyes, typical features of cave-bound organisms. Image source: Espinansa et al. (2015)

The Ice Caves have local cultural significance as well. Many residents of the Shawangunks remember the days of “Ice Caves Mountain,” when the Sam’s Point area was managed very differently than it is today. From the late 1960s to the early 1990s, much of Sam’s Point was privately owned and operated as a tourist attraction. Visitors could drive their cars right up to Ice Caves, while a pre-recorded cassette tape described the various features encountered along the way. Doors were placed over the caves to keep the ice inside year-round, and the ice was lit up by multicolored flood lights. A rock wall was built on the cliffs of Sam’s Point to dissuade visitors from getting too close to the edge. While it may have been somewhat kitschy by today’s standards, it cannot be denied that “Ice Caves Mountain” was an important step in allowing the greater public to experience this previously obscure natural wonder.

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Gully with snow at Sam’s Point, photo by Greg Edinger, image courtesy of the New York Natural Heritage Program

Many things have changed since the Ice Caves Mountain days. While Sam’s Point is still managed for recreation, there has also been a large shift in focus towards conservation. Visitors may no longer drive through the park, and the cave doors have been removed in favor of letting the natural ice cycle of the caves take place. Interpretive displays within the park focus on the natural history of the caves, rather than just their physical spectacle.

While National Natural Landmark status highlights the importance of a site, it is up to the owners of that landmark to manage and protect it. Fortunately, Sam’s Point is part of a Park Preserve, meaning that all of the plant and animal life within it is protected. As such, those who appreciate the cultural, geological, and ecological significance of the Ellenville Fault Ice Caves are able to experience them to the fullest extent.

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Ice and trees in leaf – a late spring exploration of the ice caves. Tim Howard, NYNHP

Want to explore the Ice Caves? State Parks staff offer guided hikes to both Shingle Gully and the Sam’s Point Ice Caves; click here for the Sam’s Point Area calendar of events.

References:

Fagan, Jack (2006).  Scenes and Walks in the Northern Shawangunks (3rd Ed.). Mahwah, NJ: The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference.

Espinasa, L., McCahill, A., Kavanagh, A., Espinasa J., Scott, A., Cahill, A. (2015).  A troglobitic amphipod in the Ice Caves of the Shawangunk Ridge: Behavior and resistance to freezing.

NatureServe Explorer Allegheny Cave Amphipod

Ice Caves Talus Community Conservation Guide

Featured image courtesy of Mike Adamovic, from Ice Caves of the Shawangunk Ridge

Post by David Hendler, SCA Education and Stewardship Intern

 

 

 

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

SCA Service Project at Sam’s Point Preserve

It was a beautiful Monday morning as my fellow Student Conservation Association Hudson Valley AmeriCorps members and I made the trek to the Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve. Members were coming from as far north as Moreau Lake State Park (near the Adirondacks) and as far south as Jones Beach State Park on Long Island.  I had come to Sam’s Point before to volunteer with bird surveys, so I was thrilled to return to this spot for our service project.  We had gathered at what would be our home base for the next three days – us in a circle, cars in the background, and a spectacular view of Sam’s Point itself.  We had gathered here for the 9/11 Patriots’ Day of Remembrance and held a moment of silence to reflect on that day 16 years ago, as well as the service we would be providing for the parks.

Before we could get started, some orientation was in order, as there was a lot of information to cover.  Sam’s Point has a rare population of ridgetop dwarf pitch pine barrens, supporting wildlife such as birds, fishers (small mammals related to weasels), and porcupines.  In April 2016, a wildfire broke out in the area, and efforts are underway to study the resilience of this ecosystem.  We were able to see more of the area by hiking up to the scenic overlook as well as to the super cool ice caves!

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Some of the invasive species removal crew

There were multiple projects being done in our three days of service.  Two crews worked on erosion control devices on the Verkeerderkill Falls Footpath. One crew worked on making water bars, trail structures that take the water off the trail. Another crew worked on building bog bridges, low wooden bridge structures that raise the trail out of the water or other sensitive area. The third crew was constructing invasive plant boot brush stations at various entrances around the park preserve.  I was part of the invasive species crew for the service project.  Our main focus was removing spotted knapweed, a purple flower that grew on the edge of the Loop Road. We had been out in the sun working hard on knapweed removal, and towards the end of the day, decided to move in the shade to work on stilt grass.

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On the trail in Sam’s Point Area.

 

While pulling knapweed for many hours at a time, SCA members were able to have some fun.  We had started to play the game Murder on the Trail, which is where the “killer” would stick out their tongue at a person, and five minutes, later the “victim” had to die dramatically. Aaron (one of the program managers) came to check in on us and did not know we were playing this game –   he wasn’t sure what was happening when someone dropped to the ground.  Other fun things included exploring Lake Maratanza and finding baby snakes!  From the beginning of the trail at the bottom of the ridge, all the way to the top, past Sam’s Point towards Lake Maratanza, we pulled almost half a mile of knapweed. That’s a lot of knapweed!

The other teams worked hard and played hard too! The bog bridging crew installed over 170 feet of new bog bridges and the water bar crew improved almost a quarter mile of trail on one of the park preserve’s most popular trails. The boot brush crew installed three new boot brush stations to educate the public about invasive species and help stop the spread of invasive plant seeds.’

Three project photos

After three days of hard work and camping out at Sam’s Point, it was time for all of us to return to our homes in the Hudson valley.  We had done great work for the park and I was happy to be a part of it.

Thank you to the SCA, SCA members, State Parks, and the staff of Sam’s Point. Until next time!

Post by Emily Enoch, SCA Hudson Valley AmeriCorps Member

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 charismatic flora and fauna. This year marks one year after the fire and it has been a very interesting time to be at Sam’s Point. Park staff have taken advantage of what some may consider destruction to learn more about the unique ecosystem that evolved along with fire. Student Conservation Association interns, State Park staff, and volunteer citizen scientists have researched how the ecological community at Sam’s Point is responding to the fire.

In the weeks after the 2016 fire, the State Parks staff set up twenty random plots within the pine barrens to study the regrowth of the forest after the fire. One year later, we continue to collect data on the changes that are taking place as the ecosystem bounces back. At each research site, pitch pines are measured and any new growth, or lack thereof, is recorded. We also search for pitch pine seedlings and this year we found more of them in our plots than last year! Pitch pines are a fire dependent species – this means that throughout their existence they have evolved to grow in areas with high incidence of fire and have adapted to survive and thrive in these areas. Perhaps most importantly to pitch pine survival, their pine cones need extreme heat, like the high heat produced from fire, to open up to release their seed. Although the high intensity of the fire may have damaged many of the older pitch pines, we can see the beginnings of a new forest through our observations.

At four of the 20 fire-regeneration plots, we took photos to collect visual data on changes over time. We are able to see changes in vegetation during the growing season and are able to compare vegetation levels from this year to last year. After a fire burns an ecosystem, the intensity of the burn creates a mosaic pattern on the land, making patches of different habitat. For those areas that are more severely burned, different plants may be found in those areas than areas that were less severely burned.  Through our data collection, we compare what is happening in different areas of the forest that were affected differently after the fire. We also look at any changes that occur over time as plants recolonize the scorched earth.

Changes over time, State Parks
Photo Points taken by Park staff and interns at Sam’s Point Area fire regeneration plots showing how the forest understory has changed in the past year, photo by State Parks and SCA.

Another study that was conducted this year was a breeding bird survey, where we compared the different bird species found in the burned area of the pine barrens to birds that were found in the unburned areas. Since the fire burned nearly half of the Sam’s Point Area, we looked at whether this change in habitat displaced breeding birds, welcomed new species, or if the number of breeding bird stayed the same. Interns, staff, and volunteers braved early mornings in May and June to conduct surveys in the park. Most often, we heard the eastern towhee telling us to “drink your tea”, the prairie warbler’s ascending song, and the “witchity witchity” of the common yellowthroat.  These species were found all over the park and we did not see many differences between the species we found within the burned area and outside of it. Generally, the differences we found had more to do with other aspects of habitat (i.e. birds were closer to water, closer to deciduous trees, etc.) than to the damage from the fire.

Fire has a long history on the Shawangunk Ridge and pitch pines are not the only species that has adapted to thrive with fire. Up until the 1960’s, berry pickers swarmed the mountainsides in the summer, picking huckleberry and blueberry and selling their juicy finds to city dwellers. Sometimes, they set fire to the ridge so that the next year, their bounty would be sweeter (in both size and taste!) Going further back into the history of the ridge, the Native Americans would also set similar, controlled fires, which today we would call prescribed burns, to keep the ecosystem healthy and productive. Although the 2016 fire was an intense wildfire and not a prescribed burn, we received the bounty of increased berry production in 2017. In mid-July the blueberries flourished, and modern day berry pickers, as well as animals that eat berries, such as chipmunks, squirrels, deer, birds, and bear, were able to indulge in these treats. By the end of July, the huckleberries had joined in on the fun so that at our August Berry Bonanza event, visitors could taste test and compare blueberry and huckleberry and choose their preference before they entered the berry-lined trails.

The 2016 wildfire at Sam’s Point has given us a lot to think about in the last year. We continue to learn more about our unique little corner of the world, and we share what we have learned with our visitors. We are also able to enjoy the beauty of the rebirth of an ecosystem. This strange, otherworldly beauty inspires park-goers with a new type of scenery they may have never seen before, making this one of a kind ecosystem seem even more special. To learn more about Sam’s Point Area of Minnewaska State Park Preserve or to get involved in Citizen Science visit https://parks.ny.gov/parks/193 , or even better, come visit us in person! We look forward to sharing our park with you.

Post by Leah Rudge, Student Conservation Association Intern

Featured image by  Leah Rudge, Student Conservation Association Intern

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