Tag Archives: Saratoga/Capital Region

Rain Gardens: State Parks Has Them and You Can Have Them Too

What is a rain garden?

A rain garden is a plant-filled shallow depression that collects rainwater (stormwater) runoff. Rain gardens are a great do-it-yourself project for homeowners to manage small amounts of stormwater on their own property.  By directing runoff into the garden, the rain that falls on rooftops, driveways, and other impervious surfaces on your property infiltrates into the ground. The water in the ground recharges local and regional aquifers instead of running off across roads and parking lots eventually polluting local waterways.

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Rain gardens are pollinator gardens too! A tiger swallowtail is nectaring on the blazing star (Liatris spicata) in this rain garden.

Rain gardens are beneficial in many ways

In addition to keeping local waterways clean by filtering stormwater runoff, rain gardens also help to alleviate problems with flooding and drainage. Rain gardens are attractive and functional features that, enhance the beauty of yards and communities. When planted with native plants they provide valuable habitat and food for wildlife. like birds and butterflies and they can reduce the need for expensive stormwater treatment structures in your community.

 Selecting Plants for the Garden

When considering plants for rain gardens, remember that the they are flooded periodically and can go through dry times.  Plants in the middle of the garden, where it is deepest, should be the most adapted to very wet conditions and able to withstand being covered by water for a day or more.  Plants on the edges of the garden should be able to be briefly flooded with water, like a few hours. Be sure to stabilize the raised bank around your garden that holds the water in grass or dry-tolerant native plants as well.

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New England Aster is a great rain garden plant for fall color. And migrating monarch butterflies love them too!

Native Plants for Rain Gardens

Native plants are a great choice for rain gardens.  Planting natives helps protect New York’s biodiversity by providing food and habitat for birds, butterflies, and other wildlife. Natives have evolved in our environment over many years and many of our wetland and riparian species are adapted to alternating periods of wet and dry.  The deep roots of natives absorb and filter runoff more effectively than the short roots of many turf grasses and other ornamental plants – making them a perfect fit for rain gardens!

Swamp milkweed, common boneset, cardinal flower, blue flag iris, Joe-pye weed, and white turtlehead are just a few of our native flowers that are happy in rain gardens.  Shrubs including buttonbush, bayberry, ninebark, summersweet, and winterberry can also be added if the garden is large enough.

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Swamp milkweed

Right Plant, Right Place

When constructing the garden you should consider if the site is sunny or shady in order to select the best plants. Remember – you need 6 hours or more or sun to be considered ‘full sun’.  It is easiest to find plants that work well for rain gardens that need sun, so keep this in mind when planning the location of your rain garden.  Just like with any other garden, think about what variety of height, color, and blooming period you would like as well. Mix a variety of flowers, grasses, sedges, for different shapes and textures above, and different root depths below the surface.  Shrubs are great in rain gardens too, if you have the space.  Consider planting flowers in masses of color to attract birds and butterflies.  Follow the tricks the professionals use and group plants in odd-number clumps, using 3, 5, or 7 (or more – just stick to odd numbers) of the same plant all together.  This way your rain garden is not only stopping stormwater runoff but is also providing you with a beautiful landscape to enjoy all summer long.

Get Outside and Get Inspired

Rain gardens aren’t just for homeowners. Here at New York State Parks, we use them to help manage stormwater on our properties too! Many local parks or other public places have rain gardens you can stop by and see.

In the Capital District area, there are rain gardens at Saratoga Spa State Park, Grafton Lakes State Park, Moreau Lake State Park, and Mine Kill State Park. Many of these sites also use other environmentally friendly practices for managing stormwater such as porous pavement as well.

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Rain garden at the Creekside Classroom at Saratoga Spa State Park. Coneflowers, blazing star, black eyed Susan’s, swamp milkweed, summersweet, winterberry and more are planted in this rain garden!

If you want to learn more about rain gardens, check out these great step by step how-to manuals that are available for free online

Post by Emily DeBolt, State Parks

100 Years at Thacher State Park

A 1920s postcard showing the original ladder on the Indian Ladder Trail.
A 1920s postcard showing the original ladder on the Indian Ladder Trail.

John Boyd Thacher State Park will be hosting a Centennial Celebration on Saturday, September 13th from 10am to 7pm. This free event will feature a variety of fun things to do, including live birds of prey, guided hikes to Tory and Hailes Caves, live music from Oobleck and Hair of the Dog, and kids’ activities including horse-drawn wagon rides, bouncy castles, a climbing wall and pony rides, along with outdoor workshops from L.L. Bean. A ceremony will be held at Thacher Point at 11:00am as at the original dedication 100 years ago.

On September 14th, 1914, Emma Treadwell Thacher joined Governor Martin Glynn and over 1,000 other attendees to formally dedicate 350 acres of the Helderberg Escarpment in memory of her late husband, John Boyd Thacher. Since that day, John Boyd Thacher State Park has expanded to cover over 2400 acres with 25 miles of hiking trails and 9 picnic pavilions to be enjoyed by the public. Please join us on September 13th as we celebrate our history and look forward to the next century of John Boyd Thacher State Park.

Welcome, Daryle the Turtle!

There’s a new critter at the Moreau Lakes Nature Center in Saratoga County – Daryle the eastern box turtle!

Moreau turtle Daryle eastern box turtle

For now, Daryle is staying behind the scenes as he gets used to his new home and lifestyle, but this summer he will star in educational programming out of the Nature Center.

Box turtles are named for the special, hinged plastron that allow these turtles to close their shell almost completely. Box turtles live in open woodlands, pastures, and marshy meadows. They are often found near streams and ponds, where they like to enter the shallow water (although they are not aquatic).

Daryle found his way to Moreau Lakes through Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society (MATTS). MATTS is dedicated to protecting habitat for turtles and tortoises and educating the public on proper care for pet turtles and tortoises.

Daryle was attacked by a dog, and his subsequent injuries meant that he would never be able to close up his shell again. He would not have been able to survive in the wild, and so he was relocated to the nature center. However, Daryle won’t be lonely at Moreau – another turtle from MATTS rescue is already resident at the nature center. Berlin, the painted turtle, was an abandoned pet who has also found a new home at Moreau Lakes.

Moreau turtle Berlin painted turtle

The painted turtle is one of the most common turtle species in North America. In fact, it’s the only turtle that naturally occurs across the whole continent. They are often seen basking in groups on logs in the water and along the shore. They are omnivores, dining on plants, slugs, snails, insects, algae, as well as carrion and small fish.

Painted turtles and box turtles are cute, but don’t take one home! Capturing native NY species as pets is illegal. Fortunately, the Moreau Lakes Nature Center has educated, caring staff that will make sure these unreleasable turtles live in comfort the rest of their days.

Photos by Rebecca Mullins, Moreau Lake State Park. Post by Paris Harper

Salamander Migrations

Salamander migrations are annual events that happen within a very short time frame every year. Salamanders are cued to specific temperature, humidity, air pressure and light conditions which signal to them that it is safe to travel. This typically occurs on the first rainy night above 45°F in the late winter or early spring. Although the salamander migration often occurs on one big night, this year’s inconsistent weather led to a series of smaller salamander movements that were staggered across a few weeks.

Salamanders belong to the group of animals called amphibians, which all share the ability to breathe through their skin. For this reason their skin must remain damp at all times, which is why rainy conditions are necessary for any long-range movement across land.

When salamanders migrate, they are moving away from their overwintering spots in wooded upland areas to vernal pools in lowland areas and depressions. Vernal pools are temporary pools created by spring rain and snow melt that dry up by mid-summer. Predators like fish and turtles cannot live in vernal pools, and so they are a strategic habitat for salamanders to breed and lay their eggs.

Once they have arrived at the vernal pool, male salamanders perform courtship dances to attract mates. Once they have paired off, the males deposit sperm packets on the twigs and leaf litter in the pond, which the females pick up and use to fertilize their eggs, which are laid underwater in groups of 100-300. On the next warm, wet night the adults will relocate to their summer habitats – usually a cozy spot underneath a rock or log.

Salamanders are extremely vulnerable during migration events, especially when their routes require them to cross roads. Many State Parks organize volunteer groups to meet on these special nights to act as amphibian crossing-guards. A few weeks ago, some friends and I took a slow night drive on the county roads near Thacher State Park in Albany County to see if we could help any salamanders on their journey. We saw plenty of salamanders, and frogs, too!

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featured image is a spotted salamander. Photos and post by Paris Harper

Cleaning Up Phragmites

Evicting invasive species from our parks is a tough job. Clearing Phragmites from around the rim of Moreau Lake in Moreau Lake State Park, for example, takes a large team of environmental staff and Student Conservation Association Interns an entire day, as we found out in early April.

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Phragmites is a tall reed which grows all over the world and has culturally been used for food, weapons, weaving material, music instruments.¹ However, populations of Eurasian Phragmites were introduced to the U.S by boat during the 18th and 19th centuries. Lacking natural population controls, the invasive Phragmites has rapidly spread throughout the U.S.²

Phragmites spreads rapidly because, in addition to reproducing through seeds, it also clones itself through rhizomes, a type of root that can form new, genetically identical plants. In this way, Phragmites can rapidly form dense stands that overcome all other plants in an area.³

Cutting down Phragmites isn’t easy work. Structurally similar to bamboo, Phragmites needs to be cut down with a heavy machete or a metal-bladed weedwhacker. Plant can grow as high as fifteen feet and often shelter higher populations of ticks than stands of native plants.

Phrag Moreau Before and After

Because of the particularly pernicious nature of Phragmites, NYS Parks uses herbicide on large stands, in addition to manual and mechanical forms of control. However, even after the plant is dead, cutting Phragmites down is an important part of the restoration process because it allows native plants to recolonize the area, improving the health of wetland ecosystems and building a buffer against future Phragmites invasions.

Sources

  1. Driscoll, Leslie. 1999. Phragmites australis. University of Massachussetts Boston. Online, http://site.www.umb.edu/conne/leslie/lesliepage.htm.
  2. Saltonstall, Kristen. 2005. Plant Conservation Alliance Alien Plant Working Group—Phragmites australis. Online, http://www.nps.gov/plants/alien/fact.htm
  3. Phragmites australis (grass). Global Invasive Species Database. http://www.issg.org/database/welcome/

Post by Paris Harper, photos by Casey Holzworth