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Glide Through Winter on State Park Ski Trails

“Can you imagine anything freer and more exciting than when you, swiftly as a bird, zoom down the wood-clad hillsides while country air and spruce twigs whiz by your cheeks and eyes; brain and muscles tense, ready to avoid any unknown obstacle which any moment might be thrown in your path? You are one with your skis and nature. This is something that develops not only the body but the soul as well, and it has a deeper meaning for a people than most of us perceive.”

Fridtjof Nansen – Norwegian explorer, scientist, humanitarian and advocate for cross-country skiing, 1890

The use of skis to cross winter terrain dates back millennia, with the oldest-known image of a person on skis carved about 5,000 years ago into the rock of a Norwegian island.

When winter graces the state with snow, State Parks are a great place to enjoy cross-country skiing, with many miles of ski trails for all abilities, from beginner to expert across 104 state parks and eight historic sites spanning the state.

Known in shorthand as XC (or also as Nordic) skiing, this family-friendly sport is a full-body, low-impact cardio workout as well as a wonderful way to get outdoors during winter to see how beautiful the season can be. Skiing is quiet as well, so skiers often have a chance to spot wildlife (and also get a close look at its tracks) that has not been scared off by their approach.

A 1938 poster by the Works Progress Administration promotes cross-country skiing in New York State. (Photo Credit-Wikipedia Commons)

After a promising December start for XC skiing, this season has suffered from a dearth of snow. Perhaps a snowstorm or two is still to come before spring, or if not, this list can be held until the start of next season. Always call ahead to check on snow conditions.

This online map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration also is a handy tool for getting a picture of snow cover across the state when planning a ski trip.

Either way, to help decide where to go in State Parks when conditions allow, here are some staff favorites. Check each park’s website for a map of their trails:

Allegany Region

With 24 miles of trails, the Art Roscoe Cross Country Ski Area at Allegany State Park in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, offers some of best groomed skiing in western New York. Novices can try the 3.5-mile Christian Hollow Trail, a loop with gentle grades, or the multi-use, 3.5-mile Red House Bike Path.

Intermediate skiers can try the 3.3-mile Patterson Trail, which is a former rail bed. There are parking areas at both ends of the gently sloping trail, so a shuttle trip can be done by leaving cars at both ends.

Other more adventurous skiers can tackle the Ridge Trail for a 7.7- mile trek geared to intermediate to advanced skiers.

Ski equipment rentals are available at the park’s gift shop at the Red House Administration Building. Trail reports can be found online here.

Finger Lakes Region

The extensive trail network at Harriet Hollister Spencer State Recreation Area in Springwater, Livingston County, has grooming and is about an hour’s drive south of Rochester. Be prepared to share some of the trails with fat tire bikers on occasion.

A golf course can be a great place for novices to learn and practice, since such terrain is open, free of obstructions and tends not to be very steep. Going doing hill as a beginner? Remember to hold those skis in a “V” shape to control your downhill speed as you test out the friendly terrain at  Soaring Eagles Golf Course at Mark Twain State Park in Horseheads, Chemung County.

Central Region

There are 12 miles of trails at Selkirk Shores State Park in Pulaski, Oswego County. A staff favorite is a beginner/intermediate three-mile loop that incorporates the Front Pond Trail, Pine Grove Trail, a section of the 52C snowmobile trail, and Red Fox Trail, before returning to the Pine Grove Trail

Verona Beach State Park, in Verona Beach, Onedia County, offers miles of trails where they might encounter wildlife like white tailed deer, squirrels, foxes, and more. The two-mile Hog’s Back Trail loop follows a natural rise along Verona Beach’s massive swamp. Keep your eyes open at the overlooks for a potential glimpse of the nest of a mated pair of bald eagles.

There are about 15 miles of trails at Gilbert Lake State Park in Laurens, Otsego County. The mile-long trail around the namesake lake is periodically groomed, as is the two-mile Ice Pond Trail to the Twin Fawns Lake Trail.

Genesee Region

In Wyoming County, head for Letchworth State Park in Castile, and its Humphrey Nature Center and the Winter Recreation Area at Trailside Lodge. Here, there are three beginner trails, each about 1.5 miles long.

The park contains seven different parking areas to access about 15 miles of (usually ungroomed) trails. Glide through old-growth forest on the Gravel Loop and the Bishop Woods Loop. For great views of the spectacular Great Bend Gorge, check out the Chestnut Lawn Loop.

Long Island Region

There are two ungroomed trails at the Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown, Suffolk County _ the 1.5-mile beginner Green Trail that goes through woods, fields and wetlands, and the 1-mile Orange Trail that offers view of Willow Pond.

At the Connetquot River State Park Preserve in Oakdale, Suffolk County, there are many miles of marked hiking trails that can be skied. There is no grooming, and trails range from one to eight miles in length. The preserve includes an historic former sportsmen’s club and a newly-restored 18th century gristmill.

About six miles of ungroomed trails, ranging from intermediate to advance, are found at Sunken Meadow State Park in Kings Park, Suffolk County. Take the Field 4 Trail to ski through woods before reaching overlooks for Sunken Meadow Creek and Long Island Sound. No skiing is allowed on the golf course.

Niagara Region

At Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, Erie County, explore the Outer Loop Trail that begins at the Red Barn Parking Lot. A 2.7-mile trail suitable for beginners, it meanders through open pastures and fields, with some short legs through forests and views of farmlands and valleys.

Explore trails at Evangola State Park in Irving, Chautauqua County, to capture views of Lake Erie. The trail network covers about five miles, with the Rim Trail running along the edge of the lake.

Saratoga/Capital Region

At Mine Kill State Park in North Blenheim, Schoharie County, start at the park office for the moderate, three-mile Long Path/Bluebird Trail Loop, which offers sweeping views of the Schoharie Valley and the Blenheim-Gilboa Reservoir. Snowshoes and a small assortment of XC skis are free to borrow from the Park Office with a small deposit.

The moderate/intermediate Shaver Pond Trail at Grafton Lakes State Park in Grafton, Rensselaer County is a two-mile loop around the pond, where you can often see signs of beaver activity. The trail has some roots and rocks, so be mindful of snow cover. The park office rents snowshoes, but not skis.

Skiers have been going to Thacher State Park in Voorheesville, Albany County, for years because of its extensive trail network. Try out the lesser-used North Zone of the park, and its Fred Schroeder Memorial Trail, a three-mile intermediate loop through fields and forests. Use the Carrick Road parking area.

Beginners can practice on groomed trails that run for a total of three miles through the camping loops and around the lake at Moreau Lake State Park in Moreau, Saratoga County. There is skiing on ungroomed trails through the rest of the park.

Taconic Region

While there are no marked or groomed trails for skiing at James Baird State Park in Pleasant Valley, Dutchess County, the park’s golf course and many small, undulating hills there are a great place for beginners to practice climbing, turning, slowing and (maybe a little) falling.

Skiers could spend days touring the 25 miles of carriage roads at Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Pleasantville, Westchester County. Some favorites are the beginners’ 1.15-mile Brothers Path/Swan Lake Carriage Road, with views of the lake; the Thirteen Bridges/Gory Brook Carriage Roads, which along 2.5 miles of intermediate terrain offer view of the Pocantico River and waterfalls; and the intermediate Rockwood Hall Middle, Lower and Foundation Loop Carriage Roads, that go past the Hudson River.

There are 12 miles of trails at Fahnestock Winter Park in Carmel, Putnam County. Equipment rentals are available at the lodge, which also marks the start of the popular Lake Trail. Weather permitting, trails are also groomed on the lake. The trail will take you by a beaver lodge, over the dam built by the Civil Conservation Corps during the Great Depression, and past many small islands.

Cross-country skiing at Old Croton Aqueduct State Historic Park in Dobbs Ferry, Westchester County can be as near as one’s own backyard, as most of the ungroomed 26-mile trail is bordered by homes.  As the park is level, the area is great for those who are new to the sport. 

The Aqueduct is crossed by many streets, and the best cross-country skiing is found in the sections with the fewest road crossings.  Top on the list is the section from Gory Brook Road in Sleepy Hollow to Country Club Lane in Scarborough, about two and a half miles of level trail through the woods.  This section connects to Rockefeller State Park Preserve.   Those who like hills should enter Rockefeller Preserve just north of the Weir chamber and follow the Peggy’s Way trail south for some gentle hills before returning to the Aqueduct.

Another popular area is at the northernmost section by the Croton Dam.  Here the trail clings to the sides of a steep gorge through which runs the Croton River.  The Gorge is a park of its own, operated by the Department of Environmental Conservation and called the Croton Unique Area.  Only two lightly-traveled roads cross the 2.5 miles of wooded Aqueduct trail as it heads south to Croton.

Curiously the most densely-populated area through which the trail runs also features a fine area for skiing.  This section, likewise of about 2.5 miles, has two road crossings, but almost all of it runs through the woods, with unparalleled winter views of the Hudson River and Palisades. 

Palisades Region

There are stunning clifftop views from trails at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in Kerhonkson, Ulster County. Being free of rocks, roots and other obstructions, the 16-mile network of carriage trails are wide and “skiable” even with only a few inches of snow.

Thousand Island Region

At Robert Moses State Park in Massena, St. Lawrence County, there are more than five miles of trails through the woods and along the St. Lawrence River in  NY. The Nicandri Nature Center offers ski and snowshoe loans for all ages as well as ski instruction.

In the western Adirondacks, Higley Flow State Park in Colton, St. Lawrence County, has the popular 1.3-mile Overlook Trail that passes through a pine and spruce forest.  This trail connects with the Backcountry Trail (1.9 miles) and the Warm Brook trail (1.6 miles) for those wishing to challenge themselves further.

This is just a sampling of the ski trails at State Parks. So, when snow is on the ground, grab your skis, and get out there!


Cover Photo: Skiers at Saratoga Spa State Park. All photos by State Parks.

By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer for NYS Parks


Read this history of cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks.

Weathering the Storm by Restoring a Native Grass

In October 2012, Superstorm Sandy hit New York, causing severe damage on the Atlantic and Long Island coasts. The strength of the storm highlighted the importance of storm readiness. In one park on Long Island, the storm also brought an opportunity for habitat restoration.

Sunken Meadow State Park is located on the north shore of Long Island, and contains the Sunken Meadow Creek, which flows into the Long Island Sound. The park is over 1,000 acres and includes important coastal habitats including coastal forest, low salt marsh, marine eelgrass, tidal creek, and maritime dunes.

When Sandy struck, it destroyed a berm (a wall made of earth) that State Parks constructed in the 1950s. Ever since it was built, the culverts through the berm were inadequate and greatly reduced tidal flow to Sunken Meadow Creek, decreasing the quality of the habitat upstream. Rather than rebuild the berm, a plan was set in motion to restore the tidal marshland by replacing the berm with a bridge and planting saltmarsh species.

Sunken Meadow Creek after Sandy with photo credits
The remnants of the berm in Sunken Meadow Creek after its destruction by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.

Even before Sandy struck, many partners had joined with State Parks to restore the habitat, including NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), Connecticut Fund for the Environment, Save the Sound, Long Island Sound Study, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Restore America’s Estuaries, Sea Grant New York, US Fish and Wildlife Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Louis Berger Group. The New York Natural Heritage Program provided valuable information to help guide the restoration. The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation provided the funding.

With the removal of the berm came the return of tidal flow (a range of 2-3 feet per tidal cycle), and the gradual natural restoration of 135 acres of tidal creek and salt marsh habitat. Common reed (Phragmites australis) – an invasive plant with low tolerance for salt – had been a problem upstream of the berm, but the return of salty water cleared away much of this undesirable species. Once the common reed was gone, a three-acre area of mudflats was exposed, which the partners identified as an ideal location for marsh restoration work.

Mudflats 2013 with photo credits
xposed mudflats in 2013, one year after Superstorm Sandy, looking toward the pedestrian bridge.

The partners and volunteers teamed up to plant the mudflats with smooth cordgrass (Spartina alterniflora). Thanks to the roots of this native saltmarsh species, this section of the creek is now more resilient in the face of erosion and flooding that storms can bring. (Want to see how plants slow down erosion? Try this fun home experiment!) The restoration will also improve habitat for fish, macro-invertebrates (like fiddler crabs), and birds, providing them with space to forage and reproduce.

Mudflats 2017_with photo credit
View of mudflats looking toward bridge in 2017, two years after restoration planting of smooth cordgrass. You can see the remnants of the fencing put up to protect the young grass plants from being eaten by geese – these posts will be removed in the coming months.

The site continues to be monitored for the success of the plants. State Parks staff will also observe changes in the marsh elevation using Surface Elevation Table monitoring stations (SETs), which were installed in the restoration site and a control site downstream.  The elevation of the marsh surface may change in the future as mud is washed up and sea level rises. To learn more about SETs and how they are used, click here.

DEC staffers with photo credit

To learn more about the tidal creek and salt marsh habitat at Sunken Meadow State Park, check out some of our educational programs! NYS Parks works with local schools to engage students in citizen-scientist projects. A seasonal intern leads nature walks and uses the mobile touch tank to share the tidal world with park patrons. Sunken Meadow also participates in the “A Day in the Life of the Nissequogue River” program, which you can learn more about here.

To find out more about programs available at Sunken Meadow State Park, check the calendar.

Post by Juliana Quant, State Parks

Sources

Connecticut Fund for the Environment, 2013. Sunken Meadow Comprehensive Resilience and Restoration Plan. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation – Hurricane Sandy Coastal Resiliency Competitive Grants. EasyGrantsIS: 42442.

Hurricane Sandy

More details on the Sunken Meadow State Park restoration project from Save the Sound

Looking at the Big Picture: Implementing Ecosystem-Based Management in Parks

Ecosystem-Based Management, sometimes referred to as EBM, is a planning tool. It helps guide decisions on where to place development such as roads, buildings, trails, beaches etc., while also considering the long and short term impacts to the environment. It also looks at how development effects not just the surrounding environment, but also the upstream and downstream environment.  EBM helps remind us to take the big picture view when we do work in our State Parks.

New York State Parks’ Environmental Management Bureau has been implementing Ecosystem-Based Management (EBM) in our parks statewide since 2008.

EBM relies on citizen participation, partnerships, science-based approaches, and taking a long-term view   to provide an informed and adaptive approach to protecting our ecosystems while providing park patrons with experiences that connect them to the natural world.

There are 6 main components to EBM. These include:

  1. Place-based focus;
  2. Scientific foundations used for decision-making;
  3. Measurable management objectives to direct and evaluate performance;
  4. Adaptive management to respond to new knowledge;
  5. Recognition of interconnections within and among ecosystems; and,
  6. Involvement of stakeholders.

Taking this approach allows us to look at interacting systems, like watersheds, rather than individual components, such as a specific plant or animal or isolated water quality parameters.  NYS Parks has used this approach to help better understand, protect and manage our resources, such as swimming beaches, lake water quality, forest health, species richness, and aquatic connectivity.

In addition to helping us look at our natural environment in a more integrated way, EBM provides a means to communicate with multiple stakeholders including citizens, scientists, the private sector and government officials.

Ecosystem Based Management Education Panel_1

Ecosystem Based Management Panels at Sunken Meadow State Park on Long Island.
Ecosystem Based Management Panels at Sunken Meadow State Park on Long Island. Click to enlarge images.

NYS Parks will continue to integrate EBM into programs andactivities through training, watershed educational materials and ecosystem research, as well as projects which demonstrate that healthy ecosystems mean healthy communities.  Look for these EBM educational panels at Sunken Meadow State Park on Long Island (pictured above)! More educational panels and kiosks showing how our parks are part of the larger landscape are in the works for parks along the St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes.  Keep an eye out for them!

Post by Gabriella Cebada Mora, OPRHP.