Tag Archives: student conservation association

The History of Hiking in New York State

Have you ever gone hiking and wondered where the trail came from, who built it, and when? Many of the oldest trails in New York began as Native American hunting paths, eventually becoming established trade and migratory routes. Until the Industrial Revolution, trails mostly served a functional purpose, but trail building boomed as a new ‘leisure class’ emerged and became interested in outdoor recreation. Today, 16,000 miles of trail run through New York, accommodating hiking, mountain biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and more.

In 1891, the New York State Legislature assigned funding to build a trail network across the state, which turned into the greenway system we know today. To promote and advocate for these trails, groups like the Appalachian Mountain Club, New York-New Jersey Trail Conference (NY-NJTC), and the Adirondack Mountain Club were founded. They provided the volunteers and training necessary to build enough trails to satisfy the demand. Many of these groups exist today and continue to train volunteers in trail construction and maintenance.

The first long distance hiking trail, the Appalachian Trail, was built by The NY-NJTC in Bear Mountain and Harriman State Parks in 1923. Conceived in 1921 by Benton MacKaye, the original idea combined recreation, conservation and economic socialism, with wilderness camping. It was seen as an opportunity for people to get away from the city and renew themselves. While MacKaye’s vision of interconnected mountain resorts was never fully realized, the trail was completed in 1937. Today, the Appalachian Trail stretches 2,175 miles from Maine to Georgia.

Promotional poster for the CCC. Source: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wvcccfhr/history/3ccc.htm.
Promotional poster for the CCC. Source: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wvcccfhr/history/3ccc.htm.
Adirondack Mountain Club hikers atop Mt. VanHoevenberg. Source: WikiCommons.
Adirondack Mountain Club hikers atop Mt. VanHoevenberg. Source: WikiCommons.

The Great Depression was a time of enormous parks and trails growth. As part of the New Deal, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt founded the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), based on a similar program he started while serving as governor of New York. This program, in operation between 1933 and 1942, provided unskilled laborers with jobs in the conservation and natural resources fields. During the nine years it ran, three million men participated (220,000 of which were in New York). They planted over three billion trees, and they built more than 800 parks nationwide.

As bicycles increased in popularity, cyclists began advocating for paved surfaces. Paved roads allowed cars to go more places and drive faster than they had been able to previously, thereby making road biking more dangerous for cyclists. In the 1960s, the government began converting unused rail corridors into rail trails to provide a safe space for biking. In the 1970s, rail trails also allowed inline skaters to venture outside of roller rinks and provided ideal corridors for the first recreational snowmobilers.

Following a funding slump in the 1970s, the 1980s and 1990s saw renewed interest in trail building. In 1987, New York City began planning a greenway system; the project was amended in 1993 with a proposal to develop 350 miles of bike and pedestrian trails throughout the city. As of 2010, 140 miles of trail were open to the public.

Black Diamond Trail Volunteer Work Day
Black Diamond Trail volunteer work day. The Black Diamond Trail connects Taughannock State Park, Allan H. Treman Marine Park, Buttermilk Falls State Park and Robert Treman State Park. Photo by OPRHP.

These days, most trails are built by volunteers through programs like the NY-NJTC, the Student Conservation Association, Park Friends groups and other organizations. Anyone can get involved to help build or maintain a pathway and contribute to the legacy of trails in New York.

Enjoy this short video about safety and preparedness tips for hiking in New York!

Post by Maddy Gold, SCA Intern.

 

Saving the Sand: Great Lakes Dunes Stewards

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.

edited black pond
Beach and dunes at Black Pond WMA. Photo by Jennifer Brady.

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.

Piping Plover
An adult piping plover and its day old chick. Photo by Elizabeth Truskowski, DEC.

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).

2018 Update

For the first time in decades, a pair of piping plover successfully nested at Sandy Island Beach State Park.

PipingPlover1a
2018 piping plover chick on the beach at Sandy Island Beach State Park.

Sources:

http://www.seagrant.sunysb.edu/glhabitat/dune/dune.html

http://www.fws.gov/midwest/endangered/pipingplover/

https://usfwsnortheast.wordpress.com/2018/08/07/the-real-plovers-of-new-york/

Cleaning Up Phragmites

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

phrag1

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

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

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

Phrag Moreau Before and After

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

Sources

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

Post by Paris Harper, photos by Casey Holzworth