Thursday, September 5, 2019

Allegany 18 Challenge - Red Jacket and Bridal Falls - Trail 2 of 18

For my second hike on the Allegany 18 Challenge I chose Red Jacket, but on the way I took a detour to stop and explore Bridal Falls.  Bridal Falls isn't part of the Allegany 18 Challenge and technically isn't listed as a hiking trail.  Instead it is listed in the park documentation as a program site.

Bridal Falls is located on ASP 1 between the Red House and Quaker Run sections of the park.  It is another trail that isn't a loop but instead is a hike down the trail to the destination and back up.

Bridal Falls Trailhead Kiosk

Trail Name: Bridal Falls
Trail Length:  <0.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Time Needed: 30 minutes

Park next in the lot next to the sign for Bridal Falls program area.   The path is all downhill from the trail head.   It's a muddy and rocky trail but take your time and you can navigate around much of the mud by using the rocks on the trail.

After a short walk down the hill you will see Bridal Falls directly in front of you.   Take a few photos enjoy the views and head back up the hill to the trail head and parking lot.

Trail 2 of 18 - Red Jacket

Red Jacket is located directly behind the Red House administration building.   If you can't wait to get started on the Allegany 18 challenge this is also a great choice for the first trail to complete.

Trail Name: Red Jacket
Trail Length: 1 mile
Difficulty: Easy
Time Needed: 45 minutes

On the walk to the trail head stop by and check-out the remains of the Outdoor Museum (ASP's zoo) that was operated from opening day in 1933 until it closed in 1944. The museum featured a number of animals and plants that could be found in the area. 

After checking out the remains of the outdoor museum continue past the trail head and onto Red Jacket trail to the right.   Going left will take you on Conservation (which we will tackle later).

This trail is a loop and I chose to take the counterclockwise route.    The trail is narrow but easily walk-able.  Continue on the trail for about 1/2 mile and you will see the judging towers for the ski jumps that were created by the Civilian Conservation Corps Company 249 between 1933 and 1935.  The ski jumps were used for competitions from 1935 until 1979.

When you get to the stone ski jump follow the trail around the bend and back up the hill.  If you continue straight on the trail you will be on a "trail to nowhere".   Luckily the park has added signage to indicate that the straight path is not a trail and a small stone wall has been erected to keep unsuspecting hikers from taking the incorrect route.

The walk back up the hill is short and you'll soon be heading back down to the trail head.

Two trails down.   16 more to complete.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Allegany 18 Challenge - Bear Springs - Trail 1 of 18

I recently decided to take on the Allegany 18 Challenge. What is the Allegany 18 Challenge you ask?  It is a challenge where you hike 18 of the original hiking trails in Allegany State Park. .

To start the challenge stop by the Red House administration building and pay $20 for the packet and materials you will need to participate. The packet consists of a folder, welcome letter and trail maps for each of the hikes that you will need to complete.

After receiving your packet you will need to fill out your information for the packet number you have been provided.   Once you've completed the paperwork you can begin your quest to complete the trails. Trails can be completed in any order and you must either make an etching of the Allegany 18 trail markers on each trail or take a picture of the trail.

In this series I will walk through each of the trails and detail what I find on the trails and the conditions on the days that I hiked them.   For difficulty, I will be using the ratings that the park provides for each trail. I will not be posting pictures of the trail markers, you will need to find these on your own adventure.

My goal is to share my quest with you and provide any insights into each trail.   I will be attempting to complete the trails in what I believe to be the easiest to hardest. 

If you decide to take on the challenge good luck and please share your experiences with us. Always remember to let someone know when and where you will be hiking, how long you expect to be gone and when you plan to return.

When hiking it is important to check the local weather forecast, have food and water with you, and bring essential items like a small first aid kit.   The packet provided will also give you a list of recommended items and dangers you may encounter.

Trail 1 of 18 - Bear Springs

Every journey begins with that first step.

After talking with a number of staff at the park and hikers in the area I learned that Bear Springs is the easiest trail to start with.   I haven't done a ton of intense hiking over the last few years so lets start slow.

Trail Name:  Bear Springs
Trail Length:  0.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Time Needed:. 30 minutes

Bear Springs is located along ASP 1 approx. 2.5 miles north of the Quaker Run admin building. Park in the lot on the side of the road next to the trail head and head over to the trail head marker for more information.  It is a short straight trail that is not a loop.  It is the shortest Trail in the park and is a mostly flat walk.

On the day that I hiked the trail is was wet and muddy so proper footwear is a must.   While walking along the trail there is a switchback that will make the slight change in elevation easy to navigate.

After a short walk you will find a long abandoned picnic area where I imagine visitors enjoying the natural spring and a family outing in days long gone.

Past the picnic area you will find the destination of this trail, the covered natural spring.  Do not drink the water from the spring as it contains iron and iron eating bacteria.

As tempting as it might be don't drink the water!

At this point turn around and head back to the trail head.   Do not continue on the trail going past the covered spring as this is a social path that has developed from curious adventures over the years and is a trail to nowhere.

First trail complete, 17 more to go.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Adventures at Allegany State Park

Welcome to Allegany State Park!
Since becoming a raft Guide at Adventure Calls Outfitters I have spent countless hours in and around Letchworth State Park but, today I'd like to share another of my favorite New York State parks with you. Allegany State Park is located in southwestern New York and offers year- round adventures and something for everyone. 

Every year I spend at least a week camping with my family in Allegany State Park.  ASP offers multiple options Tent/RV sites, cabins (ranging from four walls to cabins with multiple rooms and heat/electric) and finally cottages (full home away from home accomodations) at both the Red House and Quaker Run sides of the park.   Each side of the park also has a beach and waterfront boating and rental options.

This year we chose to stay on the Quaker Run side of the park in a single room cabin.   Since we are on vacation the idea is to relax so we try not to have any hard and fast schedules for each day but we also don't try to sit just at the cabin either.

Thunder Rocks
Our first outing for the week was a trip to Thunder Rocks.  Thunder Rocks is a series or large granite boulders left behind by glaciers during the last ice age.

As a kid I admit that I spent far too much time climbing on and around the rocks.  Unfortunately over time a number of visitors have forgotten the rules of Leave No Trace and have left graffitti and others markings on both the boulders and the trees. 

That stick guy is always getting into trouble!
Thankfully efforts over the last few years have helped to limit further damage to the formations.  Signs have been added advising visitors to not climb on the rocks and nature is retaking the rocks with vibrant miss and other plants growing on the formations.

If you plan to visit Thunder Rocks and you want to see everything I recommend spending at least a couple of hours here.

Who doesn't love fireworks?
Our next adventure was to be the beach but heavy rains during the week closed both of the beaches.  On the bright side we were still able to enjoy the fireworks over Quaker Lake for the Fourth of July.

No kid of any age can resist playing in a stream on a hot day.

While my family enjoyed the downtown around the cabin and my kids were running off playing in the streams and woods with other campers I decided to embark on a new adventure.   Thanks to fellow guide and outdoor enthusiast, Mike Radomski (Outside Chronicles) I had head about the Allegany 18 challenge.

The goal is to hike all of the original 18 hiking trails in ASP. A task covering 70 miles of trails through the woods of ASP. To see how this turns out follow my posts chronicling each trail as I complete them.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Kayaking Class 101

Author: Diane Olin

ACO Raft Guide Diane Olin
................ So, I attended a whitewater clinic this past Sunday, 06/16 and one of the very first things I was issued was a spray skirt to go along with the kayak............... My initial thought was; "Nope!" I love the river and I love to kayak but, the thought of flipping over and being held down by my legs trapped under that skirt in the kayak was terrifying to me..............

Having very dear and trusted friends not only with me but, but also as my instructors helped me to at least go down to the river with my equipment and watch. 🙂still not quite sure if I could or even wanted to overcome this fear by getting in the water!

To begin with my teacher and friend, Don Nelson explained he first would do; “the Hand of God roll” which would mean he would flip me upside down in my kayak but, then he would turn me back up right side up.  My job was simply to hold my breath and trust he would flip me back over . Success!

I'm upside down, inside my kayak.
I can feel "the Hand of God" pulling me upright.
Next, it was time to trust in myself and my ability when it flipped to perform a self rescue.......Not too sure about this since it would mean tucking my body forward, hugging then tapping the sides of my boat three times, (this is done to keep you calm and in control) Once I'd done that I was to pull the ripcord to remove the skirt, then use my hands braced on the sides to slide my body out of my kayak.......... Wait, what?  The thoughts I had right before he was about to flip me over were; "this is kind of like being baptized."  I spoke those words to Don and Brian right before they flipped me, not really realizing at the time how profound they were, and the lesson I was learning.

They did flip my kayak upside down then let go. At that moment I knew I was alone under that river water, my legs trapped. I also knew my way out, if only I could trust enough in myself..............At no moment did I even consider the equipment not working or my friends not being able to get me out.  My worry and fear was rooted in my ability alone.........Why??
"You can do this, Diane.  I'm right here and won't let anything happen to you."
The truth was I wasn’t alone. I was safe. They would never had let anything happen to me.

I think life can give us experiences that sometimes aren’t necessarily good or kind. Those experiences have the power to alter the way we see things and even trust others .Fear itself can be life saving. It’s a healthy response to danger and can keep us safe. However, there can be an unhealthy fear as well.  Fear that can be so severe it can and will debilitate some of us , especially those who have been exposed to trauma. That fear can keep us from living the full life God truly intended for us to have if we are not careful.  Overcoming fear and life circumstances is not easy but, it is possible! 

On my drive home I thought back to the day I was baptized in that very same river.  That water Baptism represented a new beginning for my life............That day I had to make a decision to be set free of sin.  I I had to want that new beginning. After the decision was made in my heart then the Pastor lowered me into the water..........This past Sunday I again  had to make a decision first, only this decision was to be set free of fear.  A decision to believe again in myself - a decision to trust those with me.  After the decision was made in my head and heart then those boys flipped me and I was set free!!

Free from my kayak, and free from my fear!
Courage is not the absence of fear - but moving forward in spite of it -

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

2019 Upstate Tick Report

Author: Glenn Coin -

Common Ticks
Syracuse, N.Y. – Brian Leydet makes his living studying the ticks that cause Lyme disease, and he knows that ticks avoid sunny yards with grass cut short. So he was surprised and disturbed to find a tick on the ankle of his 21-month-old son, who plays only in the mown grass in the sunny part of their Fayetteville yard.
“My yard has no tick habitat. That’s really concerning,” said Leydet, who studies ticks as a professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. “I’m seeing higher numbers at the edges of my yard than we’re seeing in tick habitat.”
Leydet said the lack of a late season snowfall led to more adult black-legged, or deer, ticks surviving the winter. That means they laid more eggs that have now turned into the life stage that causes most cases of Lyme disease, the nymph. Leydet speculates that there are so many nymphal ticks this year, the shady, damp habitat areas they prefer are overcrowded and forcing them to move into open yards to find a meal.
“It’s just really, really bad this year,” he said.
Helpful Tips to Remember
Nymphs are less likely to carry the Lyme bacteria than adult ticks are, but nymphs cause 80% of Lyme cases. That’s because the nymphs are active in summertime, when people are more likely to be outdoors, and because the nymphs, about the size of a poppy seed, are difficult to see when they attach to skin. Adult ticks are larger, about the size of a sesame seed, and more easily seen on the skin.
Leydet is careful to spray his shoes with permethrin, an insecticide, but he still found a tick on himself recently after being in the yard. Fortunately, the tick was dead, probably killed by crawling through the permethrin, he said. His son is fine, too.
Ticks tend to prefer moist, dark areas, so they’re most commonly found in high grass or bushes in dense shade. Leydet said his yard has a single line of trees, a place he didn’t expect to find ticks when he dragged a cloth along the ground recently.
“I picked up 20 ticks in 15 minutes,” he said. “There’s also a single tree behind my house, an oak with some understory. I circled it once and picked up seven nymphs. “They’re out there in numbers,” he said.
The numbers aren’t the only scary part, he said: Half of the 14 ticks from his yard he had tested in the lab were positive for Lyme bacteria. Lyme disease cases generally start increasing in June, so it’s too early to know how bad this season will be, said Dr. Kristopher Paolino, the Lyme disease expert at Upstate Medical University,
"That said, I’m seeing a lot of tick bites and have already seen a handful of Lyme cases, as well as other tick-borne diseases," said Paolino, an assistant professor of medicine, and microbiology and immunology.
New York sees about 8,000 cases of Lyme disease annually, according to the state Department of Health. Early symptoms include flu-like symptoms such as headaches, body aches, fevers, chills and joint pain. About half of people infected with the Lyme bacteria will also get a circular rash that grows outward from the center. The disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early, but can cause serious health problems if left untreated.
Leydet and other experts urge people to use precautions when outdoors, especially:
-- Spraying clothes and especially shoes with a permethrin-based spray, available at drug stores and outdoors stores.
-- Wearing light-colored clothing so you can see the dark ticks crawling up.
-- Spraying exposed skin with bug spray containing DEET.
-- Checking your entire body after you’ve been outdoors, especially areas like armpits, groin and nape of the neck.
Using Tweezers to Remove a Tick
-- Removing any tick attached to your body with fine-tipped tweezers. Save the tick by dropping it in rubbing alcohol or putting it in a plastic bag and then placing it in the freezer. The tick can be tested for the Lyme bacteria.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Enjoy Nature More: Tree Identification

Hiking is one of the best ways to relax and reconnect with nature.  Going outdoors has been found to help manage everything from diabetes to heart disease to depression.  Doctors in Scotland are literally Prescribing Nature to Their Patients. One of the best ways to enhance your experience in nature is to be able to understand natures signs or identify things around you.  One of my favorite ways to elevate my hiking experience is by identifying trees.

Tree identification is fun and easy once you know some basic principles.  There are some great field guide books to assist you when you are “stumped”.  You will quickly be astounding your friends and family when you say “Hey look at that mighty Sycamore” or “Shag Bark Hickory is my favorite tree" while on the trail.

My two favorite field guides are Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Trees and The Sibley Guide to Trees.  They both have their strengths and weaknesses. Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Trees guide is best to identify an unknown tree via a dichotomous key.  The Sibley Guide to Trees strength lies in its detailed illustration of every species’ leaves, seeds, twigs, buds and bark.

What is a Tree?

What is a Tree? This seems like a no brainer, right? However, it is important to distinguish between a tree and a large bush.  A tree is a perennial plant with a single woody stem at least a few inches thick at about four feet above the ground, branching into a well-formed crown of foliage, and reaching a height of 12-20 feet (Sibley). Sure, there are saplings (i.e. baby trees) that are smaller than this, but when young, they may not display the distinguishing characteristics described in field guides.

Now that we know we have a tree, the next step in identifying its species is to categorize its morphology or physical characteristics.  Understanding these categories is essential to quickly identifying known trees. Being able to distinguish these field markers will aid you when using your field guide's dichotomous key to discover a species unknown to you.

Softwood or Hardwood?

The first categorization is to figure out if the tree is a softwood or hardwood.  Many people think this is synonymous with “evergreen” and “deciduous”, respectively.  This is a misnomer.  There are trees with needles that are deciduous like the bald cypress and trees with leaves that are evergreen such as the holly.  To properly classify softwood and hardwood it is as simple as asking “Does this tree have needlelike or scalelike leaves OR does it have broad leaves?”  Softwood trees have needlelike or scalelike leaves and are considered gymnosperms meaning “naked seed”.  A pinecone is an example of a naked seed.  Hardwoods are the broad leaf trees and are angiosperms which means “fleshy seeds”, think apples.

Arrangement: Opposite or Alternate or Whorl?

The next level of categorization is the leaf and twig arrangement.  There are three ways the leaves and twigs are typically arranged: opposite, alternate or whorl.  Opposite arrangement means the leaves and twigs oppose each other.  It is a good idea to look at the whole tree because there can be some variation.  However, once you find one leaf or twig that is opposite, chances are good the tree has an opposite arrangement.  If you found an opposite arrangement (in the northeast), you can be assured that you have a tree of the maple, ash or dogwood family.  Remember the acronym “MAD”.
In an alternate arrangement, the leaf does not have another leaf opposing it.  The leaves and twig alternate from side to side.  Again, it is a good idea to look at multiple leaves and twigs on the tree to eliminate error due variation.  

Whorled arrangement is not common, but it can be found in some Northeastern species.  The whorled arrangement has more than two leaves or twigs around the circumference of the same location on a branch.  

Composition: Simple or Compound

A simple leaf is undivided whereas a compound leaf is divided into several leaflets.  To figure out if you have a simple or compound leaf, the trick is to locate the lateral bud.  Each leaf, no matter its composition, will have a bud at its base on the twig. Leaflets do not have buds at their base.  If you see a bud, and there is a single leaf, the composition is simple.  If you found a bud, and the leaf stem (petiole) has multiple leaflets, then you are looking at a compound leaf.  Compound leaves are more complex and can be in different arrangements such as palmately (hand-shaped) or pinnately (feather-shaped) compound.

              Image Source:

Evergreen or Deciduous?

It is fairly easy to determine if a tree is evergreen or deciduous (i.e. lose their leaves in Fall and grow new ones in Spring).  The key is to look at this years growth and go up the twig.  For deciduous trees, you will see evidence of past year’s growth.  You will see “scars” on the twig from past years leaf growth.  For an evergreen, you will see this years growth along with years past along the twig.  In general, trees with needles are evergreen and trees with broad leaves are deciduous.  But be careful, there are exceptions. Holly, as mentioned earlier, has broad leaves, but is considered evergreen.  In contrast, the bald cypress has needles, but is a deciduous conifer tree.

Leaf Shape

The leaf shape will help you continue down the path of identifying a species of tree. Common shapes include ovate (egg shaped), lanceolate (long and narrow), deltoid (triangular), obicular (round) and cordate (heart shaped). There is also the palm-shaped maple leaf and the lobed oak leaf, two of our most recognizable leaf shapes.  The leaf edge is also an important characteristic.  Leaf edges or margin can be smooth, sharp or serrated like a steak knife.  Some toothed leaves, for example, have clearly defined serrations, while others have much finer serrations resembling a fringe or hair.

Dichotomous Keys

Using the characteristics above, you can use the dichotomous key of a field guide to narrow down the species of tree in question.  Using a dichotomous key is simple if you can clearly identify the field markers.  It is important to understand the “lingo”.
A dichotomous key is a tool that allows the user to determine the identity of items in the natural world, such as trees, wildflowers, mammals, reptiles, rocks, and fish. Keys consist of a series of choices that lead the user to the correct name of a given item. "Dichotomous" means "divided into two parts”.

        Image Source: Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Trees
My favorite field guide, Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Trees, has a straight forward approach to tree species identification.  Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Trees is broken up into 6 sections based on the leaf type (needlelike or scalelike, palms, or board leaves), arrangement (opposite or alternating) and composition (simple or compound).  I like to use the illustrations of the 6 sections as my starting point, but there is also a dichotomous key (page 11 in my edition) For example, you may have a tree with alternate simple leaves or section V.  This will direct you to page 255, Plates 23-46 in my edition.

      Image Source: Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Trees
You will then be presented with another dichotomous key.  We begin to drill down on other characteristics.  If you are unsure what each means, the Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Trees has explanations of each key feature in the front of the guide.
The final step is to thumb through the plates directed by the last dichotomous key.   Peterson’s Field Guide to Eastern Trees gives an explanation of the species, the distribution of the tree, a picture of the tree and/or bark as well as illustrations of the leaves and seeds.  The field guide may also give another chart with further characteristics with pluses (+) or minuses (-) if a given species displays those features.


Tree identification is fun and easy.  With a little practice and patience, you will be wowing your fellow hikers in no time.  I have included a few great reference videos below.  I highly suggest Peter Collin’s videos.  He is local to Western NY and his videos are set in Letchworth State Park.  
Another great resources is ForestConnect, an educational program of the forestry extension and applied research group at Cornell University and through Cornell Cooperative Extension. ForestConnect's intent is to connect people to the forest, with special attention to the 650,000 woodland owners in New York. ForestConnect’s has a great YouTube channel with many educational webinars on trees.
It's more fun to figure it out yourself.
And if the field guides fail you while on your hike, grab a leaf sample from your unknown tree, place it on a white sheet of paper and use the app LeafSnap to assist you with identification.  However, it's more fun to figure it out yourself.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Trail Trees: Fact or Fiction?

Ever been on a trail and seen a crooked tree that almost seems like it is marking the trail?  If you have, you might have noted they seem unnatural and out of place.  The tree is bent at sharp angles and often take on a weird shape.  The sharp angles and unique shape characterize a human design rather than the gentle curves that one would expect from natural forces like wind and weather.

I first learned about trail trees in the book How to Read Nature by Tristan Gooley.  He briefly mentioned trail trees, then I recall seeing one at Shenandoah National Park and then again at Allegany State Park and began to research more fully.


Trail Tree at Shenandoah National Park on the Stony Man Trail
Native Americans used these trees to mark a network of trails. The trees were also thought  to mark sacred areas, locations of water and food, warn travelers of danger or mark culturally significant landmarks.  The trees are known by several names such as trail tree, trail marker tree, signal trees, thong tree or prayer tree.

Parts of a Tail Tree

To be a  trail tree, first of all, it must be old enough to have been alive when Native American tribes still lived in the area. The bend is about four or five feet off the ground. The bend  bend is a sharp right angle.  The tree then runs parallel the earth for a measure, and turns sharply up again, towards the sky. They will indicate some sort of feature of the land, whether it’s a trail, a spring, or a place to ford a river.

Unsure if you are looking at a trail tree?  The Trail Tree Project has a page with typical and atypical trees.
How Trail Tree are formed 
The first record of trail marker trees appeared in a document called “Map of Ouilmette Reservation with its Indian Reminders dated 1828–1844”. This map shows actual drawings and locations of existing trail marker trees.  The first known research on trail trees is found in the February 1940 edition of Natural History Magazine, where Raymond E. Janssen mentions their distribution into the Great Lakes region. Jenssen wrote "The casual observer views them merely as deformed freaks; but careful observation and comparison of the nature of the deformities indicate that these trees did not acquire their strange shapes simply by accident."

Map of Ouilmette Reservation 

Since then, a researcher Dennis Downes and president of President and Founder of the Great Lakes Trail Marker Tree Society, has taken a deep dive into the phenomena of bent trees. He has spent more than 30 years researching and educating people on bent trees.  Downes has compiled 100’s of photographs of the trees and has visited many trail tree sites.
Dennis Downes

Think you have found a trail tree?  Send it to the Trail Tree Project.  This registry, part of the, is attempting to document all known trail trees before time, disease and urbanization destroy them.  They will use this registry to better under the significance of trail trees.

Allegany 18 Challenge - Red Jacket and Bridal Falls - Trail 2 of 18

For my second hike on the Allegany 18 Challenge I chose Red Jacket, but on the way I took a detour to stop and explore Bridal Falls.  Brida...