Tag Archives: student conservation association

Locals Show Some Love

On May 5, 2018, the first Saturday of May, over 8,000 volunteers helped New York State Parks celebrate its sixth annual ‘I Love My Parks Day’ at 250 projects and 125 parks across the state.

Saturday morning was met with the fresh smell of a well overdue Spring. Birds were singing and bees were buzzing. The weather could not have been nicer with blue skies and a sun to warm your skin. In Horseheads, NY, volunteers came out to the Catharine Valley trailhead to help create a pollinator garden and clear brush and invasive plants to promote native species beneficial to birds. (About 50 small pollinator plants were purchased by the Audubon Society to create a pollinator garden.

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Gearing up for the event, photo by Audubon NY

About 50 volunteers showed up to do their part – from energetic toddlers, to a girl scout troop, to seasoned gardeners and everyone in-between. Three NYS parks Environmental Educators and SCA Parks Corps members –  Tamara Beal, Lizzy Hawk, and Kyle Gallaher – also stepped in as volunteers and environmental educators.

Over 400 different species of bees call NY home. The role they play in pollinating plants is irreplaceable. It is estimated that 1 in every 3 bites of food deserves thanks in part to pollinators. In other words, if you like to eat, you have to like your pollinators! With so many helping hands, this seemingly large task was completed in no time. Holes were dug with shovels or towels, or even by hand and what started as a barren landscape was quickly transformed to a vibrant garden, ripe for pollinating.

Besides the pollinator garden, different parts of the birding trails were also attended to. Dead brush was raked, honey suckle was pulled, and sticks and branches were piled high. The birding trails at the head of the Catharine Valley Trail, on Huck Finn Road, are a well kept secret. A birding lover’s delight, these trails attract birds by providing an irresistible combination of shelter, food, and peaceful atmosphere. If you are able to walk quietly enough to become a part of nature, all sorts of creatures become noticeable on these trails. Volunteers were spread out in every direction creating a green space more attractive and enticing to our feathered friends.

In the last part of the event, some time was taken to appreciate and get up close with some of the wildlife in the area. Environmental educators Kyle, Lizzy, and Tamara took about 30 of the volunteers on a short walk to a nearby turtle nesting ground. The sandy soil of these manmade nesting gardens allows the turtles to easily bury their eggs for safe keeping. SCA members helped to clean up these nesting areas earlier in the year.

A mini program about snakes was also made possible when environmental educator Tamara Beal came across a garter snake in the grass (see featured photo).

This event was just one of the number of events that were hosted this “I Love my Park Day” throughout the state. Thank you to the thousands of volunteers who came out on May 5th to support their local parks! It is inspiring to see the number of people that show up for these kinds of events. 

Join us for the eighth annual ‘I Love My Park Day’ on May 4.

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NYS parks environmental educators and SCA parks corps members, Tamara, Lizzie, and Kyle

Post by Tamara Beal, 2018 SCA Finger Lakes Region intern

The Untold Origin Story of the Falls

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Aunt Sarah’s Falls, just south of Watkins Glen State Park

Over the last 12,000 years, the landscape of the Finger Lakes region has undergone colossal change. Hidden in cracks and valleys throughout the region are wondrous geologic remnants of that change. So abundant is the splendor of these wonders that many locals have become numb to the consistent gurgling of waterfalls on their daily commute through, for example, the Village of Montour Falls, just south of Watkins Glen State Park, where residents often pass Aunt Sarah’s Falls on Route 14. Yet no two of the over 2,000 gorges that call the Finger Lakes home are the same; each has a different fingerprint with a different number of curves, caverns, and cascades.

The Finger Lakes themselves are a unique natural phenomenon. There are no other lakes quite like them in the world. Eleven north flowing lakes, varying in length and depth, span over 120 miles of the western section of New York. They range from Canadice Lake, at a mere 3 miles long, to Cayuga Lake, which stretches for 38.2 miles; and from the relatively shallow Honeoye Lake, at 30 feet deep to Seneca Lake, which plunges steeply for 634 feet.

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Map of the Finger Lakes, accessed from commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Atlas_of_New_York

About 2.5 million years ago dawned the age of ice. In this region, glaciers are thought to have been over 3,000 feet high, or about the size of two Empire State buildings stacked on top of each other! It is a result of these glaciers growing that we now have “finger lakes”; before we had “finger rivers.” All our U shaped lake basins were originally V shaped river valleys. As the glaciers bulldozed their way through the valleys, the unrelenting force gouged out the walls. About 12,000 years ago, a change in climate warmed the earth, ending the reign of the Ice Age.

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As the glaciers started to recede, their melting ice filled the lakes and exposed steep U shaped valley walls. All around would have been hanging valleys comprised of massive waterfalls dropping straight into the lakes. Today, every gorge near the lakes, including those south of the lakes, began its story as one of those waterfalls and has since eroded back into the rock.

“Ithaca is Gorges” is an iconic phrase in Ithaca, referring to the numerous gorgeous gorges around this city at the base of Cayuga Lake. This clever pun, however, has a forgotten key third part. As the massive waterfalls started to erode back into the rock, the eroded sediment built up at the base of the lake. This erosion was so rapid that our lakes are miles shorter than they were originally. “Ithaca is Gorges” because it was formed by the gorges and would not exist without them!

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Devonian Sea was found in western and central New York

The extremely fast rate of erosion in our gorges alludes to its rich ancient natural history dating back long before the Ice Age. The 380-million-year-old layers of rock in the gorge were each once the bottom of an expansive inland ocean that covered much of the eastern states. The earth, as we know it, was unrecognizable; life was just beginning to take a foothold on land. In the little town of Gilboa, NY, proof of this timeframe can be found in the oldest fossilized trees worldwide. The early roots of these Gilboa trees were pioneering the rocky, unforgiving earth on the edge of the Devonian sea.

This tropical inland sea – which was at that time located below the equator – was the result of a collision between the North American and European continents. When they collided, North America subducted, or went under Europe, and Europe crinkled up creating the Acadian Mountain range just off the coast of New York. These impressive mountains were estimated to have been as big, if not bigger, than the Himalayas are today!

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Evidence of the Devonian Sea can be seen at Watkins Glen State Park

Much of the sediment found in the inland sea would have come from the erosion of these mountains, but the depth of this water would have, over time, also affected the type of sediment found on this ocean bottom. Gradually, the buildup of layers would have caused enough pressure to solidify the underlying sediment into rock. This is known as compaction. This means that every layer of rock in our gorges, be it the more brittle rocks, such as shale, or the denser rocks, such as sandstone and limestone, were once at the bottom of an ocean!

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The layers however are only half of the puzzle influencing the speed of erosion in the gorge. Breaking up the layers, in a stunning display of natural masonry, are countless straight line fractures. There are fractures or joints that follow the gorges east to west and those that span across the gorge north to south, intersecting at almost perfect right angles. Notice the unnatural looking straight lines and right angles in the photo of Robert H. Treman State Park.

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Looking up the creek at Robert Treman State Park

These joints date back about 300 million years. At this time, all the continents were joining together to form one enormous supercontinent.  Pangea, which translates directly to “all earth,” stretched from pole to pole. If you study a map of the world’s continents, you may notice that the western edge of Africa matches up with the eastern edge of the United States like a jig saw puzzle. The stress of this collision alone, however, was not the force required to create the fractures.

Instead, it caused straight line weak points in the rock perpendicular to the pressure. Meanwhile, a batch of methane gas had matured under pressure and heat and took advantage of the weak points to escape from the depths of earth. After this event, 30 million years quietly passed while Africa unassumingly rotated around North America. This quiet rotation was disturbed 270 million years ago when another batch of methane gas matured under heat and pressure, again utilizing the weakened rock to escape. The timing of this second release just so happened to occur when Africa was at about a 90 degree angle from where the first batch of methane gas escaped, forming joints that meet up at almost perfect right angles. Next time you find yourself in the Finger Lakes, keep an eye out for these natural right angles, they’re everywhere!

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Taughannock Falls amphitheater has thousands of joints that contributed to the bowl shape
The top of the falls has two joints intersecting at a right angle.

Considering all 380 million years of the gorges’ rich natural history;

  • the glaciers that created the U-shaped lakes and the hanging valleys
  • the joints that resulted from the release of methane gas through the weakened rock
  • and the layers of rock – shale, sandstone, and limestone, remnants of an ancient inland sea
  • an ingenious combination of forces all working together to form the gorges in only 12,000 years comes to light. In short, as the water easily erodes away the brittle shale and undercuts itself, the joints or fractures that break up the creek bed speed up the erosion process by causing chunks of the denser rocks – sandstone and limestone to fall at a time. The water, therefore, never has to take the time to erode away the denser types of rock. In consequence, we can affectionately say that “Although our gorges are 12,000 years old, their story can be told in no less than 380 million years.”

Post by Tamara Beal, Finger Lakes 2018 Student Conservation Association Intern

Trail Work: Excelsior Conservation Corps Helps out at Hamlin Beach State Park

Recently, members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC), an AmeriCorps program, visited Hamlin Beach State Park to help the staff with some major trail maintenance projects. The ECC is a partnership between State Parks, the Department of Conservation, the Environmental Facilities Corporation, and the Student Conservation Association. The members in this program range from ages 18-25, and have learned skills and methods in conservation and preservation of the environment. While working at Hamlin Beach, for nine days, the ECC crewmembers were given projects to work on at various trail sites.

The first area the crewmembers worked on was the Devil Nose Trail. This trail is located right next to some very high cliffs and had been closed off for a while due to storm damage. The team was given the task to help re-route a portion of the trail, so that it would be further from the edge of the cliffs. They also needed to widen the full route to 8 ft. so that a small all-terrain vehicle could drive through it in order to bring woodchips onto the path. The original trail was very uneven and hard to follow, so the goal was to create a nice finished and flatter area to walk on.

After clearing away leaves and moving the dirt aside to widen the section of the pre-existing trail, the crewmembers followed the newly flagged route to create a new trail corridor using chainsaws, and tools such as hard rakes, pick mattocks and Mcleods. The chainsaws were used to cut up fallen trees so they could be move away from the trails or used along the trail edge. The other tools were used to move dirt, sand, leaves and smaller sticks to level the path.

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A section of Devil’s Nose Trail before they cleared it away, photo by the ECC.

After the trail was cleared away, the Parks’ maintenance staff dumped piles of woodchips throughout the trail, and then the ECC members spread them out with rakes.

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Section of the Devil’s Nose trail completed with wood chips, photo by the ECC.

Once the half-mile long of Devil’s Nose Trail was completed, the ECC crewmembers were asked to work on maintaining a small short loop trail over by the campground. After walking the area, they marked off which trees were hazardous and needed to be taken down with a chainsaw. In the beginning of the trail the team noticed that there was a trail turnpike, but the area right after it was very muddy. Help was needed.

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Two ECC crewmembers working on using the chainsaw to cut the ends of the lumber to match the ends of the lumber on the pre-existing turnpike, photo by the ECC.

The purpose of a turnpike is to raise the trail surface out of a muddy or wet area to make the trail better to walk on. It consists of two short pieces of lumber that are laid down going across a trail. They are buried about 3/4ths down, and serve as “sills”, for the longer lumber to sit on. The long pieces of lumber need to be cut out with a chainsaw so that there are little sections for it to fit the sill. This makes them sitting level with the ground. Once all of the pieces of wood are laid out the open, area is filled with gravel so it will provide a durable surface for hikers to walk on.

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The turnpike in the process of being set into the sills, photo by the ECC.

The ECC members created a new section of turnpike completely from scratch. They searched for the lumber among the trees just cut down and had to actually de-bark the trees before the construction began. They then measured everything out and set up the pieces of wood to match the previously made turnpike. In the end the turnpike turned out to be 14 feet long!

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The finished turnpike. The new addition is the last section furthest away in the picture, photo by the ECC.

This is one of many projects the ECC has worked on this summer. They also helped remove invasive species at Ganondagan State Historic Site and make a new trail at Mine Kill State Park.  State Parks is grateful for the help ECC provides in our parks and historic sites.

ECC is recruiting for the 2019 season. If you would like to join the crew, follow this link for more information.

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC

 

Marsh Madness: Restoration of Iona Marsh from Invasive Phragmites

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.

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Iona Island Marsh in 2008 before treatment. Phragmites dominate the background.

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.

2017 Image
Map of the Iona Island Marsh Treatment Areas

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.

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Ring Meadow in 2016. Cattail and blooming Rose Mallow have regrown where phragmites once were.

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

Post by Jesse Predmore, SCA

Edited by: Dr. Ed McGowan & Chris O’Sullivan

Featured image: lulun & kame accessed from Flickr

There’s Fungus Among Us!

As part of my duties as an Invasive Species Project Steward, it has been my pleasure to join the Forest Health Specialists in their fieldwork. The Forest Health Specialists travel to priority park lands throughout the region to survey and monitor for forest pests, with an emphasis on areas previously treated for pests and on early detection of emerging threats to forest health. Although our focus in these surveys have been hemlock woolly adelgid, southern pine beetle, and spotted lanternfly (see DEC website or email invasives@parks.ny.gov for more information), we see so much more in our state’s lush woodlands. Spending time in wild spaces and amongst such biodiversity ignites a sense of curiosity that no number of office supplies can replicate. Dendrology (the study of trees and shrubs), entomology (insect study)  herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians), ornithology (bird study) – with all these -ologies everywhere you turn, how can you ever pick just one to invest your energy in learning about? The more time I spent hunting for the aforementioned pests, I found myself increasingly drawn to the study of one particular organism: mushrooms. Maybe I liked how they can be beautiful and disgusting, delicious and deadly, beneficial or parasitic, and all share a space within the field of mycology. Whatever the reason, I found them fascinating and had plenty of run-ins with them.

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Chicken of the Woods found at Mills Norrie State Park.

One particularly distinct and common mushroom is chicken of the woods, scientifically named Laetiporus sulphureus. It is also called sulfur shelf because of the sulfur-yellow color of the pores, and its overlapping disk-like growth form protruding from oak, hemlock and other trees like a shelf. Each lobe is an inch thick, up to 20 inches across and can weigh up to a pound apiece! It is very common in our neck of the woods- the specimen pictured here was found at Waterson Point State Park in the Thousand Islands, though I have also seen it at Minnewaska State Park, John Boyd Thacher State Park, and Harriman State Park.

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Hoof Fungus growing on a tree at Minnewaska State Park.

Another fungus you may see protruding off a tree, often birch, is the hoof fungus (Fomes fomentarius), named as such for the hoof shape and hardness of the brown-ringed cap (Roberts and Evans, 383). It has also been called tinder polypore because “amadou,” the inner fibrous flesh, was historically used as tinder to start fires and cauterize wounds (Lincoff, 457).

 

 

 

 

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Underside of Cinnabar-red Polypore at Harriman State Park.

Also in the polypore family, Polyporaceae, is the Cinnabar-red polypore (Pycnoporus cinnabarinus) pictured below. The distinct red caps are 1-5 inches wide and round, often growing on dead deciduous trees (Lincoff, 486). Another member of Polyporaceae is the violet toothed polypore (Trichaptum biformis). They have round, overlapping caps up to 3 inches wide with a leathery texture and are brown with purple, wavy margins. They are found by the hundreds on deciduous trees, and over time will diminish them into sawdust (Lincoff, 490)!

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False Turkey-tails at John Boyd Thacher State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

False turkey-tail (Streum ostrea) is another fungus often growing on downed deciduous trees, although not a member of Polyporaceae. Its name stems from often being misidentified for the fungus turkey-tail (Trametes versicolor), which is a polypore (Lincoff, 497). The species name ostrea is Latin for “oyster,” the shape of the tan, tough and papery caps, often tinted green with algae (Roberts and Evans, 438). Research indicates that they produce laccase, an enzyme used to break down contaminants.

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Inky Cap at Mills Norrie State Park. The bottom of the cap is showing signs of the liquifying gills, or ink, within for which it gets its name.

This common inkcap, Coprinopsis atramentaria, was found at Mills Norrie State Park along the Hudson River. The name atramentaria comes from the Latin word “atramentum,” meaning ink (www.first-nature.com). The French mycologist Jean Baptiste Francois Pierre Buillard, who first described the species and named it, realized that the gills turn to a liquid with age and can be used to make ink. The cap is light gray, thin and shaped like a partially opened umbrella with a smooth white stem and can be found growing on stumps, roadsides, and gardens.

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Chanterelles growing at Schunnemunk State Park.

Keep a lookout on your woodland adventures for the highly sought-after chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius), also called golden chanterelles for their yellow-orange coloration. They have smooth stems that widen at the top to a funnel-shaped cap with gills on the underside and a smooth top with wavy edges. This is one of the best-known mushrooms and is exported commercially worldwide (Roberts and Evans, 476). The ones pictured here were found at Schunnemunk State Park in the Hudson Valley.

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Puffballs at Taconic Outdoor Education Center. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

In your exploration of State Parks, you are likely to stumble upon puffballs, family Agaricaceae, growing in the leaf litter. They are round to upside-down-pear shaped, sometimes with a grainy texture and usually 3 inches tall and 2 inches wide. They are called puffballs because as they mature, a hole opens on the top of the rounded cap that enables the spores to puff out. Historically, they were used to seal wounds, start fires, and stun bees as we use smoke today. But be cautious around them, their spores are known to irritate the nose and eyes, and if breathed in excess can cause an allergic reaction in the lungs called lycoperdonosis (Roberts and Evans, 520). The puffballs pictured below were sighted at Taconic Outdoor Education Center in the Hudson Valley. The giant puffball (Calvatio Gigantea) is a particularly interesting variation that has been seen on State Parks’ land. As its name implies, they are round, smooth and typically 30 inches by 30 inches. The largest recorded, however, was up to 5 feet wide and weighed in at over 40 pounds (Roberts and Evans, 512)!

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White Spindles feeding on leaf litter at Minnewaska State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

Then there’s the coral mushrooms, named for their resemblance to undersea coral colonies. These white spindles (Clavaria fragilis) were found growing in the leaf litter at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley. The species name fragilis pays homage to the extremely brittle nature of the fungus (Roberts and Evans, 486). It used to be called Clavaria vermicularis, white worm fungus because of its tubular white spines growing upwards in a cluster (Lincoff, 400).

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Golden Spindles at Minnewaska State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

It’s relative, golden spindles (Clavulinopsis fusiformis) is also a saprotroph, meaning it feeds on dead matter like leaf litter (Roberts and Evans, 494). Golden spindles also grow in unbranched needles, but as the name implies, are yellow.

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White Coral Cluster at Minnewaska State Park. Photo by Sara Mitsinikos

This white coral (Ramariopsis kunzei) was also found growing in the leaf litter of the forest floor at Minnewaska State Park. Unlike the spindles, the fruitbodies of the white coral are branched. There is still much to be learned about this species (Roberts and Evans, 504).

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Lion’s Mane from Minnewaska State Park.

A much shyer mushroom, despite the name, is lion’s mane (Hericium erinaceus). It is also called bearded tooth, as it grows downward from trees or logs in a cluster of white spindles up to 3 inches long. Similar to human teeth, it yellows as it ages. In Asia it is called monkey head and is used to strengthen the immune system, available as a pill for stomach ulcers or as a tonic drink in a can (Roberts and Evans, 468). The cluster shown here was found at Minnewaska State Park.

Mushrooms like moisture and cool temperatures, so now is the time to seek them out. I am sure you will have no trouble finding them, and although they can be very tricky to identify, perhaps you may recognize some of the species featured here on the many trails located at our State Parks. Happy Mushroom hunting, but remember not to disturb them, as they are a much-needed member of the ecosystem.

Post by Sara Mitsinikos, SCA intern

References

“Coprinopsis Atramentaria (Bull.) Redhead, Vilgalys & Moncalvo – Common Inkcap.” Coprinopsis Atramentaria, Common Inkcap Mushroom, First Nature.

Lincoff, Gary H. National Audubon Society: Field Guide to Mushrooms. Alfred A. Knopf, 2000.

Roberts, Peter, and Shelley Evans. The Book of Fungi: a Life-Size Guide to Six Hundred Species from around the World. University of Chicago Press, 2011.