Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kayaks and Fishing and Whitewater, oh my! (6/18/09 - 6/24/09)

Although our week began wet and cold, summer started and with it the weather appears to be changing. Summer began on June 21st, and the Eastern Lake Ontario Dunes and Salmon River Stewards were happy to see it bring good weather and an increase in visitors to the natural resource areas around Lake Ontario and the Salmon River corridor. The Salmon River and Lake Ontario shore are starting to come alive as more events are being scheduled in the area. The work week seemed to fly by. Here are some of the things we found ourselves busy with:

Salmon River Steward Jim Katz spent his Saturday at a fishing event at the Pineville public fishing access. The event, called Spey Nation, allowed anglers to congregate and demo new equipment while discussing different techniques. Spey fishing is similar to fly fishing, except there is a longer fishing rod, and it requires less effort and allows for a much longer cast. All who attended were excited to learn new techniques and try different rods and reels.

Photo of angler on Salmon River by Salmon River Steward Jim Katz

Salmon River Steward Emily Freeman also spent Saturday along the Salmon River, but her time was devoted to the scheduled 400 CFS whitewater release. Time was spent getting to know the kayakers and tubers, conducting whitewater surveys. About 40 kayakers, tubers and canoers turned out for the release. Some whitewater enthusiasts were local, while others from South Buffalo. Most were part of a paddlers group called FLOW (Finger Lakes Ontario Watershed), who had carpooled to the Salmon River. They also arranged to shuttle each other, launching at Compactor Pool on County Route 2A, and taking out at Black Hole on Riverview. All paddlers were extremely happy with the conditions and are eagerly anticipating the next release of 750 CFS that will occur on 7/4-7/5.

Visitors enjoying the whitewater release on 6/20.
Photos by Salmon River Steward Emily Freeman.

The stewards spent the rest of the week picking up litter, performing maintenance on river edge trails, and conversing with anglers from as far away as New Jersey. 5,000 brown trout were stocked this week. In addition to catching smaller trout, anglers reported landing some Skamania (summer run) steelhead and Atlantic salmon. Don't forget that while the Salmon River is famous for its' autumn Pacific salmon run, there is still plenty of good fishing to be found in the summer!

Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Stewards

Deer Creek WMA has yet to see it's summer rush, but with school letting out for the summer, that should be soon. Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward Stacy Furgal reports that trash continues to accumulate. Visitors are encouraged to lend a hand and utilize the area's Carry-In, Carry-Out program. There has been an increase in the construction of fires which is prohibited in the area. Not only does it make the area unsightly, it can disrupt the fragile dune ecosystem and wildlife living there. A Wildlife Management Area is designed to be a haven for them, let's try to keep it that way!

Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward Greg Chapman was busy this week installing string fence to protect the dunes while preserving the view for visitors. Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area saw an increase over the weekend in visitors, mostly sunbathers and picnickers. Some chose the more adventurous route and tried their hand at windboarding!

Windboarding on Eastern Lake Ontario.
Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman

Lakeview WMA has been quiet the last week. Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward Paul Dawson has continued to clean up the beach, as Lake Ontario has a habit of washing large amounts of garbage onto shore. There were also some dogs off leashes, which can trample fragile dune vegetation and disturb local wildlife.

Great news! Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward Liz Wolff reports that the channel in El Dorado Nature Preserve has finally closed for the summer. Visitors can now enter El Dorado without getting soaked! Many families came out to Black Pond WMA on Father's Day. Everyone was enjoying the resource and using it respectfully.

Unfortunately, on other days at Black Pond WMA, Liz has seen people fishing in the bird sanctuary area. This area is prohibited to human and domesticated animal use as it disrupts the feeding and nesting time of shorebirds. Liz instead encourages anglers to use the fishing platform that overlooks Black Pond.

Enjoying Fathers Day at Black Pond WMA.
Photo by Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward Liz Wolff.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Restoring Sites and Making Connection (6/11/09 - 6/17/09)

Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Stewards
Lightly clouded skies and delightfully warm weather marked another invigorating work week for us. Black Pond Wildlife Management Area (WMA) saw a makeover this week as we went about installing hundreds of feet of new snow fencing, to replace haggard or missing sections that were knocked down over the winter or burned. Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward Liz Wolff, who was overseeing the operation, focused the installation efforts on those areas where ‘dune blowouts’ appear to be occurring or are likely to occur. A dune blowout is a dune area where vegetation has disappeared. Wind forces sand out, often into the inland wetlands, causing a u-shaped depression. This is undesirable for many reasons including:
  • Displaced sand can move into wetland areas (filling them in).
  • The sand comprising the dunes is a finite resource once lost, it is lost from the dunes.

  • The Eastern Lake Ontario Dunes act as a buffer for the inland wetlands, agricultural lands, forests, etc. protecting inland areas from the storm energy of Lake Ontario.
Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area also saw some improvements as Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward Greg Chapman put up three signs. The signs explain the sheltering effects of the dunes, thanks the Friends of Sandy Pond Beach for their involvement in protecting the natural resource, and indicate that boaters and people are to avoid being in the bird sanctuary. All three signs were installed south of the North Sandy Pond channel.

Signs installed along the dune walkover at sandy Pond Beach Natural Area
Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman

Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward Paul Dawson reports a few campfires at Lakeview WMA, which seems to be a reoccurring violation in that area. Paul has been spending most of his time this week developing his media project, which include a newspaper article, public education program, and impact summary sheet. Be sure to check back to learn more about all of our media projects!

Deer Creek WMA saw a moderate amount of usage this week, with even more usage expected in the coming season. Flagging tape has been attached onto all of the string fencing to clearly mark the trail for users. Quite a bit of trash has been found in the parking lot almost daily, which is a bit discouraging. As the Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward for this site (Stacy Furgal), it is my hope that if anyone sees this happening they will use their own stewardship abilities and speak up about the importance of carry in, carry out policies.

Salmon River Stewards
The Salmon River Reservoir was a busy place on Saturday, with 25+ boat trailers combined between the new boat launch on Redfield Road and Jackson Road boat launch sites. There were not too many folks on foot, but people were certainly out enjoying the water! Salmon River Steward Emily Freeman ran into a small group of boy scouts who told her they were happy to be able to practice their canoe skills and that they felt lucky to live near an area that was so rich in natural beauty.

The Salmon River Falls Unique Area saw a steady flow of users throughout the weekend. Although the plunge pool at the base of the falls may call would be swimmers, Salmon River Stewards want to remind future visitors that falling rocks from the gorge walls and debris in the water make the area restricted. Swimmers are encouraged to find refuge from the heat of summer at permitted swimming areas of Lake Ontario, ponds, Salmon River Reservoir, and swimming pools. The short drive to permitted swimming areas certainly outweighs the danger of the falling rocks and currents of the plunge pool at the Salmon River Falls Unique Area!

Great Lakes Sea Grant Network Conference
Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Salmon River Stewards
also had the great opportunity to discover the larger goals of the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network as we attended the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network Conference held in Alexandria Bay, NY. We were able to meet many in the extended Sea Grant family from throughout the Great Lakes region and learn about some of their projects and goals.

The weather was perfect for a boat tour of the St. Lawrence River that launched from Alexandria Bay. During the boat tour we took in the beautiful scenery while learning about some of the ecological issues that have been of interest there and elsewhere in recent years, including Viral Hemorrhagic Septicemia and the introduction of zebra mussels and other invasive species into the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. Dr. John Farrell, SUNY College of Enviornemental Science and Forestry and Thousand Islands Biological Station, and Jennifer Caddick, Save The River, provided valuable information about these topics and more as they jumped in on the microphone becoming tour-boat guides. It was a real treat, and appreciated!

(Top two pictures) Scenics during the boat tour on Alexandria Bay, 1000 Islands region of the St. Lawrence River
(bottom picture) NYSG's Dave White charts the course for the boat tour for the dune and river stewards.
Photos by Paul C. Focazio, NYSG

We attented the award ceremony/dinner where we learned about some of the accomplishements of the Great Lakes Network and some of those that are retiring (including NYSG's former Associate Director, Dale Baker). The last day of the conference we sat in on the session about new technologies. It was interesting to hear what and how various states are using technology. The Great Lakes Network showed interest in hearing about the traffic this blog generates.

The conference was an incredible occasion that we are grateful to have had a chance to enjoy. Thanks to everyone at New York Sea Grant and the rest of the Great Lakes Network for making it possible!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dune Fest '09 a Success! (6/04/09 - 6/10/09)

Dune Fest
With summer vacation around the corner, a large group of seventh and eighth graders came to Southwick State Park to take part in this year’s Dune Fest activities on June 10th. Once again, the Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Salmon River Stewards were there with others (NY Sea Grant, NYSDEC, NYS Parks, and others) to meet them.

Dune Fest is an annual event that brings out seventh (Belleville-Henderson) and eighth (Sandy Creek) graders to interactively discover components of the Eastern Lake Ontario Dunes and Wetlands Areas. This year, we had a chance to develop a hands-on program about the formation of the Great Lakes/Lake Ontario and the Eastern Lake Ontario sand dunes themselves. We developed a skit, with the help of Chris Lajewski of The Nature Conservancy, which featured the kids vibrantly re-enacting thousands of years of dramatic land-shaping action in just under 20 minutes.What better way for the students to learn how Lake Ontario and the dunes were formed then for them to actually “become” the glaciers/water, rocks/sands, wind and vegetation that made it all happen.

Dressed for the part, students linked arms to become the glaciers that dug out the Lake Iroquois and the Great Lakes, and “crushed” those students playing the part of the rocks. Rocks unlinked arms and flipped their costumes from gray to beige to illustrate the transformation into sand. Similarly, the glaciers unlinked their arms and flipped costumes from white to blue, as the temperatures rose and the ice melted into water. This “water” then filled the basin, becoming Lake Ontario’s much larger predecessor: Lake Iroquois. The fastest students played the role of wind, who ran with their streamers (props). Wind pushed the water and sand to the east, toward the present eastern shore of Lake Ontario. There, the sand was pushed further inland by the wind, only to be trapped by grasses and other vegetation, here played by sure-footed students in grass skirts. We followed the skit with a question and answer session to ask each group what their part was in the skit (ex: What happened to glaciers/water, What groups did they affect, and how?, What groups affected them, and how?)

The students enjoyed themselves and walked away from the skit with a greater knowledge and appreciation for the dunes - all while having a good time!

Ours was just one of many interactive stations set up for the students that day. Elsewhere, the kids learned about dune ecology, boating and water safety, fish, reptiles and amphibians, birds, wetlands and took a walk in the woods. Presenters were from New York Sea Grant, United States Coast Guard, the Nature Conservancy, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and others. We couldn’t have asked for better weather for the event, and a great time was had by both students and presenters alike.

The stewards with Dune Fest props. (Top Left) Liz Wolff as the blowing wind, Greg Chapman as strong, gray rock, Emily Freeman as cold, white glacier, Paul Dawson as growing vegetation,
(bottom left): Stacy Furgal as melting and "wavy" water, Jim Katz as blowing sand and growing dune.
Photo by, Paul Focazio, New York Sea Grant

Salmon River Stewards
When we aren’t busy preparing students for their acting debut, we prepare monitoring sites for the official start of summer, now just a few weeks away. River Stewards Emily and Jim have been busy digging out fire pits and fixing up some of the designated campsites along the Salmon River Reservoir. These campites are rustic, primitive and free! Campers will be pleased to see theses sites in tip-top shape and ready for use.

As the weather improves, people are starting to come from all over to enjoy our area’s recreational opportunities. River Steward Emily Freeman reported a group of kayakers from Lake George, Pulaski and Syracuse at Little America were enjoying a beautiful Saturday on the Reservoir. Other folks could be found grilling and having a family get-together at some of the Reservoir’s popular day-use areas, and some brought their boats to try their luck at fishing

Salmon River Reservoir
Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman

Male swallowtail butterfly at the Salmon River Reservoir
Photo by River Steward Emily Freeman

The Salmon River Falls Unique Area was a popular destination this weekend. Stewards met locals who regularly come to enjoy the scenery, as well as visitors from Rome and Syracuse making their first trip to the Falls. While enjoying the view at the Falls, please keep in mind that there are some regulations in place for your safety and the safety of other visitors. Particularly, look for signs marking a 15 foot restricted area not only at the edge of the Falls, but along the entire gorge as well. Also, possession or consumption of alcohol is prohibited at the Salmon River Falls Unique Area – you don’t want to be feeling tipsy when you’re near the top of the falls or the gorge walls. Please read the signs posted near the entrance for additional regulations.

Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Stewards
Preparations for summer continue at the dunes as well. Dune Steward Liz Wolff continues to fix up the path bypassing the bird sanctuary at Black Pond Wildlife Management Area/El Dorado Nature Preserve. The eastern Lake Ontario shoreline provides important natural habitat for shorebirds that may call it home or are just stopping by on their way to more distant shores. Signs and string fencing have been installed to show the way around, and Liz is busy transplanting beachgrass growing in the path to areas where it is more needed. Liz also reports that carp can be seen spawning at Black Pond, especially at the mouth of the channel.

Although dune-building beachgrass is protected and sometimes purposely planted at the dunes, one plant – the non-native common reed grass, Phragmites (pronounced frag-mite-ees) – is an unwelcome resident. Phragmites removal began this week at Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area, with the northernmost walkover cleared of these unwanted plants. This plant can potentially crowd out other, dune-specific species. One impressive feature of this plant is its massive root system – one tiny stem can lead to many feet of thick rootstock, which is nearly impossible to remove entirely.

An example of a large Phragmites root, with water bottle for scale
Photo by Chief Steward Greg Chapman

Hot weekend days are bringing more and more visitors to the dunes. Dune Steward Paul Dawson reports breaking down some rather extraordinary structures built by some visitors to the area. Although they are impressive, the structures are removed to preserve the beach’s natural character, return the driftwood to the dune environment, and to avoid tempting anyone who may seek to set such a gathering of driftwood ablaze. Paul notes that many visitors are impressed with how clean the beaches are this year, and that some visitors are in the habit of bringing a bag to pick up whatever trash is handy during their visit. The help is certainly appreciated!

A structure at Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area.
Photo by Mary Penney, New York Sea Grant

Of course, the quiet won’t last forever with summer fast approaching. Dune and River Stewards are here not only to help maintain the area, but also to answer questions or point out some of the less-noticed unique features of our area. If you see us, come by and say hi!

Friday, June 5, 2009

In the Meantime: Waiting for “Summer” to Arrive (5/28/09 – 6/3/09)

The cool, windy weather last week left only the brave to venture out to local Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs), Natural Areas, Nature Preserves, public fishing access sites and State Forests/Unique Areas.

We, the Eastern Lake Ontario Dune and Salmon River Stewards, took advantage of these quiet days by working on some beginning-of-the-year maintenance projects. On the dunes each year, we install new snow-fencing at areas providing public access along the Eastern Lake Ontario Dunes in an effort to stabilize the dunes and discourage foot traffic. Some of our time was spent measuring to replace damaged fencing and for areas where new fencing is necessary. We also replaced missing or damaged signs at sites to prepare for the busy season ahead.

Quiet days are a great time to observe a variety of wildlife as well. From the walkover at Black Pond WMA, I counted six bird nests of varying sizes and shapes, among them, nests of the Baltimore oriole, yellow warbler (image above, top), and gray catbird (image above, bottom). Bird nests were identified with the help of local birders. Water birds at Sandy Pond Beach Natural Area and Black Pond WMA (image below) feasted on small fish and other small organisms that have washed ashore. Painted turtles at Black Pond WMA and water snakes on the Salmon River relished what warmth they could while sunbathing on dead logs. The best way to observe birds and other wildlife at any of these sites is to walk quietly and speak in hushed voices. Many animals are easily scared away by noise!

Photos above by Eastern Lake Ontario Dune Steward, Liz Wolff.

Along the Salmon River corridor, river stewards reported meeting anglers and unscheduled groups during outings. On the river, anglers have been catching the freshly-stocked landlocked Atlantic salmon and steelhead. They are small, but are still fun to catch. At the Salmon River Falls Unique Area, stewards are seeing a noticeable number of groups from the Syracuse area enjoying the easing walking trails and learning about the area. People have begun camping at the designated campsites on the Salmon River Reservoir. One group of campers had good luck with rock bass during their stay.
Salmon River Falls photo by Salmon River Steward (2008), Luke Connor

Along with spending time at our individual sites, we attended the June meeting of The Ontario Dune Coalition (TODC). The meeting was a fantastic opportunity to see a diverse group of organizations, including NY Sea Grant, The Nature Conservancy, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Friends of Sandy Pond, and NYS Parks and Recreation working on projects to educate and inform the public about Eastern Lake Ontario’s unique resources.

As part of our effort to educate, we create an annual media project including a newspaper article, interpretive community outreach program, and project impact summary sheet. The research for this season’s articles is well underway! In addition to the media projects, we will be leading an interactive activity about Lake Ontario and Dune Formation at this year’s Dune Fest (June 10th at Southwick Beach State Park). Local 7th (Belleville/Henderson) and 8th (Sandy Creek) grade students will spend the day rotating through fun and informational stations about the dunes, wetlands and water safety, among others. Keep an eye out for an update about Dune Fest and our media project progress in the coming weeks!