In Ask a Naturalist, we direct the attention of our esteemed experts to the local animal environment. Some take on topics of seasonal interest. Others address issues of wildlife population and ecosystem crisis. The goal of these columns is to satisfy and to inspire curiosity, but also to attune the larger community to the uncommonly rich biodiversity for which the mid-Hudson Valley is famous.
In Installment Two of Ask a Naturalist, we direct the attention of our experts away from seasonal changes in flora and insect life (the focus of Installment One) to the lives and activities of the animals that surround us, inhabiting our woods and our imaginations. Our experts build a framework for enhanced appreciation, establishing facts, telling stories from the creature perspective and debunking myths wherever they find them. Where possible, we once again keep the focus on subjects of seasonal relevance, hoping to provide our readers with tools and perspectives to understand our natural environment and its inhabitants better.
This month’s experts come to us from a variety of local institutions and organizations: the Mohonk Preserve, Bard College, New Paltz’s Mill Brook Preserve and New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation.
Young Women Who Crush (YWWC), a diverse group of teen climbers based in New York City, were presented with the 2019 Thom Scheuer Land Stewardship Award during the 21st Annual Gunks Climbing Film Festival on Saturday, October 12 at the SUNY New Paltz Studley Theatre.
Led by Alexis Krauss, Eva Kalea and Emily Varisco, and supported by the Discover Outdoors Foundation and The Cliffs Climbing + Fitness, Young Women Who Crush is a climbing and leadership development program that provides opportunities for high school girls in New York City to experience the physical, mental and emotional benefits of rock climbing. Throughout the year, the girls are taught to value outdoor recreation and, through Leave No Trace and Wilderness First Aid trainings, they are given the concrete skills they need to become informed and empowered outdoor leaders.
photo by Andrea MacScott
The Mohonk Preserve Foothills Loop Trail is now open, expanding the Mohonk Preserve Foothills trail network and extending the River-to-Ridge Trail in New Paltz. The 2.2-mile loop trail, which is free and open to the public, begins near the intersection of Pine and Butterville Roads, follows the newly established Ridgeview Road to Lenape Lane and continues around the White Oak Bend Path to Pine Road.
A “garland-cutting” ceremony was held on October 5 to mark the opening of the new trail loop. Representatives from Mohonk Preserve, the Open Space Institute, the Butler Conservation Fund and the Town of New Paltz were on hand to celebrate and enjoy a walk, joining hikers, cyclists and dog-walkers who were also exploring the trail.
Photo by Tom Weiner
The Hudson Valley is famous for its breathtaking views, lush landscapes and rock scrambling fun. But for those new to the area, or have been out of the hiking game for a while, you might wonder where to begin, and what sort of trails match your skill level. Well wonder no more. The Shawangunk Journal has you covered with these “choose your own adventure” trails good enough to do more than once.
A little Bit Of Everything
If you want to experience open fields with fluttering butterflies, wooded terrain, carriage roads, and a bit of rock scrambling, with a lovely payoff all in a three-mile trek, then Bonticou Crag may be the right hike for you. This short hike’s difficulty level really depends on which way you go, ranging from moderate to strenuous. Hikers can either test their hand-eye coordination by “bouldering” up the hillside, or they can take the more even-keeled, roundabout way up. Both paths are clearly labeled.
After nearly 26 years at the helm of Mohonk Preserve, Glenn Hoagland will be leaving the organization to become president and chief executive officer of The Seeing Eye, a New Jersey nonprofit and internationally recognized dog guide school for people who are blind.
According to a release from Mohonk, Hoagland has a strong personal connection with the organization’s mission, as his mother was blind. He admired The Seeing Eye from a young age, being keenly aware of the importance of independence for people who are blind.
As we mourn the shrinking of wilderness in modern times, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that our landscapes today are in many cases much cleaner and greener than in centuries past. As European colonists moved inland from the East Coast, primeval forests fell before them: harvested to build dwellings and ships, burned for warmth or to make charcoal, stripped of bark for tanneries, the once-wooded land cleared for agriculture. The Industrial Revolution, and in particular the intensive use of coal as a fuel, choked 19th-century skies with smoke. Massive infrastructure-building projects such as railways, canals and aqueducts tore great gashes in the landscape that in our time are softened with greenery once again.
Since its establishment in 1963, Mohonk Preserve in New York has instilled in its visitors an appreciation for the natural world. The nonprofit’s nature trails, community events, and educational programming offer couples the opportunity to put on their hiking boots and set off on an outdoor adventure. Whether you’re enjoying a picnic under the sun or gazing up at the stars at night, you can immerse yourself in the beauty of the lush valleys and soaring peaks of the Shawangunk Mountains.
Photo by Michael Neil O'Donnell
The Shawangunk Ridge is as photogenic a place as it gets. A staggering number of photographs are taken there. There’s enough photographic imagery that could ever be used to promote the Mohonk Preserve’s preservation efforts and to document visitor activities.
But even extreme beauty becomes commonplace with familiarity. Our sensibilities become accustomed over time to take for granted even the most compelling images of nature’s wonder on the more than 8,000 acres of Preserve mountain ridges, cliffs, forests, fields, streams and ponds.
To provide updates of these natural wonders, the Mohonk Preserve sponsors a group of local photographers willing to volunteer their expertise. Currently numbering some 40 members, the Mohonk Preserve Volunteer Photographers provide the organization with a steady supply of new images capturing the many facets of the mountains. The images they record are used to build awareness about the Preserve. Their work contributes to the printed promotional materials and interactive slideshows at the visitors’ center on Route 44/55.
Photo by John Hayes
The biggest misconception about grants is that they are “easy money,” says Eric Roth, grants manager for the Mohonk Preserve. “A lot of organizations, and boards, make that mistake. But grants are never ‘easy money.’ A grant is a contract, in which you agree to fulfill certain obligations, to do certain work, in exchange for the money. Grants require a lot of thought and a lot of management.”
From time to time, Roth does presentations to groups that are trying to improve their grants program. “I show them this slide that has a picture of an iceberg on it. And I explain that there are three steps that go into getting a grant, that seem like a lot of work, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. There are about 20 steps after that, once you get the grant. Grants always add more work for a staff, sometimes above and beyond their normal responsibilities, and they always change the way a staff does their work. So taking a grant in… there’s a responsibility to it. There’s a burden to it, even though it’s good for the organization.”
In case you haven’t noticed, it’s been raining. A lot. In fact, this past September it rained 14 days out of the month. Not only did it spritz and spray, but it poured, soaking the region with 12.7 inches of rain: in excess of 8.3 inches above the 122-year average (as collected daily, without fail, since 1896 by the Mohonk Lake Cooperative Weather Station). If you thought you had accidentally stepped into a swamp or bayou or dank holler, take comfort, because you kind of did. This September came in as the wettest September on record. To make matters even moldier, it was preceded by the fifth-rainiest August on record and is being followed up by a mushroom-propagating October.
It was June 8th, a beautiful sunny day in the Shawangunk Mountains. Most people see good weather as an opportunity to enjoy nature. At Mohonk Preserve, beautiful weather in the forecast prepares our rangers for a rush of visitors recreating on the land. We are an 8,000-acre nature preserve with headquarters in Gardiner, NY. We have 45 miles of hiking trails, 35 miles of carriage roads, and miles of cliffs. All these systems connect to other state parks and preserves, producing one of the best places one could go to for taking in the beauty of nature. One thing many do not consider each time they visit is the power of gravity. Gravity keeps our feet on the trail, becoming the force we overcome when looking for beauty in the mountains. Sometimes, however, that force can get the best of us.
Hikers, cyclists and pedestrians alike gathered in the early Saturday morning at 41 Springtown Road to celebrate the opening of a brand-new trail, dubbed the River-to-Ridge trail.
The first portion of the trail features a six-mile loop trail connecting the Walkhill Valley Rail Trail to the footpaths of the Shawangunk Mountains. The trail was made possible by a collaboration between the Open Space Institute (OSI) and Mohonk Preserve, with additional support from the Butler Conservation Fund.
In the Fall of 2018, the Eight Grade Junior Rangers from the San Miguel Academy of Newburgh in New York were challenged with a 50-foot climb of the Trapps at Mohonk Preserve (accredited). On his first attempt, one student named Ronald climbed about 10 feet before descending back down the wall. Frazzled and trembling, he took a break. After watching a few class-mates climb farther up the wall, Ronald was inspired. He took a deep breath, took his place in line and psyched himself up for the climb. With the support of his classmates and cheers of Mohonk Preserve staff, Ronald ascended to the highest point.
Photo by Gerald Berliner
A universal truth of rock climbing is that the first step toward crushing your next project (aka climbing a challenging route) is, well, finding one. As climbing rises in popularity — and more facilities open up around NYC — it can be tricky to know where to go.
Luckily, the other side of that double-edged sword is that there are more climbing gyms and routes to check out than ever. And whether you're a real rock aficionado or an indoor fan who'd prefer to stick to pulling plastic, you're ideal climbing setting is most likely a subway or car ride away.
Ahead, chalk up and find your next training spot or weekend getaway.
Growing up in the small New Jersey suburb of River Vale, Kathy Ambrosini remembers going on just one field trip during her entire childhood. It wasn’t a very exciting destination, just a small nature center where they fed the ducks bread and listened to the vibrations of honey bees, but that was enough, as it turned out, to make an indelible impression on a young mind. “It only took that one field trip,” she says now, “for me to decide, ‘I love this! I want to do more of this!’”
Megan Napoli has been the Mohonk Preserve’s research ecologist since March of 2016. Her job is to help carry on the biological research that’s been done on the property since Daniel and Keith Smiley began recording bird observations there in the mid-1920s. Most of the research done at the Preserve is observational in nature, watching what happens on the land and comparing that to what happened in previous years or in other places, using what they find to inform how the Preserve manages the land.
The Trapps of the Shawangunk Mountains are the most popular rock walls in the Hudson Valley. Along about three miles, it invites all types of climbers, as there are more than 300 routes to the top. Easiest access is the West Trapps Trailhead at Mohonk Preserve, but the lots fill up on weekends.
Mohonk Preserve’s Board of Directors elected Russ Clune to serve as board chair at their April 29 meeting. The New Paltz resident is the fifth person to lead the board in the Preserve’s 55-year history. He succeeds Jim Hoover who remains a board member.
An accomplished rock climber, Clune has climbed cliffs around the world in over 45 countries and has spent over 40 years climbing on the Shawangunk Ridge, where he is responsible for establishing over 100 routes and is a licensed climbing guide. He first visited the “Gunks” in 1977 and remembers looking out over the Wallkill Valley from atop the near Trapps and thinking, “I’m going to live here.” In 1991, he moved to New Paltz in that same valley at the base of the Gunks.
The history of monitoring and protecting peregrine falcons on the Shawangunk Ridge dates back to the 1920s when brothers Dan and Keith Smiley began recording peregrine sightings on Mohonk Mountain House and what are now Mohonk Preserve lands.
On June 17, 1929, Dan and Keith scrambled down to the “Duck Hawk Ledge” on Sky Top to band two young peregrines. The male that they banded flew east to west, traveling 1,300 miles in three months and marking the first documentation of an east to west, rather than north to south, migration.
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Banner Photo by Steven Aaron