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Summer 2014: From the Director’s Desk

By Molly Farrell, Environmental Educator II

At long last, winter has ended here at the Nature Center.  Having only ever seen the park covered in snow, I have enjoyed exploring what the melting snow has revealed.  Spring has brought more trout lily (Erythronium americanum) and blood root (Sanguinaria Canadensis) than I have ever seen in one place before.  I was happy to see Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) in flower along the roadside as I drove down the hill towards Eel Bay.  The amount of white trillium in flower throughout the park is a testament to efforts made to decrease the deer population.  Deer love eating trillium flowers and for many years deer essentially eliminated flowering trillium from the park.  Only the telltale whorl of three leaves remained.  It will be interesting to see if the downed limbs throughout our forests from this winter create enough of a spike in available food resources to cause a subsequent increase in the deer population.  If you have an opportunity to walk the Eel Bay trail this summer, look for the large deer exclosure built last year in the woods to the left of the Eel Bay trail, just southwest of the Nature Center.  We are hoping to gather vegetation data from this exclosure to better understand the impacts of deer browse on our understory plant population.

The Baltimore orioles returned this past week.  They are a truly beautiful bird.  I am not used to seeing these pretty orange birds.  I am happy to see we have a substantial population here.  We have made feeders out of orange slices and hung oriole feeders full of sugar water on trees near the Nature Center to draw the orioles closer to our building.

The ospreys returned long before the orioles and worked to build their impressive nests on top of power poles along the road by the H area camping loop.  The shallow waters of Eel Bay make for easy fishing grounds for these skilled predators.  I think they are now awaiting the arrival of their first clutch of hatchlings. 

Yesterday I carried a slow moving painted turtle across the road as it began its trek to suitable nesting habitat and saw a leopard frog jump across the grassy field by the group camping site.  Although spring was slow to reveal itself this year, I think it is evident now that it is here to stay.

I am excited to witness the changing seasons at the Nature Center for the first time.  From what I have seen so far, there are many interesting plants to discover on our forest floor and in the wetlands that are throughout the Park.  If you are interested in botany, there will be a number of programs this summer that will provide opportunities for people to walk the trails with experts in plant ecology.  Catherine Landis, a Ph.D. candidate at SUNY ESF will be at the Nature Center Friday, August 15 at 10 AM to lead an edible plant hike.  Jean Fahey, the President of the Central New York Mycological Society will be here Saturday, July 26 to introduce people to the diverse array of mushrooms that populate Wellesley Island.   So long as his schedule permits, Dr. Donald J. Leopold of SUNY ESF will be here in August to introduce people to the unique natural communities at the Nature Center.  I hope you are able to join us for some of our exciting programming this summer.  We look forward to seeing you at the Nature Center.

 Summer 2014: What’s Happening at the Nature Center

By Kim Cullen, Environmental Educator Assistant

Our March Pack Basket class was very successful.  It has been 5 years since we have been able to host a basket class and we are very excited to revive the tradition.  Participants spent the day working on their baskets and sharing stories.  Norman Wagner, the Town Historian of Clayton spent the day entertaining Kate Breheny of Save the River (pictured to the left) with stories about Clayton town lore.  Everyone left happy and tired at day’s end with their own unique interpretation of the traditional Adirondack Pack Basket.  We are hopeful that our June 7th class will be equally successful.

Spring cleaning at the Nature Center was kicked off at our “I Love My Park Day” event on May 5th.  To get the day off to a good start, Judy Mower from Parks and Trails gave a short pep talk to our dedicated volunteers.  Judy then put on her gloves and got to work raking leaves out of the gardens and off the Nature Center lawn.  Thank you Judy!  The 42 volunteers who participated in our event were able to help accomplish annual tasks such as putting up the Butterfly House netting and weeding the flowerbeds.

In addition to the annual spring tasks, volunteers participated in others projects on “I Love My Parks Day” to help us clean up substantial winter damage to our trails and grounds caused by the ice storm and other winter weather.  Pictured to the left is the Lounsbury family raking leaves around our office and grounds.  For more pictures please visit “Friends of the Nature Center” on Facebook.

On April 26th the Nature Center assisted with two very important events: Earth Day at The Thompson Park Zoo, and Arbor Day with TILT at Zenda Farms. The event at the Zoo was a new collaboration between the NYS DEC and the Zoo.  In previous years both organizations held separate events, often on the same day so the public had to choose which event to attend.  By combining the events, the Zoo was able to reach record attendance levels for their Earth Day event.  A total of 1,600 visitors came to experience the various activities and displays that organizations, including the Nature Center, brought to the Zoo that day.  The organizations involved worked together to make the day a big success and we hope the event will be equally successful next year.

Forty volunteers participated in the Arbor Day event at Zenda Farms in Clayton.  Volunteers planted tree, visited tables set up by a variety of participating non-profit groups, and took a tree home with them to plant.

Our second annual Run Wild 5k race was a big success!  We had 48 runners this year, which was a few more than the previous years.  Many Canadians who were visiting the Park over the long Victoria Day Weekend participated in the race this year.  Many who did not participate commented about enjoying watching the runners jog past their campsites again this year.  Hopefully they will join the race next year as people become more aware of our Run Wild 5K.  A special thanks to Steve Jarvis who donated 30 wood burned plaques for us to give to race participants who came in first, second or third place for their respective age classes.

Through much of May until the end of June we have school groups coming daily to the Nature Center.  By the end of the school year we will have reached approximately 1,500 students.  These groups range from pre-k all the way up to college students.  The picture on the left is of a class from Evans Mills Primary School learning about the ecology of the great horned owl from Lynn Morgan.

We take pride in our programing! With State Standards always changing, it is the duty of the Center to ensure that our programming is aligned with those standards. This year the Nature Center has been working to develop a new program with our neighboring Park, Rock Island Light House, and Clayton Island Tours. This collaborative program is designed to teach students about how the ecological history of the St. Lawrence River influenced the development of river communities, such as Clayton. In this unique program history and ecology will meet as students explore the plant and animal communities that form along the islands of the St. Lawrence River. We are also developing a series of trips that will be offered to the general public that will discuss similar topics.  If you or any organization you are involved with would be interested in these programs, please give the Nature Center a call to find out more information about this exciting new program.

For more information about Nature Center programming, please call the Nature Center at 315-482-2479.  Programs are offered year round, both at the Nature Center and at other sites.