Tag Archives: Taconic Region

Ready At The Rope

It was going to take heavy ropes and safety gear to rescue a 75-year-old man who was hurt and bleeding after falling near the rocky summit of Dutchess County’s highest point — 2,316-foot Brace Mountain.

With temperatures above 90 degrees and humidity thick that July 4th weekend afternoon, crews at Taconic State Park faced a half-mile hike up the mountain to reach the victim, who could not walk after injuring his head and extremities in a fall on a steep trail.  Initial reports also indicated the man was on blood thinning medication, which could make his bleeding harder to stop.

Setting out from the trailhead, the crew included myself, members of the local Millerton Volunteer Fire Department, an emergency medical technician, two forest rangers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and members of the Northwest Connecticut Rope Rescue Team. With about 300 pounds of ropes and hardware for the crew to carry, the hike in took about 45 minutes.

Some five grueling hours later, crews had carried and lowered the 125-pound victim hundreds of feet down the mountain, with the help of the stout ropes, a metal basket, and a piece of equipment called a stokes wheel. A stokes wheel is a single ATV tire that clips to the sides of a metal rescue basket, making transportation on rough terrain more comfortable for the patient and easier on rescuers. The victim was then airlifted to a local hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Using a stokes wheel, the rescue crew carries an injured hiker down Brace Mountain.
A helicopter heads to Brace Mountain to extricate an injured hiker.

This is not the first occurrence of this type of injury on this trail. Earlier that year, a hiker had fallen on the icy trail and injured his ribs, requiring rescue crews to carry him out on a stokes wheel. A few years earlier, another visitor fractured his leg while slipping on leaves and was airlifted off the summit of Brace Mountain after being carried by crews for more than a mile to a suitable landing zone.

As park attendance continues to rise, and social media convinces more potential hikers to head for the backcountry, we are seeing an increase in patron injuries and so-called ‘technical’ rescues in our State Parks. Such rescues are becoming more common at places like Taconic State Park and Hudson Highlands State Park in the Taconic Region, Minnewaska and Bear Mountain State Parks in Palisades Region, John Boyd Thatcher in Saratoga Region and Letchworth State Park in Genesee Region.

People fall while taking selfies, slip while wearing improper footwear, or enter hazardous and closed areas of our parks. Some patrons fail to dress for the weather, do not bring flashlights or maps, fail to bring enough water and are generally unprepared to hike some of the terrain our beautiful parks offer. The mighty cell phone has made many of our patrons more confident knowing help is only a call away. This false confidence has started to put a strain on park resources along with surrounding first responders who are constantly being called to parks for injuries, and search and rescues.

In order to work better together and streamline communications between rescue crews, here at Taconic State Park we have started annual rope rescue drills with local fire departments, forest rangers, rope rescue teams, park police and other first responders.

The drills include using Incident Action Plans and the Incident Command Structures we all learn in our classes as park managers. By drilling, we get to practice putting together planning documents and working with Incident Commanders who coordinate with park officials on such emergencies. We gain valuable facetime in a non-emergency atmosphere where we can dissect our pre-planning and offer each other suggestions and advice.

In late October, staff at Taconic State Park held a Joint Rope Rescue drill that brought together over a dozen responding agencies from two states and three counties. The drill was a mock exercise that practiced communication between different departments, navigation and various rope rescue skills and strategies.

Members of the Brace Mountain Joint Rope Rescue Drill in October.
A map of the Brace Mountain region used during the safety drill.

We also review our rescues to learn not only what we did right but more importantly, where we can improve. One lesson from the July 4th incident is that we will now use staging areas for motorized UTV’s that shuttle rope gear to a pre-planned location near the summit of the mountain so that heavy equipment no longer needs to go uphill with rescuers on foot.

By using motorized vehicles to bring heavy gear above where a rescue has to happen, rope crews only have to carry this equipment downhill, which saves more of their energy for when they reach a victim. It takes a few more resources to do this but ultimately increases the efficiency of getting equipment to the injured hiker.

Also, we have established multiple hoist locations in the area, so if available, a helicopter can save us the time and effort of carrying and building lowering devices with ropes and hardware in the field. This will not always be available, but it is another tool that we can use to make rescues faster and safer.

All parks are required to have an All Hazards Emergency Action Plan. However, some emergencies in our parks require more planning than the normal fire drill or patron with heat exhaustion. Some potential emergencies require park managers to meet with local first responders on a regular basis to enhance the speed and efficiency of their response.

No matter what size the park or historic site, it is always essential to have an open line of communication with the local fire chief, rescue squad and Park Police so that the one day they are needed, they know your face and who you are. It just makes things easier – and ultimately safer – for the thousands of visitors who use the trails in the rugged regions of our State.


Post by Chris Rickard, Park Manager, Taconic State Park


Prepare To Help Avoid Accidents

  • For a safe hike, there are things to remember beyond carrying a mobile phone. Wear sturdy yet comfortable shoes or boots, and bring water and snacks for the trail. Wear clothing appropriate for the weather.
  • Be mindful during hikes on steep terrain or that go near cliff tops. Hiking poles can help stabilize yourself against a potential fall, and transfer stress of hiking from your knees and legs to your arms and back.
  • In the winter, when snow and ice can cover trails, carry and use traction gear on boots, such a webbed spikes or crampons.
  • Carry a small first-aid kit in case of emergency. Hike with a partner, so if something happens, help is present. Hiking alone is risky.
  • Use a trail map, which is available online at each park website at https://parks.ny.gov/ and at the main office at each park, in season. Check the park’s individual website to see if its maps can be downloaded to your iOS Apple or Android device, but a paper map is a good backup in the event of device failure.
  • For some facilities, data is available as a Google Earth KML file or a map is available to download to your iOS Apple and Android mobile devices in the free PDF-Maps app. Learn more
  • Once you have a map, you can tell how long a trail is and how long it ought to take to finish. As days grow shorter in fall and winter, having a flashlight or headlamp in your backpack is a good form of insurance, should you unexpectedly find yourself on the trail as dusk approaches.
  • If issues arise, be prepared to turn around. Don’t fall victim to “summit fever” – the desire to reach the top regardless of the risk.
  • And, as incidents of tick-borne diseases surge in the state, it is always important to check yourself for ticks after being outside during spring, summer and fall, even if it is only time spent in your own backyard. Thankfully, ticks are not normally active during the cold of winter.
The Brace Mountain rope drill team nears the summit.

All pictures courtesy of NYS Parks

Predator Study At State Parks

A research study out of the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY-ESF) is collaborating with Fahnstock State Park and Wonder Lake State Park in Putnam County to look at predator populations as part of an ongoing study of the declining population of New England cottontails (NEC), Sylvilagus transitionalis. NEC is a rabbit native to the northeastern U.S., but studies indicate that in the past decade, the population of NEC has decreased by as much as 50%. Some populations of the cottontails are in New York State Parks, and learning more about best management practices is critical to protecting this species.

As the New England cottontail (NEC) is a declining species being considered for listing on the federal Endangered Species Act, there are a lot of ongoing efforts to create habitat for these rabbits in the Northeast. The hope is these efforts will preemptively restore populations of NEC in the region, making it unnecessary to list the species as endangered.

The two greatest contributing factors to the decline of NECs are loss of habitat and the introduction of the Eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus. While the two cottontail species are almost identical in appearance, the Eastern Cottontail generally outcompetes NECs for food and habitat, edging the native species out of its former range. While loss of habitat and the introduction of the Eastern cottontail are both factors contributing to the decline of New England Cottontail, this study looks at predation in conjunction with other management practices.

Predation accounts for almost all natural mortality in NECs. As such, increases or decreases in the predator community would have serious consequences for the cottontail population. Most management projects have focused on enhancing habitat for NECs, but this study considers whether those projects might have the unintended consequence of altering the predator communities in such a way that cottontail survival is reduced. If that’s the case, then it will be necessary to consider predator management strategies when managing habitat for NEC. Results from this study will help inform habitat managers and recover NEC populations.

The project, led by PhD student Amanda Cheeseman and Dr. Jonathan Cohen, both from SUNY-ESF, together with Scott Silver of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Putnam Highlands Audubon, uses trail cameras targeting mammal predators, in combination with visual and auditory surveys for hawks, owls, and eagles, to examine predator communities in areas where different ways of controlling and managing NEC habitat are already being practiced. The project is taking place across multiple sites in Putnam and Dutchess counties. The pictures above were taken in Fahnstock State ParkThe information from the predator study will be compared to data from radio-collared cottontails in order to get a complete picture of the predator-prey relationships in New England Cottontail habitats.

featured image is of the New England Cottontail, Sylvilagus transitionalis, by Michael Merchand, NYNHP

Benthic Barriers in Rudd Pond

No one likes to hop into the water on a hot day and find a slimy, tangled forest of plants. In many state parks, aquatic invasives plants encroach on public swimming areas, ruining recreational areas as well as habitat for native species in the same lakes and ponds. At Rudd Pond in Taconic State Park in Columbia County, a simple management strategy may prove to be an effective way to protect a swim area against unpleasant and unwelcome weeds.

Eurasian watermilfoil and water chestnut grow densely along the shoreline of Rudd Pond.
Eurasian watermilfoil and water chestnut grow densely along the shoreline of Rudd Pond.

Rudd Pond, at the southern end of Taconic State Park, is a popular swimming and fishing area, supporting populations of panfish, largemouth bass, and chain pickerel. Unfortunately, the pond also supports thriving populations of aquatic invasive species including water chestnut, curly pondweed, and Eurasian watermilfoil.

Benthic barriers are porous mats that are placed on the bottom of a lake or pond. They restrict sunlight from reaching the lake bottom in the areas where they are installed. The absence of sunlight restricts the growth of aquatic plants.

The benthic barrier mats were placed all around the swimming area.
The benthic barrier mats were placed all around the swimming area.

The benthic mats are used to create a buffer zone to prevent aquatic invasive species from threatening the utility of the public swimming area. An aquatic weed harvester is used to cut the plants below the surface in the main part of the pond. However, harvesters do leave behind fragments of plants that can regrow. There is no single perfect solution to managing aquatic invasives, but the use of several management strategies continues to show improvement at Rudd Pond.

The mats were assembled on land, and then the water quality unit placed them in the water
The mats were assembled on land, and then the water quality unit placed them in the water. Some park staff donned SCUBA suits to position the deeper mats!

Check out the NYS Parks poster on preventing the spread of aquatic invasive species

Featured image is of curly-leafed pondwater underwater adjacent to the Rudd Pond swimming area. Photos and post by Paris Harper.

Green Parking At FDR State Park

A project at Franklin Delano Roosevelt State Park aims to redesign the 6.2 acre parking lot in order to greater serve the goals of environmental sustainability and stewardship. The project will rehabilitate the lot’s surface, improve the efficiency of the parking layout and improve drainage and storm water runoff quality. The new parking lot will feature native trees and vegetation to visually soften the hard surface of the parking lot. Ultimately, the redesign will create a more welcoming and pleasant entrance experience to patrons visiting the popular pool and provide important benefits to the park’s wetland and lake by reducing the amount of nutrients (e.g. phosphorus) and typical parking lot pollutants that are currently flowing into these resources untreated.

This is a joint project between NYS OPRHP and the NY Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT has been tasked with reducing phosphorus loading from storm water runoff from public highways and other impervious surfaces within the Croton watershed. They identified the large pool parking lot at FDR as a project that would help them meet their phosphorus reduction goals. As this lot is in need of rehabilitation, DOT’s assistance with its upgrade will result in a net benefit for both agencies. DOT will provide design and construction management funding and assistance. OPRHP will fund the construction contract.

 The Environmental Impact of Parking Lots

Parking lots can be bad for the environment for many reasons. More pavement means less green space, thereby reducing the number of trees and plants that serve as natural “air cleaners” by absorbing carbon dioxide in the air and releasing oxygen. It also means less open soil that can collect rainwater, which helps to replenish natural aquifers. Impervious surfaces, like asphalt, don’t allow rain to percolate into the ground; instead they channel rainwater to a storm drain. Stormwater runoff can be highly polluted with oil, grease, coolant, and other fluids which leak out of cars and collect on pavement until rain washes it into our lakes and streams, negatively impacting our health as well as the habitat and living conditions of fish and other aquatic life.

Another negative effect of parking lots is that they raise local temperatures through a process known as the “heat island” effect. Asphalt and concrete absorb and retain heat from the sun’s rays more than the surrounding ground. This in turn raises surrounding temperatures a few degrees.

The Project at FDR State Park

FDR State Park is located along the Taconic State Parkway, approximately 40 miles north of New York City. The park offers day use recreational facilities including picnicking, trails, fishing and boating and areas for field games. One of the central features of the park is a large outdoor pool that can accommodate up to 3,500 bathers at a time. The park is popular with local residents for walking, hosts many events throughout the year and is also used for winter activities.

To accommodate all these visitors, FDR State Park also has a very large parking area. The lot is 6.2 acres in size and primarily services the pool complex during the summer. It is also used year-round for access to nearby trails, picnic areas, and events. Storm water drainage from the existing lot is directed to storm drains that flow to a nearby wetland and then into Mohansic Lake, a large lake within the park.

Bioswales are landscape elements designed to filter silt and pollution from surface runoff water.
Bioswales are landscape elements designed to filter silt and pollution from surface runoff water.

The primary elements of the proposed design include:

  • Parking Lot – The existing asphalt surface will be removed and replaced. The removed asphalt will be milled and reused or recycled. In addition, approximately 15,000 square feet of asphalt will be removed from an adjacent service road entrance and replaced with grass.
  •  Storm water treatment – The proposed plan includes the construction of new bioswales throughout the lot which will consist of a combination of soil, cobbles and native vegetation. Storm water drainage will flow into these areas before entering into the existing storm water drainage system. These bioswales will allow for biological filtration and treatment, breaking down many of the nutrients and pollutants found in typical storm water runoff. Native trees, shrubs, and ornamental grass species will be planted to reduce the lot’s heat island effect, improve aesthetics, and provide shade and wind breaks. Below is a photo of a typical bioswale that is similar to what will be installed.

green parking 1

Bird Banding at TOEC

The Taconic Outdoor Education Center (TOEC), at Fahnestock State Park, invited the community to celebrate National Get Outdoors Day and National Kids to Parks Day on May 18th this year at the TOEC Outdoor RecFest. The day started with a bird banding demonstration led by Eric Lind of the Audubon Constitution March Sanctuary.

Bird banding is a way to gain valuable knowledge about migratory birds, including data used in studies of dispersal and migration, behavior and social structure, life-span and survival rate, reproductive success and population growth. The data can be used in both research and management projects.

At the RecFest, bird banding was also a great tool for education and getting kids introduced to and interested in outdoor science and the variety of songbirds that make Fahnstock State Park their home. It was also a special opportunity for kids to get up close and personal with a migratory bird. Participants learned about mist nets, band sizes, bird measurements, and data recording.

Other events of the day included a bird walk led by naturalist Peter Salmansohn of Putnam Highland’s Audubon and workshops in orienteering and canoeing. The Event was supported by the Putnam Highland Audubon chapter, and Audubon New York’s Constitution Marsh Sanctuary, with the help of TOEC outdoor Educators.

The presenters delicately attach a band to the leg of a small veery before releasing it. Photo by Gerry Katzban.
The presenters delicately attach a band to the leg of a small veery before releasing it. Photo by Gerry Katzban.

For more information on bird banding: http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/homepage/whyband.cfm

Featured image of a veery in a mist net by Gerry Katzban. Post by Paris Harper.