Staff Spotlight: Water Quality Unit

Each year staff from NYS Parks’ Environmental Management Bureau (EMB) Water Quality Unit coordinates water quality monitoring programs for State Park beaches and lakes.  The overall goal of EMB’s Water Quality Unit is to balance safe and enjoyable recreational opportunities with the environmental protection of our water resources. Since a substantial portion of attendance within the State Park system is associated with water use and enjoyment, it is important to assure that these facilities are operated in a manner that is both safe for patrons and protects the resource for future visitors. Water resources also need protection since they provide critical habitat for wildlife and ensure the proper functioning of ecosystem-level processes.

Keeping Park Beaches Healthy

NYS State Parks operates 77 beaches with lifeguards at 60 state parks. These beaches are located on lakes (including small lakes found within the borders of state parks, the Finger Lakes, Lake Chautauqua, Lake Champlain, and the Great Lakes), streams (including Enfield Creek and Dry Creek), rivers (including the Niagara and St. Lawrence), and the ocean (including the open ocean, bays, and Long Island Sound).

To keep the beaches healthy, NYS Parks staff must properly maintain beaches, monitor water quality, close when necessary, train staff, and educate patrons about safe swimming practices. Some of the tasks that Water Quality Unit staff do to help sites safely operate beaches include:

  • provide water quality training and assist park staff with site-specific questions and needs
  • distribute water quality educational materials
  • conduct research studies to learn more about the water quality of select beaches
  • maintain databases of beach monitoring results, contacts, and closures
  • work with outside Agencies (e.g. DOH, EPA, USGS) to develop models of beach water quality and expand knowledge on beaches

Maintaining Healthy Lakes in NYS Parks

There are approximately 180 lakes and ponds in the State Park system. These lakes provide important habitat for fish and wildlife and are enjoyed by many park visitors each year.

EMB staff have monitored over 125 lakes, ponds, and reservoirs since 1999. The goals of EMB’s lake monitoring program are to:

  • conduct targeted monitoring studies of lakes of significance or concern
  • maintain databases on lake water quality
  • compile lake reports regarding lake characteristics for priority sites
  • determine the degree of impairment, if any, for each lake
  • assist regional and park staff in lake restoration projects and with site-specific questions and needs

2012 Water Quality Team Distinguished Service Award

Commissioner Rose Harvey presented EMB’s Water Quality Team with a Distinguished Service Award for their extraordinary team accomplishment and dedicated professional service in working to protect NYS Parks streams, lakes and bathing beaches.

For more information about the Water Quality Team’s work in NYS Parks please contact the Environmental Management Bureau.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP. Photos by John Rozell and Water Quality Unit.

Battling Invasive Species at the Boat Launch

Famed biologist E.O. Wilson claimed that the introduction of invasive species is second only to habitat destruction as the leading cause of biodiversity loss worldwide. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (Parks) is taking on this challenge to protect our biodiversity and reduce the introduction of invasive species in our waterbodies. The problems we have with invasive species in New York state, especially in aquatic ecosystems, are well known and pervasive. Aquatic invasive species (AIS) degrade habitat for native plants and animals, outcompete native species for food and resources, impair swimming, fishing, and boating opportunities, and cost the state millions of dollars to control them each year.

In an effort to protect our New York State Parks from the costly effects of AIS infestations, Parks has adopted a new regulation. The regulation states that a boater:

  • shall not launch or retrieve their watercraft from a Parks-owned boat launch facility unless the watercraft’s water-containing compartments (livewell, bilge, bait bucket) are dry
  • has inspected the watercraft to ensure that there is not plant or animal material attached to the motor, trailer, body of the vessel, etc.

Boaters and anglers may also encounter a friendly Parks Boat Steward clad in red at facilities on the Great Lakes or Lake Champlain this summer. Stationed at twenty-one boat launches, the ten Boat Stewards conduct voluntary watercraft inspections for visiting boaters, and will work with the boater to remove any plant or animal material that may be on their vessel or trailer. The Boat Stewards are equipped with AIS publications, specimens, and information about the newly adopted regulation. They do not play a role in the enforcement of the regulation, but rather serve as educators for Parks visitors.

Map of boat launch sites where Boat Stewards will be on site. Created by Melyssa Smith, OPRHP. Click on map to enlarge.


Many Parks-owned boat launch facilities across the state are also equipped with disposal stations for aquatic plant or animal material. The disposal stations are specifically designed to provide a place for plant or animal material to dry out in an upland area.

buff harbor disposal
A conveniently located AIS disposal station at the Buffalo Harbor boat launch.

For more information about AIS in New York State, please visit

Post by Megan Phillips, OPRHP.


Getting to Know the Karner Blue Butterfly

Spring has finally arrived, and with it comes the birth of this year’s first generation of Karner blue caterpillars.  When these caterpillars hatch from the eggs that were laid by last year’s second generation of adults, they will eat only one thing, the leaves of the wild blue lupine plant.  And you thought your kids were picky eaters!

Wild blue lupine is a perennial plant that prefers dry, sandy soils in open patches of land.  It is typically found in pine barrens and oak savanna plant communities.  These habitats require ecological disturbances, such as wildfires, to sustain the sunny, open areas that wild blue lupine needs to survive.  Land development and the suppression of natural disturbances in these areas have led to degradation and loss of habitat, causing drastic declines in Karner blue butterfly populations. As a result of this, the Karner blue butterfly was declared endangered in New York in 1977 and federally endangered in 1992.  The Karner blue butterfly’s range extends from Minnesota to New Hampshire, along the northern portion of the blue lupine’s range.  In New York, populations are found from the Albany Pine Bush north to Glens Falls, with a segment of suitable habitat found in Saratoga Spa State Park.

Lupine 1
Wild blue lupine. Photo by USFWS; Joel Trick.

There are two generations of Karner blue butterflies born each year, the first of which hatches in May from eggs that were laid the previous July.  This timing coincides with the blooming of wild blue lupine flower stalks.  The caterpillars spend about two to three weeks feeding on wild blue lupine leaves before they pupate.  The adult Karner blue butterflies emerge at the end of May or beginning of June and typically live for about a week.  During this time, the adult females lay their eggs on the underside of wild blue lupine leaves or stems.  The eggs take around a week to hatch and the second generation of adults appear in mid-July to early August.  This time the females lay their eggs on the ground close to the stem of a blue lupine plant to provide them with more protection as they overwinter.

Larva 2
Karner blue caterpillar (larva). Photo by Paul Labus, The Nature Conservancy, Indiana.

Adult Karner blue butterflies are relatively small, with an average wingspan of about one inch.  You can tell the difference between males and females by looking at the coloration on the tops of their wings.  Males’ wings are silvery blue to violet blue with a black margin and white fringed edges, while females’ wings are grayish brown towards the edges, turning into violet-blue in the centers of the wings.  Both males and females are gray with black spots on their undersides and have a band of orange crescents along the edges of both wings.  Females also have bands of orange crescents on the tops of their wings, while males do not.

There are 18.5 acres of endangered Karner blue butterfly habitat in Saratoga Spa State Park.  In recent years, restoration efforts have re-established approximately 5 of these acres as suitable Karner blue butterfly habitat.  This was accomplished through the removal of small trees and shrubs that had taken over the habitat, as well as the scraping away of topsoil to remove invasive plant seeds and to expose the sandy soils that wild blue lupine needs to grow.  Wild blue lupine and native nectar species were then planted in the exposed sandy soil.  Saratoga Spa State Park staff monitors the Karner blue butterfly population and provide educational programs to the public about this endangered beauty.

In celebration of Earth Day, students from the Waldorf School contributed to the Karner blue butterfly habitat restoration effort by spreading the seed of the native blue lupine plant on 1.5 acres at Saratoga Spa State Park. Funding for this project was provided by Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 Initiative.

Saratoga Earth Day 2015 - 01
Waldorf School students spreading blue lupine seed. Photo by John Rozell, OPRHP.
Saratoga Earth Day 2015 - 05
Waldorf School students replenishing their seed supply. Photo by John Rozell, OPRHP.


Post by Allie Smith, Saratoga Spa State Park.


Karner blue butterfly factsheet, NYS DEC,

Karner blue butterfly, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species,

Karner blue butterfly, USDA Forest Service,

Karner blue butterfly factsheet, NYS DEC,

Wild lupine and karner blue butterflies, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Endangered Species,






Mayflies (Ephemeroptera) are short-lived winged cousins of dragonflies and damselflies.  Short-lived (ephemeros) because the adults of some species live for only 90 minutes after they emerge from water; others may live as long as three days after they emerge from water.  Adults have no working mouth parts.

Mayflies belong to the subclass Pterygota, which includes most winged insects and some insects whose predecessors had wings.  They have been around since for about 300 million years, the late Carboniferous period.

Mayfly larvae, on the other hand, will spend between 10 days and 2 years in water as larvae.  The length of time they spend as larvae also depends on the species.  They can be found in lakes and ponds, rivers, and streams; living on rocks, aquatic plants, and mud.  They eat algae and fine organic materials.

When it is time to emerge as adults, all the mayfly larvae of the same species emerge from the water together, at the same time.  Sometimes, the density of the adult mayflies is so great that they appear on Doppler radar and snow plows are needed to clear the roads.

Because mayflies are sensitive to water pollution, they are excellent water quality indicators.  In the early 1970s mayflies were nearly gone from Lake Erie due to high pollution levels.  Fortunately the International Water Quality Agreement between the United States and Canada in 1972 made it possible for the mayfly’s return to the lake.

Each summer, staff from the State Parks’  Environmental Management Bureau staff monitor mayfly larvae in Park streams to determine stream health.

Mayflies can be found in many Parks.  Look for adult mayflies anytime between May through September, with the largest number of hatches occurring in late June through early July.  Who knows, you might find a new species of mayfly – a researchers from Southern Connecticut University and Lake Champlain Research Institute found a new mayfly species in Connetquot State Park Preserve in 2012.

Post by Susan Carver, OPRHP.








Celebrate I Love My Park Day

Clean a beach, paint a cannon, build a boardwalk, fix a trail, wash electric vehicles, set up exhibits, install fencing for erosion control or rare species protection, plant native trees.  These are some of the activities you can do during the 4th annual I Love My Park Day on May 2.

I Love My Park Day started in 2012 as a continuation of the support and enthusiasm for New York State parks and historic sites when tens of thousands of New Yorkers rallied to keep parks open when they were threatened with closure in 2010. Since this beginning, I Love My Park Day has brought together New Yorkers from across the state, including Governor Cuomo, who share a goal of supporting New York State parks and historic sites through community service.

Over 6,000 volunteers showed up for I Love My Park Day in 2014, 3,600 of which were new to state park volunteering. Those volunteers pitched in on more than 120 cleanup, improvement, and beautification projects at 83 state parks and historic sites.

This year more than 80 parks and historic sites are participating in I Love My Park Day.  Search and register for an event here. It’s a great opportunity to get outside and enjoy the camaraderie and look for signs of spring.

I Love My Park Day is a joint program organized by Parks and Trails NY (PTNY) in partnership with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation and local park Friends groups.

We hope you can join us for this stewardship day in New York State parks and historic sites.

myparkday_leafchangeTest how you well you know your Parks with our interactive quiz!

I Love My Park Day cake at Fair Haven Beach State Park.
I Love My Park Day cake at Fair Haven Beach State Park.



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