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!

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