Tag Archives: Wildlife

Celebrating Beavers this International Beaver Day

*SLAP* *SLAP* *SLAP* What’s that!? Oh, is it the tail slapping that beavers use to tell each other to watch out for something nearby? That must mean it’s almost International Beaver Day! Every April 7th,  we get a chance to reflect on what these hard-working mammals mean to us! 

The American Beaver (Castor canadensis) is a key player in NY State Parks— so key, in fact, that it is considered a keystone species of its wetland ecosystems, playing a major role in keeping ecosystems healthy. This is because beavers are one of the few animals that truly modify their habitats to better suit their needs, which has given them the title of “ecosystem engineers!”  

Most people associate beavers with their dams, which are certainly their most influential construction projects, but they build other structures too. Beavers don’t hibernate, instead opting to spend the winter in a cozy, dome-like lodge in the middle of their pond with a passageway that provides easy access to water below the ice. A lodge houses a family (colony) of beavers, including a pair of parent beavers and their young (kits). Beavers mate for life and have 3-6 kits a year. Those lodges must get quite snug! 

Beavers also store food caches near the entrance to their lodges, which helps get them through long, cold New York winters. In these caches, the herbivorous beaver stores things like branches, leaves, and green stems that are crucial food sources in winter months.

Diagram of beaver structures. Photo credit: Jennifer Rees, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife

Their big, watertight dams—made of logs, sticks, mud, and sometimes stone— block running water, creating their own beaver ponds with rich, surrounding wetlands. Beavers constantly work to maintain their dams and build new ones where they hear running water. Beaver colonies can maintain several dams at once, sourcing wood from the forest around their pond. They use their sharp, orange teeth to cut down trees, leaving chewed stumps that can be seen up to 165 feet from bodies of water. Have you ever seen one of these stumps in a State Park? Beavers live in and modify almost any forested body of freshwater from Canada to Northern Mexico, so that’s quite a few waterbodies they may impact.

Living with Beavers

State Parks can be centers of beaver activity, which comes with its own set of challenges between beaver habitation and park infrastructure. Damage to property caused by flooding, plugging culverts, and damage to trees are of particular concern. For instance, Seneca Lake State Park recently wrapped the bases of important trees with chicken wire to prevent beavers from gnawing on them, which worked well.

Other efforts in parks across the state include using devices such as beaver deceivers, culvert protection fencing, and pond levelling devices. Beaver deceivers are a very handy way to keep beavers in our parks while also reducing the risk of flooding for trails, roads, and other amenities we enjoy.

Interpretive programs also play an important role in promoting education and public knowledge of beavers and good beaver stewardship. Trail cameras can allow State Park Biologists to monitor beaver populations and observe their behaviors – and the photos can be used in educational programs too. The Beaver Walk and Talk at Moreau Lake State Park is a very popular educational program that shows off the major beaver lodge at the park. The Bear Mountain Trailside Museum and Zoo is also a wonderful place to brush up on beaver knowledge. Environmental stewardship in NY State Parks is vital to balancing the work of two major ecosystem engineers: beavers and humans. Good stewardship allows for the many environmental benefits of beaver-created wetlands, while also minimizing impacts to park infrastructure. 

Beaver Wetlands

Prime wetland habitat is incredibly beneficial to all sorts of organisms and even the land itself. In terms of why beavers make dams, the resulting pond and wetlands foster growth of aquatic plants like water lilies—some of the beaver’s favorite summertime snacks. Wetlands also protect beaver colonies from predators such as coyotes and fishers. For other animals, beaver-created wetlands are highly productive environments. Amphibians, fish, invertebrates, large herbivores, and waterfowl flourish in these wetlands, supporting predator populations higher up the food chain like raptors, bears, other semi-aquatic mammals like otters, and more.

As for the landscape, wetlands act like a sponge. Wetlands store water in wet periods and release water as the landscape dries, helping to regulate the water table. They also work to filter sediment and more harmful chemicals, which benefits any animal or person using the water downstream. From the wealth of biodiversity to the maintenance of healthy landscapes, beavers can help make the environment strong and resilient, which is necessary to adapt to climate change now more than ever.

Beaver History

Beavers and their wetlands were once much more abundant than they are today, seeing a massive decline in numbers due to the colonial and post-colonial fur trade. Over the course of the fur trade in New York, beavers were sadly on the brink of extirpation (regional extinction) across the Northeast United States and beyond. Beaver populations dropped so low due to unregulated, commercialized trapping for their fur, which was often made into fancy hats. New York was a center of the fur trade as trapping flourished with widespread and abundant beaver populations upstate, coupled with the easy access to navigable waterways, including the Hudson River, Lake Champlain, and the Great Lakes. At the height of the North American fur trade between 1860 and 1870, trading companies reported buying 150,000 beaver pelts per year.

An old, whimsical illustration of beavers hard at work near Niagara Falls from the early 1700s. Photo Credit: Nicolas De Fer, from L’Amerique Divisee Selon Letendue de ses Principales Parties, 1713

From the 1600s to late 1800s, the fur trade grew together with cities like Albany and New York City at the expense of beaver populations. Beavers are displayed on the seals of both of those cities as symbols honoring their fur trading past and allude to values such as diligence and hard work. Likewise, the history of the beaver is tightly linked with the entire state of New York, as shown by the beaver’s status as state mammal. We’re lucky today that beaver populations persist and are not just symbols of fur trade history, unregulated trapping, and all that caused their decline.

Rebounding beaver populations are, fortunately, a great conservation success story. Trapping regulations in the United States and Canada around the turn of the 20th century started the end of the decline. Reintroduction programs (moving animals back to habitats where they once lived) along with perseverant beavers hidden away in high mountains, like the Adirondacks, provided seeds for the growth of new beaver populations across New York and elsewhere. In the 1920s, the Palisades Interstate Park Commission even reintroduced three breeding pairs of beavers back to Harriman State Park!  

Beavers Today

Across their range, beavers number between 10 and 15 million, which is an incredible recovery! But that is only a conservatively estimated 10% of their pre-colonial population. There is much to celebrate about the beaver, but there is still much work to be done. There have been and will continue to be growing pains between beaver populations and people, but if we keep supporting the beaver, then they will help safeguard the natural places we cherish. 

This International Beaver Day, let’s reframe our understanding of the beaver. Beavers may be seen as ignoble rodents, pelts for hats, mere symbols on city seals, or unredeemable nuisances, but let’s try seeing them as wetland restorationists— stewards working toward resilient wetland networks and precolonial environments. There is a lot of work to be done to foster harmony between people and beavers, which will require continual human stewardship, but their own current recovery is a testament to how much good conservation work can be achieved over time. So be eager to get out there and explore your local State Park for dams, lodges, and the beavers that built them! 

A beaver dragging twigs at Allegany State Park. Photo Credit: Michael Head (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

More Beaver Facts!

  • Beavers are very large rodents. They can grow anywhere from 26 to 65 pounds and be almost 3 feet long with almost another foot of length from their broad tail.
  • Beavers communicate with each other in a variety of ways. Adults will grunt and young beavers will use high pitched whines. Beavers will even use their big, flat tails to make a loud, slapping noise to warn other beavers in the colony of nearby danger.
  • Beavers have orange teeth. Their teeth are very hard and contain high amounts of iron, which looks orange to us. It’s not just because they forgot to brush!
  • Like other rodents, a beaver’s front teeth (incisors) never stop growing. The length of their teeth is kept in check by being worn down when gnawing wood and are adapted to always stay sharp.
  • Beavers have very special, flat tails. They use their scaly tails to help them swim, communicate, and pat down their dams. A beaver’s tail also helps to store fat and steady their body temperature (thermoregulation).
  • Beavers have webbed back paws that help them swim better, and the second back toes have split nails they use to comb waterproofing oils into their fur.
  • So water doesn’t get into awkward places, a beaver’s nose and ears can close completely underwater.
  • Beavers also have a special membrane for their eyes that they can close to keep the water out called a nictitating membrane, almost like a clear second eyelid.
  • A beaver’s lips close behind their front teeth so they can chew sticks and other plant material underwater.
  • Beavers are also known for what’s called a castor sac (hence their genus name Castor), which holds oil that has a strong smell and is used to make a substance called castoreum. Castoreum has been used as a perfume ingredient, food flavoring with a taste like vanilla, and a traditional medicine. Beavers also groom themselves with the castor oil to keep their fur waterproof. The strong scent of the castor oil makes it great for marking beaver territories, too.
  • Beavers don’t hibernate in the winter and their lodges stay quite a bit warmer than the cold temperatures outside.
  • Beavers are most active at dawn and dusk (crepuscular) and at night (nocturnal), so keep an ear out for tail slaps after the sun goes down.
  • Beaver lodges are so well-built and cozy that other semi-aquatic mammals, like otters or muskrat, might adopt them if the beavers ever move out.
  • Beavers are pregnant with kits from the middle of winter to late spring, so be on the lookout around then for furry, little beaver babies on your adventures in State Parks.

Post by Daniel Fleischman, NYS Parks and Student Conservation Association

Training Protects Threatened Rattlesnakes

Twenty-five years ago, as a young Fish and Wildlife Technician with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, I was recruited for an unusual field outing on State parkland in the Hudson Highlands of southeastern New York: a first of its kind, hands-on training to become a certified nuisance rattlesnake responder.  

As a responder, I would be on a short list of people willing to safely and legally relocate timber rattlesnakes that had wandered into compromising situations on private property – a win-win for both the homeowner and snake.  No such system was in place in the Hudson Valley and, without it, many homeowners took matters into their own hands, often with a shovel or shotgun.

Randy Stechert, a long-time herpetologist and regional rattlesnake expert who has worked through New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and elsewhere, led our small group to a remote rocky clearing in search of Crotalus horridus, the timber rattlesnake. The largest of New York State’s three venomous snake species (the others being the northern copperhead and massasauga rattlesnake), the timber rattlesnake was in trouble, owing to centuries of habitat loss and direct persecution, including a bounty system lasting into the 1970s.

These depredations were so effective the State declared the species Threatened in 1983, a designation requiring conservation measures to keep it from slipping to Endangered status or worse. Currently under New York State Environmental Conservation Law, it is illegal to capture, kill or possess any native snake at any time without a permit, including rattlesnakes.

The mission of that long-ago outing was to familiarize our ragtag group of would-be responders with this species in the flesh. Randy would show us a wild rattlesnake and how to safely handle it, while imparting his wisdom about all things rattlesnake in his booming baritone voice.

And boy did he deliver.

I will never forget the robust, nearly all-black rattlesnake plucked from a huckleberry patch and deposited on the open bedrock just feet in front of me. Most memorable was how easily we could stand beside this now agitated wild animal with little concern about its intentions. It was in a clearly defensive posture, coiled and ready to repel any further attacks from this presumably malevolent band of primates.

A black morph timber rattlesnake. Colors range from nearly jet black, to browns, to sulfur yellow. (Photo credit – DEC/William Hofman)
A yellow morph timber rattlesnake.

In the ensuing decades, and after handling dozens of rattlesnakes in my research and as a nuisance responder, I’ve come to understand them as pacifists at heart.  Despite their considerable weaponry – two hypodermic needle-like fangs and potent venom – they really just want to be left alone.  In fact, their first response to human presence is to remain motionless, and hope their camouflage shields them from detection.  If detected and a retreat is available, such as a rock crevice, they will typically make a rapid exit to safety.  But if they feel exposed, vulnerable, and without a means for escape, they quickly switch gears in an attempt to intimidate their aggressor.  A cornered rattlesnake coils, inflates to look more girthy, and rapidly vibrates its namesake rattle to audibly back up the message. This menacing version is our popular notion of a rattlesnake but, ironically, is merely a response to the perceived threat posed by us. 

The snake’s rattle is made from rings of keratin – the same hardened protein our fingernails and hair are made of. A new rattle segment is formed every time a snake sheds its skin. When the snake rapidly shakes its tail, the rings vibrate and produce a rattling or buzzing noise used by the snake as a warning to keep away. (Photo credit – New Hampshire Fish and Game Department/Brendan Clifford.)
Hear a rattlesnake rattle…

Since that indelible first encounter with a wild rattlesnake on State Park land, I have become increasingly entwined with this charismatic species. I’ve rescued them from homeowner’s yards, conducted field surveys for their winter dens, and ultimately took a very deep dive into unraveling the timber rattlesnake’s mating system and reproductive ecology as a graduate student.   

Still managed by the DEC, the nuisance rattlesnake response program includes most members of that original group recruited in the mid-1990s.  While Randy Stechert continues to host trainings (now done with captive snakes, rather than wild ) in recent years, he has passed the torch to another generation of trainers, including myself here at State Parks. 

Where I work at  Trailside Museums and Zoo at Bear Mountain State Park , natural resource staff, backcountry rangers and our own zookeepers have been trained using our captive rattlesnakes under this program, expanding Parks’ in-house capacity to respond to nuisance situations at all our locations. 

Other conservation measures have been installed as well in recent years.  For example, all park development projects are “screened” by location to assess their potential for rattlesnake impacts. When possible, projects sited within snake habitat are scheduled for November to March, when the snakes are less likely to be active and in harm’s way.  When this can’t be done, the contractor is required to develop a rattlesnake response plan and have an onsite snake monitor to head off conflicts. In some cases, when habitat loss or direct impacts are considered unacceptable, the project is relocated, reconfigured, or even denied.

The timber rattlesnake has been a survivor, persisting in the rocky uplands of the Hudson Valley, Southern Tier and eastern Adirondacks for at least the last six thousand years. Our past concerted efforts to eliminate it from the landscape were unsuccessful, and good thing. As more species disappear and the fabric of nature unravels, thread by thread, the value of having formidable, wild creatures about us only increases.

State parklands are a critical refuge for this imperiled snake in New York and can remain this way with a little foresight, planning, and, frankly, empathy, on our part.  If we can successfully accommodate the long-term survival of the timber rattlesnake, it will bode well for biodiversity overall.

Timber rattlesnakes reach the northern limit of their range in New York and New England.(Photo credit – NYS DEC)
A researcher marked this snake’s rattle with red paint to aid future identification.

What To Do If You See a Rattlesnake?


If you are on State parkland or elsewhere in the wild, observe the snake from a safe distance (at least six feet), and take a moment to enjoy this majestic animal. If you snap a picture with your cell phone and want to share it with others over social media, it is best to do this without disclosing exact location information. You can either share a screenshot or make sure location services are disabled on your phone. This will keep the location secret from snake poachers attempting to mine online location data. After briefly observing the snake, back away and make a detour around its location to continue your hike.

In a nuisance situation where the snake’s presence is problematic, such as in or near a dwelling or public space, a certified relocation expert can be obtained by calling 911 or the DEC. Please remember: Do not attempt to disturb or capture the snake yourself.  Seeking expert assistance in this instance is one way to help New York preserve its biodiversity.


Cover shot – A yellow morph timber rattlesnake blends into the forest floor. All pictures NYS Parks unless otherwise credited.

Post by Ed McGowan, PhD, Director of Science and Trailside Museums & Zoo, Bear Mountain State Park

Resources


New York Natural Heritage Program guide to the timber rattlesnake.

Read a recent scientific study on how rattlesnakes use their rattles to make a snake sound closer than it actually is.

Read about a DEC and multi-agency investigation between 2006 and 2009 into the illegal wildlife trade in rattlesnakes, other reptiles and amphibians.

Learn more about the timber rattlesnake in this previous post in the NYS Parks Blog…


Respect for Rattlers

Threatened in New York State and often misunderstood, the Timber Rattlesnake is an impressive and unique species that is essential for healthy ecosystems. At an average of 3-4 feet in length and described as “stocky,” timber rattlesnakes are the largest venomous snake species in New York. They are easily identified by their broad triangular-shaped head … Continue reading Respect for Rattlers

Empire State Native Pollinator Survey – You Can Help!

Summer is in full swing, with flowers blooming and bees buzzing. Our native pollinators, which also include flies, butterflies, and beetles, are an important part of New York’s ecosystems. They work hard to pollinate our trees, wildflowers, gardens, and crops. Some of these native pollinators appear to be declining. To learn more, scientists have been evaluating the populations of pollinators throughout New York as part of the four year Empire State Native Pollinator Survey (ESNPS).

The ESNPS is a project that aims to determine the distribution and conservation status of target pollinator species in New York. This project is made possible through work by both scientists conducting statewide surveys and community members submitting pollinator pictures and specimens they have observed.

In the last few years, zoologists with New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) have visited more than 60 State Parks throughout New York State searching for a variety of target pollinator species. Community scientists have also been contributing their finds with photos added to the ESNPS iNaturalist project page.

More than 21,000 observations had been submitted to this multi-year project byMarch 2021, with the project constantly growing. These observations have been submitted by over 600 people and represent over 1,400 species. The Empire State Native Pollinator Survey is accepting photo submissions through September 2021 and you can help!

Be A Community Scientist

Do you want to help contribute to pollinator survey efforts? The project is accepting photo submissions through September 2021! Photographs can be submitted through the ESNPS iNaturalist project page or through the iNaturalist app after joining the project online. This can be a fun activity to do solo or with friends and family the next time you visit a State Park. Pollinators can be found in a variety of habitats – keep an eye out for wildflowers on warm and sunny days to see what you can find.  If you are able to snap some good pictures and upload them to iNaturalist, experts can help you identify the species you have found. It is a great way to learn, too.

What to Look For

Below are some pictures of the target species for this project that have been found in New York State Parks. New York’s pollinators have so much variety! These are just a few examples of what to look for and photograph.

Cuckoo Bee


One of the interesting bumble bees we have in New York is Fernald’s Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus flavidus=fernaldae). Cuckoo bumble bees are a group of parasitic bees that are unable to collect pollen or raise young. These bees will take over the already established nests of other bumble bees by invading and incapacitating or killing the queen. The Cuckoo bumble bee then forces the workers to raise its young.

Fernald’s Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus flavidus=fernaldae) Photo Kevin Hemeon

Bee Mimics

Look closely at the Bare-eyed Bee-mimic Fly (Mallota bautias) and Eastern Hornet Fly (Spilomyia longicornis); these are flies that are called bee mimics. Bee mimics can look very similar to bees, hornets, or wasps. Imitating insects with stingers is a defense mechanism for these harmless flies. 

Bare-eyed Bee-mimic Fly (Mallota bautias) Photo Paweł Pieluszyński
Eastern Hornet Fly (Spilomyia longicornis) Photo Laura Shappell
Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major) Photo Alan Wells

Longhorn Beetles

The project is also interested in information on the 100 species of longhorn beetles. These beetles generally have very long antennae and come in a wide variation of colors and patterns. They too are pollinators.

Strangalepta Flower Longhorn Beetle (Strangalepta abbreviata) Photo Alan Wells
Banded Longhorn Beetle (Typocerus velutinus) Photo Alan Wells

Where Should I Look?

You can find native pollinators all over. State Parks have a great variety of natural habitats where you can find interesting pollinators. Sunny days with not too much wind are ideal. Some of the counties that would benefit from additional surveys are Chenango, Cortland, Fulton, Lewis, Montgomery, Orleans, Tioga, and Yates.

Look for flowers along trails through fields, meadows, dunes, forests, or even in marshes and stream sides if you kayak or canoe. Stop and look for a bit to see if any pollinators settle down on the flowers. Photograph from a distance first and then try to move in for some close-ups. The insects are often so intent on feeding that they don’t fly away.

If you can help, sign up for the Empire Pollinator Survey ESNPS iNaturalist project page and submit your photos on that project page or the APP before Sept. 30, 2021. The results from the project are anticipated to be available in spring 2022.

Post by Ashley Ballou, Zoologist, NY Natural Heritage Program  www.nynhp.org

Resources

Read more about State Parks and our efforts with pollinators in previous posts in the NYS Parks Blog.

Protecting Pollinators

Across New York, State Parks staff is working hard to help support the diverse populations of pollinators from bees to butterflies, beetles, wasps, and more.  Here’s a sample of the pollinator protection projects going on this year in State Parks. Rockefeller State Park Preserve Wild Bees Photo Exhibit Working from their photographs from both Rockefeller … Continue reading Protecting Pollinators

Swans: Natives and Invasives

Mute swans are easily discriminated from native tundra and trumpeter swans by their orange beaks. Photo by NYS Parks
Mute swans are easily discriminated from native tundra and trumpeter swans by their orange beaks. (Photo Credit- State Parks)

Mute swans are large, impressive birds that many people are delighted to see in public water bodies and in New York State Parks.

However, many people are unaware that mute swans are a non-native species which can create negative impacts in our parks. Mute swans (Cygnus olor) were introduced to the U.S. from Europe during the late 1800s and early 1900s as decorative accessories to zoos, parks, and private estates.

In New York State, Mute swans were particularly popular on private estates on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. Many of these pet swans escaped from captivity or were intentionally released into the wild. Since their introduction, wild mute swans have successfully expanded their habitat to the extent that it is now a source of concern for natural resource managers

Environmental Impacts: What do we have against swans, anyway?


Mute swans are highly territorial and will aggressively defend their large territories against other birds—including native waterfowl. This hurts our native bird populations by limiting their access to feeding areas and potential nesting sites. Mute swans may also act aggressively towards humans who walk, swim, or boat too close to their nesting sites.

Besides being physically threatening, mute swans place a greater strain on the aquatic habitats where they feed. Their long necks reach a greater number of underwater plants than other birds’. Besides eating aquatic plants, mute swans tend to uproot much of the aquatic vegetation where they feed, which would otherwise provide food and shelter for native waterfowl species, fish and other organisms.

Tundra swans, photo by Terry Spivey, USDA Forest Service
Tundra swans (Photo Credit- Terry Spivey, U.S. Forest Service)

Tundra Swan

The tundra swan is one of two native swan species in New York State (the other is the trumpeter swan, see below). A graceful tundra swan is an incredible sight for bird lovers. The average tundra swan has wingspan stretching just over five feet. While the tundra swan is the smallest swan species observed in New York State, averaging more than 14 pounds, they are still larger than a Canada Goose. While Tundra Swans are similar in size and coloring to trumpeter swans, their voice is distinctly different. Listen for their clear hooting, which sounds like klooo or kwooo.

They typically feed on shellfish, aquatic plants, and occasionally grains. While tundra swans spend most of the breeding season in the Arctic, where nesting and hatching takes place, these strong birds migrate southwards annually and frequently rest, feed, and eat in New York State Parks.

Trumpeter swans, photo by USFWS
Trumpeter swans (Photo Credit- USFWS)

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter swans are the largest of the North American waterfowl, weighing as average 23 pounds. Their call is a gentle nasal honk, lower in tone than the tundra swan. The trumpeter swan was almost rendered extinct by the high demand for swan feathers for use as quill pens throughout the 1600s-1800s. Trumpeter swans have successfully rebounded and they are relatively common in North America today, but they continue to be rare in New York. Providing and protecting suitable nesting habitat could be key to helping New York trumpeter swan populations grow.

Population control

In a few places where the mute swan population is particularly high, State Parks is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Wildlife Services to manage population growth and protect aquatic species and habitats in State Parks. In order to do so most effectively, State Parks is utilizing an integrated, multi-pronged approach:

  • Public Education: Many people value the presence of mute swans, but are often unaware that they are an invasive species which can negatively impact the ecology of parks. Educating the public is key to managing wildlife and promoting ecosystem health.
  • No Feeding Policy: All State Parks have a strict no-feeding policy for all wildlife. Feeding wildlife can be harmful to them and set up dangerous situations for people.
  • Habitat modification: Like Canada geese, mute swans seek out grassy lawns and open areas adjacent to water bodies. By allowing shoreline vegetation to grow taller, or by installing fencing, we can make it more difficult for mute swans to travel from water to land — therefore making park facilities less attractive habitats.
  • Nest and Egg Treatment: Oil blocks the exchange of oxygen through the shell and prevents young birds from hatching. Following the guidelines set by the Humane Society, parks’ staff always perform a float test before treating eggs. If an egg floats, it means that an air sac has formed and a chick has begun developing. By oiling swan eggs early in the season before chicks have begun developing, State Parks staff and partners are able to prevent halt swan reproduction. This process helps reduce the local population over time. A permit is required to disturb any swan nest or eggs on park or private property.
  • Population Control: In order to protect endangered or threatened plants as well as significant natural communities in or near State Parks boundaries, lethal methods may be used to manage mute swan populations. As in all cases of animal control, lethal measures are only considered as a last resort.

Camping Chenango Valley State Park

If I were to ask you to name the best state parks in New York just off the top of your head, parks like Letchworth or Watkins Glen are probably what leap to mind. However, there are an abundance of parks that have a lot to offer but never make the list. That’s not to downplay parks like Letchworth, by any means – they stand out for a reason. Still, there are other great parks in New York State, but they don’t make it onto people’s radar because they are overshadowed by these larger or more publicized parks. Chenango Valley is just one of these beautiful but unjustifiably underrated parks.

Outstanding Camping

New York State Parks offer visitors some of the best camping in the state. Our family has camped in many of the parks but have found few campgrounds that can compare with Chenango Valley. Chenango Valley has 182 campsites spread throughout three camping loops – Chipmunk Bluff, Sunrise, and Pine Bluff. We found some incredible wooded and private campsites that really gave the impression of being away from it all. This park is surprisingly uncrowded; we were able to get a great campsite without even having to make a reservation at the peak of summer. However, making a reservation in advance is still the best bet to insuring that you will get the site you want.

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The author’s campsite, photo by Kimberly Crawford.

People often shy away from wooded camping sites because they don’t want to deal with the mosquitoes that usually accompany the shaded sites. That isn’t usually a problem in Chenango Valley State Park. Why you might ask? This park has a large population of brown bats – but don’t let the idea of bats scare you. These little critters are actually quite helpful, eating between 600-1000 mosquitoes per hour which can help make your camping experience that much more comfortable.

Wildlife and Nature at Chenango Valley

My favorite part of getting out into nature is the opportunity to see animals, or at least evidence of their presence. This park is home to a large variety of animals. One night, as we sat around our campfire, we had the spine-tingling experience of hearing a pack of coyotes howling in the distance. Everything from the rarely seen black bears to more common white-tail deer roam the woods, in and around the park. Visitors might catch a glimpse of animals such as flying squirrels, gray squirrel, rabbits, chipmunks, skunks, red fox, beaver, raccoon, rabbits, and woodchucks. Although we didn’t see many animals during our time in the park, we did see evidence of beavers and met one spunky chipmunk who wanted to pose for a picture for us. Chenango Valley is also known for being an excellent park to bird watch as the trails run through a variety of habitats from woods, lakes, marsh and the river.

Things to do at Chenango Valley

Chenango Valley has a unique geological feature within the park, in the form of two kettle lakes. These lakes were formed by chunks of ice that broke away from a receding glacier. The chunks of ice sat in one place for a long time creating depressions in the earth, thus creating these small lakes. Lily Lake and Chenango Lake are both really quite lovely, with crystal clear water that is excellent for kayaking, canoeing, and fishing. Visitors can rent canoes and kayaks or bring their own and really enjoy the peacefulness of these pristine lakes.

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Kayaks and boats ready for a ride, photo by Kimberly Crawford.

Chenango Valley has one of the nicest swimming areas that I have found among the New York State Parks. Although the park calls it a beach, I’m not sure that title is really applicable. It is more like a pool cut into the end of the lake. The “pool” is divided into 4 sections of varying depth. This is excellent because there is a significant separation between the wading pool, perfect for the little ones, and the deep water of the diving area.

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Swimming area, photo by Kimberly Crawford

The park is full of hiking trails too. Our favorites are the trails that circumnavigate the lakes as well as a truly unique section of the park, the bog. If you camp in the Sunrise Loop, you can very easily hike to this area. When I heard bog, I immediately thought of some dark, uninviting place, but this wetland area was spectacular. I’m quite serious when I say that the bog looks like you have stepped back in time to the Jurassic period and at any moment a brachiosaur is going to come walking past. This unusual natural community seemed completely out of place, but my kids loved it and had fun “dinosaur hunting.” Of course, for your own safety and for the protection of the bog environment, you will want to make sure to stay on the trail and not go wandering off into the bog.

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Lily bog, photo by NY Natural Heritage Program

Chenango Valley also has a world-class golf course for those looking to play a round within the beautiful and idyllic scenery of the park. Some of the hiking trails do take hikers pretty close to the golf course, so beware of flying golf balls.

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Chenango Valley State Park Golf Course, photo by Kimberly Crawford

The New York State Parks offer visitors the chance to experience the most breathtaking and beautiful parts of our state. This gorgeous park is one of New York State’s hidden gems. Chenango Valley is a place where you can truly get away from it all and appreciate all the beauty that nature has to offer. A trip to this tranquil retreat is something everyone should experience.

Post written by Kimberly Crawford