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.
As the summer months wind down, the FORCES Program staff of the Central and Finger Lakes Regions are busy both reflecting on the last few months and making plans for the next academic year.
FORCES stands for “Friends of Recreation, Conservation and Environmental Stewardship”, and the FORCES Program specifically focuses on building long-term, mutually beneficial partnerships between local state parks and colleges. Currently this includes one-day volunteer events, FORCES clubs at six colleges, dozens of stewards between the two regions, partnerships with faculty members and college administration, projects in over twenty parks and historic sites, and involvement with fourteen colleges and universities within the Finger Lakes and Central Regions.
This summer has been an exciting one, with the “FORCES family” including 37 stewards and seasonal employees! The FORCES interns and seasonal employees started together in June with the first annual “Trainapalooza,” which was held this year at Robert H. Treman State Park in the Finger Lakes Region. The stewards gathered for a two day training on invasive species identification and removals, iMap Invasives training, an overview of the geologic and human histories of the area, interesting features of some of the parks, and strategies for outreach and interpretation. The group also camped overnight at the park, and got to know each other while playing Frisbee, solving riddles, and enjoying s’mores.
The first annual FORCES Trainapalooza. Photo by FORCES Visual Media Steward Michael Gill (Cazenovia College).
FORCES stewards Morgan Nivison (Le Moyne College) and Haixu Zhao (SUNY ESF) remove garlic mustard at Green Lakes State Park. Photo by FORCES Visual Media Steward Michael Gill (Cazenovia College).
FORCES stewards Maggie Terry (SUNY ESF) and Jake Barney (Ithaca College) pull water chestnut at Fair Haven Beach State Park. Photo by Becky Sibner.
FORCES staff and stewards prepare for a Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail survey.
After they were trained, the stewards separated again to begin projects throughout the two regions. Many projects focused on invasive species removal; stewards worked to remove water chestnut, pale swallowwort, slender false brome, and many other species of invasive plants. Other projects included the creation of a video about the FORCES program, historical research, assistance with the ongoing surveys for the Chittenango Ovate Amber Snail at Chittenango Falls State Park, water quality monitoring at Selkirk Shores State Park, and trail blazing at Two Rivers State Park… the list goes on and on!
The upcoming academic year will bring more excitement as FORCES welcomes new and returning stewards and club members. The semester started with the New York State Fair, where FORCES annually engages the public in building bluebird boxes- they assembled 1,250 boxes just this year! To date, FORCES at the State Fair has hosted over 180 students and involved 8 colleges. Plans are also in motion for the first annual FORCES Membership Gathering, which will take place in October and combine trainings with celebrations for club members, stewards, seasonal staff, and ambassadors- all members of the “FORCES family”.
In the spring, FORCES will hold its second annual Leadership Summit, which assembles club officers and FORCES “Ambassadors” from all FORCES schools to plan and strategize for the growth of the FORCES Program. The event was a huge success last April, with the FORCES staff being (again) blown away and inspired by the passion and dedication of the students.
Keep an eye out for FORCES stewards as you visit the parks, and chat with them about the projects they are working on. They’re accomplishing big things!
It’s a summer day on the eastern shores of Lake Ontario. As a visitor walks down the beach they observe the sparkling of the water, the crashing of the waves, and the laughter of people as they enjoy the beach. Parallel to the water runs a series of fencing and signs that mark the perimeter of the remarkable dune ecosystem that lies just behind. This seventeen mile stretch of Lake Ontario is home to the most expansive dune ecosystem in the state of New York. The dunes are large sand hills that are held together by extensive plant root systems. They not only serve as habitat for a variety of species, but as a vital buffer between the power of Lake Ontario and the intricate system of ponds, marshes, and waterways that reside on the other side of the dunes.
The Dune Steward Program was established in the mid 1990’s to help protect this fragile dune system by maintaining the fencing and signs, removing litter, working with wildlife biologists and technicians on a variety of projects, and most importantly interacting and educating the public on the importance of the dunes. The stewards patrol the 17 mile stretch of coastline that includes El Dorado Nature Preserve, Black Pond Wildlife Management Area (WMA), Lakeview WMA, Sandy Pond Beach, Southwick Beach State Park, and Deer Creek WMA. Every summer the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) in conjunction with New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, The Nature Conservancy, and The Student Conservation Association (SCA), places three interns from across the country to work as dune stewards. Dune stewards are current students or recent graduates who have a background in environmental conservation.
Along with the duties described above, this program allows the stewards the opportunity to be involved in other conservation efforts. Some of these projects include placing identification bands on birds, identifying and monitoring invasive and endangered species, bird surveys, educational events, and a variety of environmental training opportunities. This year the stewards were able to assist in the successful protection of the piping plover, a federally threatened shorebird species. This small bird lays its eggs in shallow scrapes on grassless beaches or dredged soil areas. This summer was the first time in over 30 years that the piping plover has nested on Lake Ontario. Stewards talked to visitors about the plovers and what they can do to assist in the protection of the bird and its chicks. They advised that visitors maintain a respectful distance and keep dogs on a leash when walking through areas where the plovers were nesting.
One of the most important aspects of this program was public interaction and education. Each day visitors see the work that the stewards are doing and often approach the stewards to ask questions, express concerns, or even just to thank them for the work they are doing. “It is extremely rewarding to be able to share what we know about the dune environment and its inhabitants to hopefully be able to protect this area for the considerable future,” said Jennifer Brady, DEC dune steward.
Post by Jennifer Brady, DEC Dune Steward, Student Conservation Association (SCA).