Among the many recreational outdoor activities available in our state parks, hunting is one that many may overlook. Hunting is a long-standing tradition in our nation, both as a necessity and an opportunity to be connected with the outdoors. Hunting is a safe and economically important activity; providing an excellent source of food and promoting family traditions while nurturing an understanding and respect for the environment and the complexity in which it functions. Today, an individual looking to take advantage of hunting opportunities must first complete a hunter safety course, and obtain a hunting license. The hunter safety course will provide instruction on firearm/ bow safety and planning a hunt, by providing information about the biology of the game species in New York State.
During this fall season many New York residents and out-of-staters will venture out into the woods and wetlands to take part in the multiple hunting seasons that New York State has to offer. Among the vast huntable acreage across the state are properties managed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and New York State Parks. In State Parks alone there are about 80 parks, 3 historic sites, 3 golf courses and 50 boat launches that provide opportunities to hunt an array of wildlife from small game, waterfowl to big game species like bear and deer.
Being a hunter – what does it take?
Let’s take a step back and investigate what is involved in becoming a hunter. Besides the hunter safety course and a New York State Hunting license, the hunter must understand the biology of the animal and how that animal interacts with its habitat. Hunters have to be keen observers in order to be successful. Let’s learn about some of the signs a hunter looks for when pursuing whitetail deer.
Deer Path: Deer tend to travel through the forest in a path of least resistance – clear of downed trees and shrubs. Over time these paths become visible as the deer travel them regularly, just like a hiking trail.
Tree Rubs: Male deer, or “bucks”, will make rubs on small trees with their antlers to mark their territory, deposit scent and declare their presence to other deer. A hunter must look for rubs in the woods and learn how to tell the difference between and old rub and a new rub. This can be done by closely looking at the tree. A new rub will have the presence of shavings or sawdust on top of the leaf litter that are scraped off when the buck makes a rub. Additionally a new rub will be contrastingly much lighter in color compared to an old rub that is weathered and darker.
Whitetail Buck Rubbing Tree. Photo by Frank Hildebrand
A hunter examines a deer rub, photo by Keleigh Reynolds
Scat: Where deer eat, they poop! A hunter will look for fresh scat (poop) as evidence of recent activity. Fresh scat will be on top of the leaf litter – whereas old scat will be noticeably under leaves and sticks.
Old deer scat, photo by Lilly Schelling
New deer scat, photo by Lilly Schelling
Sounds: Deer make a variety of sounds including a soft bleat, grunting, stomping with their hooves, and blowing air. The varying sounds and body language have different meanings. For example a deer may stomp their hooves and blow air out their nose when they smell or see a person in the woods. Observing how deer interact with each other and the sight and scent of humans helps a hunter better understand deer behavior.
A hunter should look for signs of deer well before the hunting season begins to learn the habits of the animal he/she is hunting. Equally important is practice, practice, practice! To be proficient with a firearm or bow a hunter must hone their skills year round. Hunting isn’t easy, it takes practice, time and a lot of patience to be successful. There are many hunter safety education courses available through DEC including the popular “Becoming an Outdoor Woman” (BOW) series. Take a look for yourself.
Twelve years ago the Environmental Education/Recreation Department at Allegany State Park decided to host a new event –National Public Lands Day (a National Environmental Education Foundation program). It is our nation’s largest one-day event designed to give people a chance to give back to the public lands they use and love by volunteering some of their time. This mission of National Public Lands Day really resonated with park staff.
From its beginnings in 2005 when we thought it was a great idea to have service projects all over our 65,000 acre park, our volunteers have done much to improve Allegany and enhance the visitor experience for park patrons. We quickly got smart and now rotate this event between the Red House and Quaker sides of the park each year. A few of our accomplishments include:
Creating a two acre butterfly meadow incorporating an Americans with Disabilities Act accessible sensory trail
Removing invasive plants, (Japanese Honeysuckle and Multiflora Rose) and opening up vistas around Red House Lake
Installing a hummingbird/butterfly garden in an under-used area in front of the Quaker Museum
Freshening up many buildings and cabins with new coats of paint
Maintaining park structures built by the Civilian Conservation Corps
Removing litter –an unglamorous, but to park staff, majorly appreciated task
Planting new trees
We are immensely grateful for our volunteers and count ourselves fortunate to work with so many great individuals, families, community groups, area high school and college students, and scout troops. They are the driving force that makes National Public Lands Day a success!
According to the Independent Sector (www.independentsector.org), the estimated dollar value for volunteer hours in 2015 was $23.56. That means that the 100 volunteers who turned out for last year’s event contributed a total value of $11,780. That is amazing for a 5 hour workday! A big thank you to all who made this possible!
2016 finds us preparing for our twelfth National Public Lands Day celebration. We are looking forward to seeing our core of “regulars,” and extend an invitation to all Allegany State Park fans interested in caring for this New York State treasure. Please join us! This year’s celebration is on Saturday, September 24th and takes place on the Red House side of the park. Check-in/Registration is from 9:00 a.m.-10:00 a.m. at the Red House Toll Booth. Service projects are from 10:00 a.m.-3:00 p.m. (please bring a lunch) followed by a barbecue chicken dinner at 4:00 p.m. (for a very nominal charge). We ask that you come dressed for the weather and plan to get dirty. This event will be held rain or shine.
For more information and to pre-register (by September 19th) please contact the Environmental Education/Recreation Department at 716-354-9101 ext. 236 or email Katie.email@example.com. We will also gladly accept walk-in volunteers the day of the event.
Hope to see you there!
Please note: There are many other volunteer events taking place in our state parks around the state. Please visit our Events Calendar to search for opportunities near you.
Post by Heidi Tschopp, Allegany State Park Educator
Freshwater benthic macroinvertebrates, usually simply called macroinvertebrates, are small animals that live in the water. They have three parts to their name: “Benthic” refers to the bottom part of a body of water, “macro” means that we can see it with our naked eye, and “invertebrate” means that it has no spine, or vertebrae. So, a benthic macroinvertebrate is an organism that lives at the bottom of streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds for part of its life, can be seen with the unaided eye, and has no backbone. Some macroinvertebrates have three life stages, while others have four. If the life cycle has four stages, it is called complete metamorphosis. If it only has three stages, the life cycle is called incomplete metamorphosis. The stages of complete metamorphosis are egg, larva, pupa, and winged or aquatic adult. The stages of incomplete metamorphosis are egg, nymph, and flying adult. Adult macroinvertebrates sometimes leave the water but live near it, and others continue to live in the water. Macroinvertebrates are a vital food source for fish, turtles, wading birds, and small mammals.
They are well suited to live in water, and many have interesting adaptations that allow them to thrive underwater. Caddisfly larvae build mobile protective cases out of stones, leaves, and small sticks to keep themselves safe. Mayfly nymphs have large gill areas to help them breathe. Predaceous diving beetles carry small bubbles of oxygen at the ends of their abdomens from the surface to use to breathe while underwater.
Another interesting thing about macroinvertebrates is that they can be used as an indicator of health for a body of water. This is because some species of macroinvertebrates are more sensitive to environmental stressors than others. Rivers, streams, and ponds with a variety of macroinvertebrates are considered healthy.
A mayfly nymph on the left; a mayfly adult on the right. Notice the gills along the back end of the nymph, this is how the animal gets oxygen from the water, similar to a fish.
Macroinvertebrates need dissolved oxygen in order to breathe in the water, just like fish. Dissolved oxygen references the microscopic bubbles of oxygen gas that are mixed with the water for aquatic creatures to breathe. Dissolved oxygen is sometimes measured in parts per million (ppm). Most fish do well in water with 5ppm of dissolved oxygen or higher. Pollution can cause water temperatures to rise, which reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water. So, pollution decreases dissolved oxygen levels, making it hard for macroinvertebrates to breathe. A healthy body of water will have dissolved oxygen levels that are at or above 5ppm.
Macroinvertebrates as Indicators of Water Quality
There are many different types of macroinvertebrates, all with different sensitivities to temperatures, the amount of dissolved oxygen in the water, and pollution levels. Macroinvertebrates require similar dissolved oxygen levels as fish, but some species, such as mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, need low temperatures and high levels of dissolved oxygen to survive. If you look for macroinvertebrates and find mayfly and stonefly nymphs in a stream, you can conclude that the stream is fairly healthy because those organisms could not survive otherwise. Those species are considered to be sensitive to pollution.
There are also species that are somewhat tolerant of pollution, like dragonflies, damselflies, and crayfish. These organisms do not need as much dissolved oxygen or as cool of temperatures as those that are sensitive to pollution and can stand a small amount of pollution in the water. If one were to find dragonfly nymphs in a stream but no mayfly, caddisfly, or stonefly nymphs, that could be an indicator that the stream has some pollution.
Finally, there are species that are tolerant of pollution. Some of these species are midges, backswimmers, and aquatic worms. These organisms can withstand a moderate amount of pollution, can live in warmer water, and do not need as much dissolved oxygen to survive. So, if one were to find many midge larvae and aquatic worms in a stream and little else, this would indicate that the water there is fairly polluted. Sometimes, tolerant macroinvertebrates can be abundant in degraded waters since they are not competing with others for resources like food and shelter.
Below is a list of several species of macroinvertebrates with their varying tolerances of pollution.
Sensitive to Pollution
(found in water with little or no pollution)
Somewhat Tolerant of Pollution
(found in water with little to some pollution)
Tolerant of Pollution
(found in water with little to substantial pollution)
Pond Investigators Program
Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve’s education team has done several surveys of the ponds within the park to get an idea of the water’s health. Clay Pit Ponds is the only NY state park on Staten Island; the park contains 265 acres of forest, fields, wetlands, and five ponds. The park offers an educational program all about macroinvertebrates called Pond Investigators. In this program, students learn to identify macroinvertebrates, understand them as an indicator of water quality, and conduct a survey of one of the ponds. The most recent survey was conducted in Goode’s Pond, which is located along the Clay Pit Pond trail (orange markers). To survey for macroinvertebrates, the students and the Clay Pit Ponds education team scraped the bottom substrate of the pond, including some aquatic vegetation, with a dip net. Off to the side, a tub was partially filled with pond water. The collections from the dip net were transferred into the tub, and any macroinvertebrates found were placed into separate cups. This was repeated three times, and then the students recorded their findings.
Goode’s Pond is very close to the West Shore Expressway, which makes it an interesting pond to study due to the likely presence of runoff pollution from the highway. These surveys were completed along with water quality tests to check pH, dissolved oxygen, water temperature, and salinity. During these surveys, the Clay Pit Ponds education team and students found damselfly nymphs, dragonfly nymphs, backswimmers, midge larvae, crane fly larvae, black fly larvae, mosquito larvae, aquatic beetles, snails, and aquatic worms. While no pollution sensitive species have been found, which would indicate cleaner water, the samples did include many species that do not tolerate heavily polluted water. From this study we learned that the water in the ponds is in fair to moderately good condition at this time. With continued efforts to clean up in and around the ponds, we can keep this important habitat clean and preserve opportunities to see a diversity of wildlife, from dragonflies to great blue herons.
If you would like to help Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve improve the health of its ponds, join in for the National Public Lands Day Clean-Up on Saturday, September 24th from 10:00AM to 1:00PM! Participants will clear litter from the highways that border the park to prevent it from being washed into the ponds. The clean-up will start at the Nature Interpretive Center located at 2351 Veterans Road West, Staten Island, NY. All ages are welcome! Please RSVP by contacting Emily Becker at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 605-3970 x201.
Post by Mikey Bard, SCA/Americorps Member serving as Assistant Environmental Educator at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve
Is kayaking on your bucket list? Have you ever wanted to try it? Paddle sports are on the rise according to paddle sport statistics and kayaking is the most popular form of paddling. Kayaking allows you to experience new things and have your own unique experience with nature. Being only a few inches off the water and a few feet away from wildlife, you gain a new connection and understanding of the natural world around you. Kayaking is a recreational activity that is fun for all ages.
Looking forward, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Kayaking group, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
And the west branch of Twelve Mile Creek at Wilson Tuscarora State Park
Beaver Island State Park Kayak Experience
Escape the daily grind, leave the phones and tablets behind and join us for a kayak lesson. Learn about kayaks, paddles, apparel and how to be safe on the water.
We’ll start our journey by launching off the EZ Dock Launcher, where you just put your kayak (which we supply) down on the rollers and roll off into the water.
As soon as you’re floating on the water, chances are you will float right into a patch of fragrant water lilies, which are scattered all throughout the lagoon.
Water lily in flower, photo by Tina Spence, State Parks
Water lily patch, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Along with the aquatic plants, there is an abundance of wildlife. You can witness Great Blue Herons wading in the shallow waters or flying overhead, while common terns are diving next to you trying to catch their next meal!
Great Blue Heron are common in the marshes and shores, photo by State Parks
Common Terns can make a lot of noise, but are fun to watch in flight, photo by State Parks
In the lagoon, we have an Osprey nesting platform. From our kayaks below we have had the pleasure of seeing the parent birds keeping watch over their chicks.
Osprey nesting platform, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Oprey in flight near our kayaks, photo by Tina Spencer, State Parks
Swimming right below our kayaks is a diverse group of aquatic life such as fish and turtles, while flying around us are dragonflies and damselflies.
Our evening kayak classes are often accompanied by the ever telling song of the bull frog, singing along with the cicadas which are heard all throughout the park on any given summer day.
Bull frog, photo by State Parks
Cicada, photo by Matt Nusstein, State Parks
Getting out on the water with us can give you a chance to see all of this; but also give you a new understanding of kayaking as a sport, learn more efficient ways of paddling, and a few tricks of the trade. So what are you waiting for? Find a kayak class near you and see where your next adventure will take you. We are here. Where are you?
Post by Tina Spencer and Kelly Sieman, OPRHP, Niagara Region Interpretive Programs Office, Park Naturalists
When quizzed about some of their best loved hikes in State Parks, our staff had to choose from amongst the hundreds of miles of hiking trails along shorelines, through mountains and open fields, overlooking lakes, rivers and gorges, and meandering through old growth forests.
Here are some of their favorites. (Note: trail maps can be found at each park’s website)
Mike’s favorite: Mine Kill State Park, located in the scenic and historic Schoharie Valley, is about an hour southwest of Albany. The park boasts almost 10 miles of trails, the most well-known being definitely the five-mile section of the Long Path. The Long Path (LP) is a 358 mile-long hiking trail running from New York City to John Boyd Thacher State Park just south of Albany. This particular section of the LP was designated as a National Recreation Trail by the Department of the Interior (National Park Service) in 2014 due to its unique flora and fauna, diverse history and incredible scenery. Along this stretch of trail, a hiker may wander past active bald eagle nests, the picturesque Mine Kill and Schoharie Creek, the historic Lansing Manor and its namesake, the 80-foot high Mine Kill Falls.
Nancy’s favorite: The Indian Ladder Trail (0.40 miles long) in Thacher State Park near Albany is like a hike through geological history. You get an up close look at the 1,200 foot high limestone escarpment as you climb metal staircases to start (and end) your hike along the bottom of the escarpment. Layers of limestone, sandstone, and shale, lifted and eroded by wind, water, and other elements, formed the escarpment over 100 million years ago. Prehistoric people used nearby areas as hunting camps, possibly as early as 6,000 B.C. Native Americans traversed the escarpment via footpaths and logs (acting as ladders) between the Mohawk/Hudson and Schoharie Valleys, hence the name ‘Indian Ladder’ Trail. Along the hike, you can see waterfalls (if it’s not too dry a season), marine fossils, small caves, and stand near the crowns of mature trees growing below the escarpment. Best of all are the views from the Indian Ladder Trail, and the Escarpment Trail above, of surrounding valleys, the urban landscape, and further in the distance, the Adirondack Mountains of New York and the Green Mountains of Vermont.
Nick’s favorite hikes at Minnewaska State Park Preserve in the Hudson Valley include the Lake Minnewaska Carriage Road, a two-mile gentle loop trail around the glacially formed Lake Minnewaska. It’s an historic carriage road left over from a Victorian Era mountain resort. This hike features many views of Lake Minnewaska, a peak at the Catskill Mountains from several spots, and views of the greater Hudson Valley. This hike is popular due to the lake (people love water!), the ease of access, and the rock perches and cliffs that overlook the lake and Hudson Valley.
Nick’s other favorite hike is Gertrude’s Nose Trail, an approximately seven mile hike on a mixture of historic carriage roads and footpaths traversing some of the most rugged terrain in Minnewaska State Park Preserve. These footpaths are loaded with evidence (signs) of the last glacial event, featuring glacial polish, glacial erratics (large rocks deposited by glaciers), chatter marks (any of a series of grooves, pits, and scratches on the surface of a rock, usually made by the movement of a glacier(from Dictionary.com)), sharp cliffs and massive talus blocks (rock debris below a cliff face). This hike is very popular mainly because this cliff edge trail gives panoramic views of the Shawangunk Mountains along the way.
Tom’s favorites: Green Lake and Round Lake Trails, located in Green Lakes State Park, are favorite hikes near Syracuse. They follow around the shores of these two glacial meromictic lakes. Meromictic lakes are lakes where there is no mixing of surface and bottom waters and they remain thermally (temperature) and chemically stratified (in layers) throughout the year. Other unique features of the lakes include their brilliant blue green appearance and the presence of “thrombolitic microbiolite marl reefs.” This basically means that a living organism is creating a rock out of material in the water. More specifically a cyanobacteria or algae is taking calcium compounds that entered the lake with groundwater seeping through the surrounding limestone bedrock and making it into a solid as part of cellular respiration. The United States Department of Interior designated Round Lake as a National Natural Landmark in 1975.
Green and Round Lake Trails are generally flat, 8-10 feet wide, and easy hiking trails. The full loop, including both trails, is approximately three miles long with benches located periodically for resting and enjoying the scenery. A swimming beach, playground and boat rentals are located at the north end of Green Lake. These trails are part of a 17-mile trail system in the park that also takes you through or to old growth forest, wetlands, grassland bird habitat, cliff edge overlooks, camping areas, a golf course, and connects to the 36-mile Old Erie Canal State Historic Park.
Nicole’s favorite: As the largest State Park in the Long Island region, hiking at Connetquot River State Park Preserve can feel secluded even in the middle of densely populated Long Island. The beautiful scenery and diversity of life within the park make it her favorite hiking spot. Starting from the parking lot, the Greenbelt Trail (indicated by the white and yellow blazes) takes you directly to the fish hatchery, where you can get up close and personal with trout being raised. From there, the Red Trail can take you back along the Connetquot River to Main Pond. The Red Trail merges with the Blue Trail at the pond and the hike ends at the historic Grist Mill and Main House. Then it’s a short distance down the road back to the parking lot. This loop is a little over two miles but flat and even throughout, making it perfect for all age groups. Don’t forget to check in with the Nature Center at the Main House on the way out to find out about all of the amazing programs they have there.
Molly recommends hiking at Wellesley Island State Park in the Thousand Islands Region. A favorite is to start at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center and hike along the Eel Bay Trail (1.1 miles) to the Narrows Trail (0.45 miles). From there you can head back the same way or follow along another trail to loop back to the Nature Center. Sitting on the exposed granite outcroppings and watching the St. Lawrence River Eel Bay and passing glacial potholes are highlights of this hike. The Narrows is a narrow water passageway located between Wellesley Island and Murray Isle connecting South and Eel Bays. Along the Narrows Trail you can watch boats pass through the channel and see a variety of birds while picnicking on an open rock area. These trails are generally easy hiking but have some steeper rock climbing areas. Don’t forget to check out the Nature Center!
FORCES stewards Nick and Adriana recommend two hikes in the Finger Lakes Region.
Buttermilk Falls State Park is a located in the heart of the Finger Lakes to the south of Cayuga Lake and has much to offer avid hikers, families, and visitors to the area. Hike the Rim and Gorge Trails together for a 1.5-mile loop, or hike each separately. Starting either trail from the lower parking lot will require a strenuous uphill walk (Rim Trail) or climbing of a long staircase (Gorge Trail). The Gorge Trail has much to offer and you will encounter many waterfalls, and beautiful rock formations along the 0.65 mile trek up the gorge. Mosses, liverworts, and ferns coat entirety of the gorge, providing a vivid green walk that is topped by a hemlock hardwood forest along the ridge. As you come out of the gorge, you will cross a bridge to take the 0.82-mile Rim Trail back to the parking area. This walk takes you through a beautiful hemlock hardwood forest filled with eastern hemlock, chestnut oak, and witch hazel, along with many other species. This loop can be done in about an hour, but more time may be needed for taking in all the sights along the way. Hiking these two trails as a loop is a relatively easy hike after you complete the initial stairs, or uphill climb.
The Upper Loop in Robert H. Treman State Park is a one mile round trip on sections of the Gorge and Rim Trails. The trail is situated above Treman Gorge and offers spectacular views of the many waterfalls including the 115-foot Lucifer Falls. The trail begins at the upper section of the park (the Old Mill Parking area) at the entrance to the Gorge Trail and takes visitors through the upper gorge. The trail highlights the scenic beauty of the gorge, amazing rock formations, stone bridges, and the many water features along Enfield Creek through the ravine. The trail takes you to the top of Lucifer Falls and then down the side. At the bottom is a wooden bridge over the stream that will take you to the Rim Trail and the second portion of the hike. This begins with a climb up the “Cliff Staircase” – it is the most difficult section of the loop but it also offers some of the best views in the park. At the top is an overlook of Lucifer Falls and then a moderate downhill slope back to the upper parking lot. Multiple overlooks from high vantage points make the trail perfect for photo ops and for viewing the gorge below. Although the hike is short, some visitors may find to be strenuous due to the elevation change and the many staircases.
This weekend, try one of these hikes or find your own ‘best-loved hike’ in a park near you.