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.
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.
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.
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
Iona Island, located along an elbow of the Hudson River in Bear Mountain State Park, is technically an archipelago of three islands connected by marshlands. Iona has had many owners in its storied history, prior to being bought by New York State in the 1960s. The Island was host to Native American tribes for thousands of years, who took advantage of the plentiful shellfish along its shores. In the last few hundred years, it has been the site of an unsuccessful vineyard, a hotel and weekend destination for NYC residents, a U.S. Navy arsenal, and a partially built park recreation area. The eastern side of the island past the railroad tracks has been closed to the public since the 1980s, but a small portion of the island consisting of the five remaining Navy buildings is used for storage for the Palisades Interstate Park system. The rest of the island has returned to a more natural state of woods, meadows, and rocky outcroppings and serves as a sanctuary for wintering bald eagles. The island achieved National Natural Landmark status in 1974, and was designated a NYS Bird Conservation Area and Audubon Important Bird Area shortly thereafter.
A key natural feature at Iona is the extensive marshlands, 153 acres in all, flanking its western side. Part of the Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve (HRNERR), this brackish tidal marsh (marshes with water that has different concentrations of salt depending on the tides) teams with life including fish, waterfowl, waterbirds, plants, and crustaceans. In recent times, the rich biodiversity of the marsh, including a number of state rare species, has been threatened by Phragmites australis, or as it is more widely known, common reed.
Common reed (Phragmites australis) is a plant that was likely brought to the US from Europe and Asia in the 1800s through ship ballast or the water taken in by ships to allow them to balance on long voyages. Commonly referred to as just Phragmites, this non-native plant is invasive in the U.S., displacing and crowding out native plant species, such as cattails, rushes, asters, and many others. In turn, the presence of this species has undermined the complex web of marsh dependent organisms.
The non-native Phragmites is identifiable by its tall stature, dark blue-green leaves, and tendency to form dense stands, with little to no possibility for native species to grow in the areas that they occupy. A native species of phragmites (Phragmites americanus) occurs in NY as well, but this smaller plant with reddish stems grows with less density so it does not crowd out other flora.
The phragmites problem at Iona Marsh began in the early 1960s, when the first small colony appeared near a pipe draining into the marsh. Over the next 40 years, phragmites steadily expanded until it covered nearly 80 percent of the marsh area. Researchers tracking these changes noted a concurrent decline in marsh specialist birds and specialized brackish marsh plants, including state rarities. In an effort to reverse these trends, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, while partnering with Hudson River National Estuarine Research Reserve and the Highlands Environmental Research Institute, started a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) funded management program in 2008 focused on a 10-acre test area. The goal was to reduce the invasive phragmites, and make room for native plants to once again occupy the area. If the program was successful in this small area (1/15th of the marsh), it could be expanded to additional marshlands.
A multi-faceted control and monitoring program has been developed and implemented and the results have been dramatic. More than 90% of the phragmites was eliminated within one year and nearly 97% by the third year. Researchers saw the return of huge meadows of annual native marsh plants, including some state-threatened species, followed by perennial cattail stands. Marsh specialist birds such as Virginia rail, least bittern (State-threatened), and marsh wren followed soon thereafter. Based on this success, the project was expanded to an adjacent 32-acre area of the marsh known as Ring Meadow. Both areas now have less than five percent Phragmites cover, an overall success on the journey to reestablish native vegetation.
While complete eradication of the Phragmites may be impossible to achieve, success can be maintained through continued monitoring and spot treating remaining and new patches. Bird and vegetation surveys are conducted annually, as are measurements of sediment build-up on the marsh surface, as it relates to sea level rise. The goal remains to restore the native plant communities in the marsh to promote biodiversity. A healthy, native marsh community will lead to increased productivity and habitats for fish, birds, and mammals – many of them specially adapted to the brackish conditions at Iona. With continued management, the long-term outlook is positive for this Hudson River jewel, one of only four large brackish marshes on the Hudson.
Interested in seeing Iona Marsh for yourself? While public canoeing and kayaking are not allowed in the marsh itself to protect this unique place, through collaboration with the State Parks, NYS DEC offers free public canoe programs each summer. Not a fan of getting on the water? Iona Island is accessible by road. There is a parking lot approximately ½ mile onto the island, right before the railroad tracks (the boundary of the public accessible areas), where you can park and view the marsh. Lucky visitors may spot waterfowl, muskrats, frogs, turtles, wetland birds, deer, or even bald eagles!
Photo credit: PIPC Archives
Dr. Ed McGowan, 2017 Annual Report Iona Island Marsh
You may have seen them in a park near you, these super heroes and heroines in disguise. Since 2008, New York State Parks have deployed Invasive Species Strike Teams. These Strike Teams conduct invasive species surveys and manually remove non-native invasive plants in areas of significance. The goal is to protect native plant and animal species and the natural areas in our parks. State Parks are also an important resource for tourism and recreation. Maintaining the integrity of the natural areas and features in parks helps to support these public interests, including camping, picnicking, fishing, boating, swimming, hiking, wildlife viewing, and other recreational activities.
For the past 10 years, Strike Teams have primarily been involved with removing invasive species on land, but in 2018 State Parks was able to establish an Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) Strike Team thanks to grant funding received from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The AIS Strike Team isn’t afraid to get a little dirty or wet, as their main charge is to suppress, contain, and work towards the reduction of invasive species found in aquatic habitats within the Great Lakes watershed. The team’s home base is at De Veaux Woods State Park in Niagara Falls, but you’ll be able to find them working in the streams, lakes, and wetlands throughout Western NY and into the Thousand Islands.
The AIS Strike Team is made up of seasonal employees who travel through New York State from roughly May to November. A list of priority projects and a schedule is developed by State Park biologists. The AIS team then goes to the sites and camps near the project area for up to a week at a time. This is not luxury living! They use their hands and an assortment of manual hand tools, such as pick mattocks, shovels, machetes, saws, loppers, and sometimes power equipment, to accomplish the goals of the invasive species removal projects they work on. Sometimes the work requires a boat ride or lugging heavy backpacks into a work site. Some of the plants the team has tackled in and near the water include phragmites (common reed), oriental bittersweet, water chestnut, Japanese knotweed, flowering rush, European frogbit, purple loosestrife, and many more.
Another component of the AIS Strike Team is to provide experiential learning to K-12 students. In July, the AIS Strike Team partnered with State Parks’ FORCES program and Syracuse University to host a service day for high school students participating in Syracuse University’s Team and Leadership Academy. Students learned about aquatic invasive species and helped remove water chestnut from Sterling Pond at Fair Haven Beach State Park. For some of these students this was their first time learning about invasive species, let alone being on a boat, so the experience and learning opportunity was well received.
More recently the AIS Strike Team participated at the Great New York State Fair. For three days, the crew worked educational tables focused on invasive species. Families got to learn about invasive species by participating in crafts and games and examining live aquatic invasive species specimens the crew brought with them.
The AIS Strike Team was asked to reflect on their experience during the first year of operation. Here are some words from our hard-working weed warriors:
Working with the NYS OPRHP has been an exciting and worthwhile experience. Our ability to explore and improve our State Parks with the Aquatic Invasive Species Strike Team makes me appreciate what is accomplished through the hard work and constant communication that goes into making our parks so enjoyable. I now realize the impact and extent of invasive species across the state, as well as the importance of our commitment to protect the native species throughout the Great Lakes Watershed.
— Adam Lamancuso, Strike Team Member
This opportunity allowed my understanding of native plant life to flourish and opened up an entirely new perspective towards environmental stewardship through invasive species management. The places I’ve been, species I’ve seen, people met, and progress made to mitigate and apprehend the spread of invasive plants was an opportunity like no other. I wish to see the AIS program continue for years to come and inspire more along the way.
— Billy Capton, Strike Team Member
I love that I get to work outdoors every day and get to travel to new Parks in New York State that I’ve never been to. Not only is it work but also an adventure every day. It’s very rewarding to come to work knowing that the work we do is making a positive difference for the ecosystem and the parks themselves.
— Patrick Mang, Strike Team Member
It is clearly a great privilege to be able to work outside nearly every day, striving to protect NYS’s most treasured natural areas. What must not be overlooked, however, is the progression and determination of our seasonal Strike Team crew members. They continue to work hard each day, learn from and teach one another while continually finding ways to inspire each other along the way, even when faced with challenges. As a Crew Lead, this is the most fulfilling part of the position
— Logan West, AIS Field Lead
The crew asks that, in order to make their life a bit easier, please play your part to prevent the spread of invasive species. If you are a boater remember to Clean-Drain-Dry! Inspect your watercraft and trailer for plant and/or animal matter, and remove and dispose of any material that is found. Drain your bilge, ballast tanks, live wells, and any water-holding compartments. Clean your watercraft between uses or allow it to dry before visiting a new water body.
If you are recreating anywhere, not just State Parks, remember to Play-Clean-Go! Remove plants, animals, and mud from boots, gear, pets, and vehicle, including mountain bikes, ATV, etc. Clean your gear before entering and leaving the recreation site and stay on designated roads and trails.
If you are a gardener one of the best ways of reducing the spread of invasive species is avoid introducing them in the first place! Plant only NY native flowers, shrubs, and trees. Check the NY Flora Atlas to see if a plant is native to NY or not and learn more about New York’s invasive species on the NYS DECs Prohibited and Regulated Invasive Species List.
Here in the Finger Lakes, one of the best ways to access the natural beauty of the area is by taking a hike on one of the many trails that can be found within the region’s state parks. The trails (in parks such as Watkins Glen, Taughannock Falls, Robert H. Treman, and Fillmore Glen) lead hikers through a variety of environments, including mature forests, meadows, lake shores, and wetlands. Of course, hikers can also enjoy the deep gorges, dramatic cascades, and waterfalls the region is famous for! Over the years, hiking has gained popularity nationwide. With thousands of miles of hiking trails, New York State has a lot to offer people looking to get outside. The Finger Lakes region of the State Park system sees several hundred thousand visitors each year, many of whom come to hike the trails. Foot traffic, weather, and time have left some of the trails in Finger Lakes state parks eroded and in need of repair. This erosion not only makes the hiking experience less enjoyable for trail users, it also leads to negative impacts on the surrounding ecosystems. To meet this problem head-on, the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew (FLRTC) was developed in the spring of 2017.
The main goal of the trail crew is to maintain safe and enjoyable hiking trails for park visitors, while protecting the natural and historic resources of the park. Currently the FLRTC consists of three Parks staff members and a diverse group of local volunteers. The Excelsior Conservation Corps (an AmeriCorps program) also helps out with specific projects. In 2018, the trails crew will host two interns from the Student Conservation Association (SCA) Parks Corps devoted to trail stewardship. This team effort has led to a tremendous amount of progress towards the Finger Lakes Park’s trail improvement goals.
Trail work, as a rule, takes a large amount of physical effort and creative problem solving. The work done by the FLRTC is no exception. Traditional tools and building techniques are often employed. Many of the trails in need of repair are in areas that are not accessible by vehicles or equipment. As a result, many of the materials used in trail construction have to be carried in by hand; it takes a strong crew to lug in lumber, stone, and gravel. Sometimes materials have to be moved down into or across the area’s gorges. The trail crew uses high-strength zip lines to accomplish this task. This is the safest method and protects the fragile slopes and vegetation.
All of this hard work pays off in the form of functional, safe and visually pleasing staircases, boardwalks, and bridges that blend with the surroundings.
As you get out on the trails this year, take a minute to look down from the beautiful scenery. The trail you are on most likely took a lot of hard work to build and maintain – but chances are the park staff and volunteers behind the work loved every minute of it!
Across New York, State Parks staff is working hard to help support the diverse populations of pollinators from bees to butterflies, beetles, wasps, and more. Here’s a sample of the pollinator protection projects going on this year in State Parks.
Working from their photographs from both Rockefeller State Park Preserve and Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, photographers Paula Sharp and Ross Eatman created the website “Guide to Wild Bees of New York.” This stunning website features extensive photographic documentation, scientific classification, identification guides, and behavior and habitat information on over 80 species of bees in the Hudson Valley. In addition, Sharp and Eatman curated the Wild Bees exhibit which is on display on the concourse at the Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY now until June 25, the end of Pollinator Week 2017. One visitor noted that the photos “…helped me to see bees in a new light.”
Staff is developing educational materials about the native pollinators who live in the recently restored sedge meadow. This wet meadow (with grass-like sedges) is habitat for several uncommon butterflies, including northern pearly eye (Enodia anthedon), Appalachian brown (Satyrodes appalachia), mulberry wing (Poanes massasoit) and black dash (Euphyes vestris). However, the size of the habitat at the John Jay State Historic site has declined because woody plants and non-native invasives such as multiflora rose and Oriental bittersweet started growing in the meadow. Woody shrubs have been removed to set back succession and restore the sedge meadow habitat. The outreach materials will explain the restoration and highlight some of the flora and pollinators that visitors may see at the park.
Long Island State Parks
Bring Back the Pollinators Project
State Parks biologists and environmental educators are establishing and enhancing native plantings and habitat in seven state parks throughout Long Island. Look for these pollinator projects in Orient Beach State Park, Heckscher State Park, Bethpage State Park, Robert Moses State Park, Caleb Smith State Park, Connetquot State Park Preserve, and Belmont Lake State Park. The Bring Back the Pollinators project is focused on gardens in order to give visitors a close-up view and to learn about the native plants and pollinators. This work goes hand-in-hand with efforts by NY Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) scientists to identify and protect the natural areas in parks which are key to supporting native fauna, including pollinators. Parks staff have also installed tall fencing around several gardens at Robert Moses State Park, Caleb Smith State Park, Heckscher State Park, and Orient Beach State Park to keep the deer from eating the showcase of flora and pollinator fauna.
At Ganondagan State Historic Site, three projects will enhance habitat for native pollinators and other fauna. Staff has worked with NYNHP to identify plant species that are native to the area and that reflect similar natural communities known in the vicinity. Just as important is that the projects restore the cultural landscape of the Seneca town that was on the site over 330 years ago.
The Oak Opening Habitat project is restoring a 60-acre old field to native grasslands to provide habitat for grassland birds, mammals, and pollinators as well as opportunities for historical interpretation. This spring, the grass seeds were sown and invasive species control efforts will continue through 2018. The restoration is based on the NYNHP rare Oak Opening community, which is known from a few places in nearby Monroe County.
The Green Plants Trail is the second project. It includes removing invasive species and replanting native plants to improve pollinator habitat and to feature a variety of plants that had and have cultural value to the Seneca people.
The third project at Ganondagan, Pollinator Grassland, transformed a weedy 13-acre grassland into a tallgrass prairie by planting native grasses (such as big bluestem and Indian grass) and wildflowers (including common milkweed). These plants benefit pollinators and other native fauna.
State Parks Partnership Educational Banners and Posters on Native Pollinators and Habitats in State Parks
NYNHP staff is developing high quality banners and signage to promote the importance of native plants and habitats in State Parks and their role in supporting native pollinators. These materials will feature the partnership between NY Natural Heritage Program and State Parks and will be available for use at events, education centers, and other venues. In 2016, NYNHP displayed some draft posters to accompany activities at the New York State Fair, which stimulated many questions and compliments. Messaging, photo selection and design of banners and signage is under way using other funding sources and the professional fabrication of signage will be completed in 2017.
This photo of a clearwing moth was posted at the 2016 NY State Fair to accompany activities on pollinators. Photo credit: Matt Schlesinger, NYNHP.
Pollinators use a variety of plants and habitats from field to forest. Photo credit: Greg Edinger, NYNHP.
The banners will describe how NY Natural Heritage Program is partnering with State Parks to protect habitat and learn more about what pollinators are present in NY – like this rusty patched bumblebee (Bombus affinis). Photo credit: LW Macior.
The Council of Park Friends and a local garden club teamed up to plant a native pollinator garden along the side of the nature center at Clark Reservation. The project includes interpretive signs about the native plants, invasive species control, and how State Parks is helping to support native pollinators.
Staff and volunteers at this park are creating a Sensory Awareness Trail. Along the trail, staff added NY native plants to attract native pollinators and to interpret the role these plants and pollinators play in our environment. The accessible trail includes tactile elements such as sculptures of insects/animals that rely on our native plant species.
Local school students planted native plants at Saratoga Spa State Park to help provide food for both the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly (Plebejus melissa samuelis) and the state threatened frosted elfin butterfly (Callophrys irus). And at the Creekside Classroom, a new environmental learning center at Saratoga Spa State Park, a diverse mix of native plantings for landscaping and raingardens were installed.
Lupines in flower, Saratoga Spa State Park Spring 2017, photo by Casey Holzworth
Waldorf School students spreading wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) seed in a cleared field in 2016 , photo by John Rozell, State Parks
The underside of the Karner blue seen perched on the host plant, wild lupine (Lupinus perennis). Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.
Male Karner blue butterfly. Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.
Creekside Classroom entrance garden, photo by Casey Holzworth, State Parks
Creekside Classroom raingarden will attract native pollinators and serve as a teaching tool for State Parks staff, photo by Casey Holzworth, State Parks.
This summer, staff will convert four small lawns to wildflower meadows at Grafton Lakes State Park. The restoration will include planting native plants to attract native pollinators. Look for the work near the main entrance and near the new visitor’s center.
State Parks’ staff worked with Renssalaer County Soil and Water Conservation District, National Resources Conservation Service, and Cornell Cooperative Extension to convert two cornfields at Bennington Battlefield to grazing pasture and a wildflower meadow. Work on this 26-acre project included tilling and seeding the area with non-invasive grasses and planting native pollinator meadows along the edges of the field and nearby wetlands. The pollinator meadows will be fenced off to keep grazing livestock out of those areas.