Tag Archives: student conservation association

Excelsior Conservation Corps Works Alongside Parks to Conserve Historical Site

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) staff members at Ganondagan State Historic Site recently worked with members of the Excelsior Conservation Corps (ECC). The ECC is a non-profit organization within the Student Conservation Association (SCA). The members involved in this program range from ages 18-25 and learn skills and methods to help restore, protect and enhance New York’s natural resources and recreational opportunities.

Ten members of the ECC were tasked with invasive plant species removal from various locations and GPS monitoring of certain invasive plant species within the Ganondagan State Historic Site located in Victor, NY. Invasive plant species are non-native species that can cause harm to the environment, the economy, or to human health. Because these plants are not native in these habitats, they can cause or contribute to habitat degradation and loss of native species.

Wild Parsnip
Wild parsnip in full bloom, notice the yellow-green flowers that look like Queen Ann’s lace and dill.. Photo by ECC

Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), which is a tall flowering invasive plant that is infamous in many areas of New York, not only disrupts the environment in which it grows but can also be very harmful to humans. If the sap from the stem comes into contact with the skin, it can cause severe burns and make skin more sensitive to ultraviolet radiation provided from the sun.  Fortunately, no giant hogweed has been found at Ganondagan State Historic Site, but the site has become a host to a closely related and invasive plant called wild parsnip. Wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), has similar effects to giant hogweed when it comes into contact with unprotected skin.

When the members of the ECC arrived, they were informed they would be participating in the Parks’ annual wild parsnip picking day. Each year the staff members from the Environmental Field Office dedicate one day to pick as many wild parsnip plants as they can in hopes of clearing out fields and minimizing the possibility of more growing in the future. Everyone was instructed to wear long sleeve shirts, pants and gloves in order to protect their skin. Starting early in the morning, the group of 10 ECC members joined forces with six State Parks’ staff to venture out into the fields of wild parsnip. Throughout the day everyone hiked through trails and sections of the property, pulling the plants out and piling them up they could be removed from the area. The members were instructed to get as close to the ground as possible to pull the roots up by hand. After walking through 30 acres of fields, the total tally of plants removed came out to be 13,439!

Wild Parsnip field
ECC and State Parks crew in one of the many fields. Note the tall yellow plants that are all wild parsnip. Photo by ECC.

After the wild parsnip adventure, there was still more for the ECC members to do at Ganandogan. State Parks has been closely monitoring a field full of invasive plants for the past few years with GPS devices.  These devices enable the staff to map the location and the amount of invasive plants within the area. The ECC team helped record data on six different plants while walking across a 70-acre field. To cover the area efficiently, the ECC members were required to stand in a line about 14 paces apart and walk due North across the field in a straight line, using compasses as their guide. Staying straight was not easy while walking over hills and through tall grass, stepping over and through every obstacle in their path.

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GPS monitoring device used to mark invasive species in the area. Photo by ECC

The plants they were looking out for were Canada thistle, bull thistle, multiflora rose, autumn olive, swallowwort and non-native honeysuckles. Each observer would stop at every 15 paces to observe the area they were in and mark each location for any of these six invasive plans within a five-foot radius. In total, the team collected over 20,000 points that will be used to create maps in ARC GIS to show the extent of the invasives and to help guide management plans.

 

Post by Amber Goodman, ECC member

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.

Postcard
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.

Espinansa et al. (2015)
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.

Tim Howard, NYNHP
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

 

 

 

Frogs and Pollywogs in NYS Parks

It’s time – hop in the car or on your bike and head to a State Park near you! While you’re there, be sure your ears are open and your eyes are peeled for some awesome amphibian friends! It’s a good opportunity to find out which of the 11 frog species found in New York State are living in our State Parks.

Frogs are amphibians, meaning they live on both land and under water. When females lay eggs, it typically occurs in a nearby pond. The jelly-like egg masses hatch into tadpoles (pollywogs) with round bodies and long finlike tails. Tadpoles develop gills so they can breathe underwater just like fish do! Through a lifecycle process known as metamorphosis, the tadpole begins to develop legs, bulging eyes and air-breathing lungs. All the while the long slender tail starts to shrink and eventually disappears. This frog can now survive on land, breathing in the fresh summer air!

FrogLifeCycle
Frog life cycle, accessed from https://pixabay.com/en/frog-tadpole-%C5%BEabka-758072/.

Frogs spend most of their time underground, hanging out in trees, or in the water. On warm summer nights they will emerge from hiding and head to nearby ponds, lakeshores and wetlands. When trying to identify frog species remember to consider the following: coloration, patterns, skin texture (moist or dry), presence or absence of webbing between the toes, and more. If you can’t see your amphibian friends, but you can hear them, take this time to record its unique call and try to identify it when you get home!

Here are just a few of the frog species found in our State Parks:

Northern Spring Peeper (Pseudacris c. crucifer)

Peeper
Spring peeper, accessed from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Spring_Peeper_-_Pseudacris_crucifer,_Waterways_Farm,_Lovettsville,_Virginia.jpg.

The tiny spring peeper can range from a rusty brown to a greenish-gray with a distinct dark X or cross on its back. Its skin is smooth and the belly is cream-colored. This species is also known for hanging out in trees, with its unwebbed toes and sticky pads. Spring Peepers breed earlier in the season than other frog species. If you’ve ever spent an evening camping or sitting by the water, you’ve probably heard their infamous “PEEP” or call.

American Bull Frog (Rana catesbeiana)

BullFrog
American Bull Frog, accessed from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_Bullfrog_(Rana_catesbeiana)_(8741684912).jpg.

The bull frog is the largest frog in North America, reaching lengths of 6 to 8 inches. It’s a brownish-green color with dark colored bands or blotches on its hind legs. Unlike the treefrogs, the bull frog has webbed hind feet. They’re often found near permanent waters with lots of vegetation. This species size and carnivorous diet allows it to munch on creatures such as snakes, bats, ducklings and other frogs! Behind the bull frog’s eyes are eardrums known as tympanic membranes. The size of these membranes can be used to determine if the frog is a male (it’s larger than the eye) or a female (the membrane is the same size as the eye). Look for this species between mid-March and mid-July. They may startle you with their really load “croak”.

Green Frog (Rana clamitans)

SeeGreenFrog
Do you see the Green Frog? Photo by NYNHP.

This is one of the most common frogs across NY State. It is similar to but smaller than a bullfrog. Like the bullfrog, the green frog is brownish-green with bright green on its face and spends most of its time in and near ponds and wetlands. The adults are 3-4 inches long and breed from May to August. Their regular call goes “boing” like the sound of a plucked rubber band or banjo sting. They also have an alarm call, a loud squeak, that you will hear if you scare them into the water. Move slowly towards the edge of the pond to look for these critters and be ready when they squeak and leap into the water!

Green_frog_Rana_clamitans_MatthewScheslingerNYNHP
The green frog’s face is smaller and not as wide and rounded as the Bullfrog. Photo by NYNHP.

Northern Cricket Frog (Acris crepitans)

Cricket
A rare northern cricket frog, photo accessed from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Northern_Cricket_Frog_-_Acris_crepitans,_Meadowwood_Farm_SRMA,_Mason_Neck,_Virginia.jpg.

The northern cricket frog is the smallest and most rare frog species in NY. It is listed as endangered in the State of NY. Adults reach about 1 inch in length, but despite their size, can jump about 5 to 6 feet. Eastern cricket frogs are brown to dull green in coloration with a triangular marking between the eyes. These frogs love shallow ponds with lots of floating vegetation. It has an unusual call, described as two pebbles being clicked together repeatedly. View the northern cricket frog conservation guide created by the New York Natural Heritage Program.

Other awesome frog species found in New York:

Gray Treefrog

Western Chorus Frog

Mink Frog

Wood Frog

Northern Leopard Frog

Southern Leopard Frog

Pickerel Frog

More links with frog/toad calls

NatureBits.org

Calls of Frogs and Toads of the Northeast

Post By Falon Neske- SCA and State Parks

Resources

Bullfrogs

Frogs and Toads of New York State

Featured image, gray tree frog, State Parks

Trails Stewardship in the Finger Lakes

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.

Crew
Some of the hard-working members of the Finger Lakes Regional Trail Crew, photo by State Parks

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 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.

Boardwalk
Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

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.

Zipline
Boardwalks protect wet areas or fragile habitat and make for easier walking for visitors, photo by State Parks.

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!

 Post by Zachary Ballard, State Parks

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!

Invasive plant removal crew_EN
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.

Invasives crew on the trail_EN
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