Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Move Over Americade, There is Thunder in Old Forge

A growing motorcycle event in Old Forge has been getting a lot of attention from the bike crowd for it’s laid back atmosphere and lack of overt commercialism. Thunder in Old Forge 2010 includes activities planned throughout the Town of Webb and the Central Adirondacks this coming weekend, June 4-6.

The event features several planned rides around the Central Adirondacks, 14 judged trophy classes (judging begins at 4:00 pm on Saturday), a small vendor and exhibitor area at the Hiltebrant Recreation Center Pavilion on North Street, a parade, Blessing of the Bikes, and more. Tickets are $5; for a complete listing of all the weekend activities can be found at www.thunderinoldforge.com or by calling 315-369-6983. You can also follow the event on Twitter.


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Forest Fire Haze: A Reminder of Past Dangers

Yesterday, as I awoke to smoke drifting south from over 70 forest fires in Quebec, I was reminded of Tarzan.

Not the Johnny Weissmüller films, but one of the last scenes from the original book by Edgar Rice Burroughs in which Tarzan rescues Jane one last time by swinging through the trees – “with the speed of a squirrel” – the trees of Wisconsin. Yup. Wisconsin. In a forest fire. » Continue Reading.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Celebrating the Life of Clarence Petty

On Sunday morning, the Wild Center hosted a memorial celebration of the life of Clarence Petty, the ardent conservationist who died last fall at 104.

The Wild Center showed two films about Clarence. After a brunch, several longtime friends and colleagues spoke about Clarence’s passion for protecting Adirondack wilderness.

As serious as Clarence was about preservation, anyone who met him was struck by his sense of humor and friendly manner.

Clarence had lots of stories from his long, rich life. He spent the first years of his life in a squatter’s cabin on the Forest Preserve. He grew up in the tiny hamlet of Coreys on the edge of the woods, a virtual frontier in those days, and went on to become a manager in the Civilian Conservation Corps, a forest ranger, a state pilot, and an indefatigable defender of the Adirondacks.

Most of the speakers at the memorial celebration, such as Michael Carr, Barbara Glaser, David Gibson, and Peter O’Shea, had known Clarence for decades and regaled the audience with one humorous anecdote after another. I particularly enjoyed Carr’s story about the time Clarence mistakenly air-dropped a load of trout over a fisherman. Thinking he may have killed or injured the fellow, Clarence flew back over the pond and saw him raising his hands in thanks.

I didn’t know Clarence as well as those folks, but as the editor of the Adirondack Explorer, I had the chance to speak with him many times in the last decade of his life. Every two months, I interviewed him for a feature called “Questions for Clarence,” which the Explorer published from 2004 until Clarence’s death.

The questions covered just about every topic under the sun, but often I would try to get Clarence to reveal what bit wisdom he would like to pass on to posterity. He kept on returning to his faith in democracy. He believed that if the people were allowed to vote on the important issues facing the Adirondack Park, they would opt to protect it.

By “the people,” he meant the people of the whole state, since the Forest Preserve is owned by all of them. The difficulty is that many of the Park’s residents don’t like outsiders making decisions that affect their lives. Hence, the continuing animosity toward the Adirondack Park Agency.

To this, Clarence had an answer. He described the Park’s wild lands, especially the Forest Preserve, as “the magnet” that draws tourists to the Adirondacks. The more wildness that is preserved, the greater the appeal to tourists. And tourists are money.

In short, protecting the Park is good for the economy–and hence good for the people who live here.

Despite his best efforts, Clarence failed to convince everyone of that point of view. But the argument will be carried forth by those he did reach.

You can find out more about Clarence Petty’s life in this remembrance by Dick Beamish, the founder of the Adirondack Explorer.

Photo by Phil Brown: Clarence Petty memorabilia at the Wild Center.

 


Monday, May 31, 2010

1963: A North Country Racehorse Makes Good

In honor of the Belmont Stakes being run this weekend, here’s an item from 1963, when a horse whose name had North Country ties nearly won the coveted Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont). Any idea what the horse’s name was?

The owner was John W. Galbreath, well known nationally, and a frequent visitor to the Adirondacks. While his wealth was notable, it was in the world of sports that Galbreath earned his greatest fame. He owned baseball’s Pittsburgh Pirates from 1946–1985 (one of his partners was Bing Crosby), winning the World Series in 1960, 1971, and 1979. He was also a graduate of Ohio State and a longtime supporter of the school’s athletic program, one of the most successful in the nation.

Like Donald Trump did in more recent times, Galbreath became fabulously wealthy as a real estate developer, owning major properties in Columbus, Los Angeles, New York, and Pittsburgh. In 1986, the family fortune was estimated at $400 million.

Despite his substantial fame in baseball and real estate, Galbreath’s favorite subject was horseracing. Perhaps the name of his birthplace (in 1897) was a good omen for a future in the sport: he was born in Derby, Ohio.

Among other things, Galbreath’s great wealth allowed him to indulge his passion. He became involved in horse racing in the 1930s, eventually serving as chairman of Churchill Downs in Louisville (where the Kentucky Derby is run). Near Columbus, Ohio, he developed the famed Darby Dan Farm into a 4,000-acre spread, producing many outstanding racehorses.

He had never won the Kentucky Derby, a goal of all major owners, and in 1963, none of Galbreath’s horses seemed particularly promising. Then, shortly before the Derby, one of his colts captured three straight races, including the Blue Grass Stakes. Suddenly, anything was possible.

The horse’s name was Chateaugay, and despite the sudden success, most of the hype went to several other competitors prior to the Triple Crown races. Never Bend was the leading money-winner, and Candy Spots and No Robbery were the first undefeated horses to face off in the Derby in 88 years. In front of 120,000 fans at the Kentucky Derby, Galbreath’s favorite horse went off at 9-1 odds. There appeared to be little chance for success.

After running at mid-pack for much of the race, Chateaugay moved up to fourth. Near the final stretch, future-hall-of-fame-jockey Braulio Baeza steered his horse through an opening to the inside, where Chateaugay strode to the front, topping all the pre-race stars to win by 1¼ lengths.

In race number two, the Preakness, the same strategy was employed. This time, Chateaugay came roaring to the front but fell just short, finishing 3½ lengths behind winner Candy Spots. In the Belmont, the results were very similar to the Preakness, but this time, Chateaugay’s charge to the lead was successful, overtaking Candy Spots to win by 2½ lengths.

Only a close loss at the Preakness prevented Chateaugay from winning the Triple Crown, but Galbreath’s colt had proven nevertheless to be a great racehorse.

During this time, the excitement in the North Country was fairly palpable, especially in the town of Chateaugay (in the northeast corner of Franklin County). Many were fervent supporters of Galbreath and his horse, and the famed owner expressed his appreciation in a letter that appeared in local newspapers:

Dear Mr. Peacock:

It was certainly nice of you to write me a letter about Chateaugay winning the Kentucky Derby. Several people have asked me how we happened to name this horse as we did.

As you perhaps know, we have some interest in Lyon Mountain and Mineville, New York [the iron mines], and while I was up there several years ago, I saw the name Chateaugay. I made the remark at the time that I thought it was a pretty name for a town, and also thought it would be a good name for a horse.

Since Chateaugay’s older sister, Primonetta, was our best filly to date, we naturally hoped this colt would be a good one, and for that reason, we applied the name to him.

It has been very gratifying indeed to have so many nice letters from people of your town, and I hope you will thank the members of the Chamber of Commerce for their nice telegram which they sent under your name last week. I am going to have some pictures made just as soon as we receive the proofs, and I will eventually send you a picture which you can use for publishing in the paper.

Thank you again for your nice letter and wire.

Sincerely yours,


John W. Galbreath

In honor of the victory, Galbreath named one of Darby Dan’s buildings “Gay Chateau” (well before a new meaning entered the vernacular).

A few years after winning the Derby, Chateaugay was retired to stud service, first at Darby Dan Farm, and later in Japan after his sale to racing interests there. He died in 1985.

Galbreath died in 1988 at the age of 90. Besides a grand legacy in the sporting world, he left behind the John W. Galbreath Company, America’s third-largest real estate developer. A second Darby Dan horse, Proud Clarion, won the Derby in 1967, but it was Chateaugay who first made Galbreath’s long-held dream a reality.

Photo Above: Chateaugay after winning the Kentucky Derby.

Photo Below: Chateaugay after winning the Belmont Stakes.

Lawrence Gooley has authored eight books and several articles on the North Country’s past. He and his partner, Jill McKee, founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004 and have recently begun to expand their services and publishing work. For information on book publishing, visit Bloated Toe Publishing.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

‘Have A Seat in Glens Falls’ Outdoor Art Project Begins

After well over a year of planning, thirty-eight unique Adirondack chairs will be placed throughout downtown Memorial Day through September 6, 2010. Each chair was created by a regional artist offering a Glens Falls theme, built to be weather resistant and functional. This project is hoped to focus on Glens Falls as a tourism destination with many shopping, dining, cultural, and entertainment choices.

To promote “Have a Seat in Glens Falls,” ninety-thousand rack cards have been distributed along eastern New York from Suffern to Plattsburg and twenty-thousand brochures with chair maps have been delivered to local retail stores, restaurants, and attractions. A website provides access to all pertinent information, including an interactive map of the chairs’ locations. The project also has an active presence on Facebook. Ads, both radio and print, and banners will run throughout the summer months.

After the event is over, the chairs will be sold to the highest bidders at the “Chair-itable Auction”, scheduled for Wednesday, September 15, at The Queensbury Hotel. Each artist will receive 25% of their chair’s sale price. Net proceeds from the project benefit the City Park Restoration Project, Crandall Public Library, and Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Overlooked Adirondack Grasses, Sedges and Rushes

Birders love their birds, and botanists love their flowers; rock-hounds love their rocks and minerals, and entomologists love their insects. But who loves the grasses, sedges and rushes? Even though some members of this group of plants have become global celebrities (wheat, corn, rye), most are overlooked by the majority of people, or at least they are in this country, where the knowledge of local plant life is no longer vital to our daily survival.

Those who took a basic botany course in college probably learned some version of the rhyme “Sedges have edges and Rushes are round; Grasses have joints where elbows are found,” an amusing bit of poetry designed to help students learn which of these plants were which. As with all such things, there is an element of truth in it, but every rule has its exceptions.

Learning to tell grasses from sedges from rushes can be a challenge and one that not too many are willing to tackle. We like grass in our lawns and not in our gardens (unless it is ornamental), but there our knowledge ends. In an effort to try and stimulate a little interest in these seemingly “boring” plants, let me share some quick descriptors from Grasses, an Identification Guide, by Lauren Brown.

We’ll start with grasses. Grasses have (usually) round stems that are (mostly) hollow, and long narrow leaves with parallel veins. When you get to the part of the stem where the leaf is attached, the stem is solid and a little node or joint is formed. The base of the leaf (called the sheath) wraps around the stem at this joint. On grasses the sheath is split open along part of its length. When a grass blooms, its flowers grow in two rows along the stalk. The base of the flowering portion of the plant has two empty scales (no flowers inside).

Sedges can look a lot like grasses to the untrained eye. Keep in mind, though, that they have solid stems, and their stems are often, but not always, triangular (hence, they have “edges”). The leaves, which are also long, narrow and have parallel veins, wrap around the stem, too, but their sheaths are entirely closed. The flowers grow in a spiral around the stalk, and there are no empty scales at the base of the flowering section. You will tend to find sedges in cooler and wetter areas than grasses.

This brings us to rushes. Rushes are round (but then, so are most grass stems). Their leaves are also similar to those of the grasses and sedges: long, narrow, and with parallel veins. Their stems can be solid or hollow. Unlike the grasses, however, they don’t have nodes/joints. And unlike the grasses and sedges, their flowers are terribly tiny and occur in a circle at the very tip of the stem. Described as lily-like, the flowers have three petals and three sepals. Like the sedges, rushes prefer cool, damp habitats.

Recently a friend and I were out exploring the Ice Meadows of the Hudson River, just outside Warrensburg. This is a special habitat that runs for about 16 miles along the course of the river, where the heavy snows and ice of winter collect to depths often in excess of ten feet. Spring thaws send these small glaciers grinding along the river, scouring the cobble-strewn shore and rocky upthrusts of all but the most tenacious of plants. Anything tall and resembling a shrub stands very little chance of surviving the seasonal onslaught. The end result is one of New York’s few native grasslands. But don’t expect to find something that looks like the prairies of the Midwest. These grasslands would probably be better named “rocklands,” but the term Ice Meadows suits.

Our goal this particular morning was to find and photograph dwarf sand cherry (Prunus pumila var. depressa), a lovely sprawling plant that is on the state’s protected species list. We found it blooming in all its glory and immortalized it in pixels. The highlight of the walk for me, however, was a sedge.

Like most folks, I haven’t taken the time to try and learn many grasses, sedges or rushes. Oh, I have a of couple books, and on more than one occasion I have declared I’m going to learn them, but soon they seem overwhelming in their similarity and difficulty to ID. In truth, however, there are plenty of differences if we just take the time to learn them.

This particular plant caught my eye because of its lovely colors (see photo above). I had never seen such a grass (which I incorrectly thought it was) before. The black and green striped scales were stunningly beautiful. I was seized by its splendor like a teenager dazzled by a movie star.

My botany buddy told me that it was Buxbaum’s sedge (Carex buxbaumii), a threatened species in New York State. This was another target species for our trip here, although admittedly it was secondary to the dwarf sand cherries. Most of them weren’t blooming yet, but that was fine by me, for it was the bicolored pistallate scales that had me enthralled.

It turns out that Buxbaum’s sedge, also called brown bog sedge, is a circumpolar species that has a global status of G5 (secure), while in NY its abundance is listed as S2 (imperiled). It was named after Johann Christian Buxbaum, a German botanist who lived from 1693 until 1730. I’m not sure if he “discovered” this plant or not – sources have not been forthcoming on this point. As for the label “brown bog sedge”, well, it likes wet, boggy areas, and the stripes on its scales are actually brown, not black.

The delightful discovery of this unassuming plant has renewed my interest in learning my grasses, sedges and rushes. A daunting task, perhaps, but not impossible. With the added incentive of hanging out with other amateur botanists whose knowledge of plants is nothing short of impressive, I feel pretty confident that this summer I will master at least a few of these treasures that are hidden in plain sight.


Friday, May 28, 2010

This Week’s Adirondack Web Highlights


Friday, May 28, 2010

Lake George Considers Phosphorus Fertilizer Ban

Lake George’s Supervisor wants his town to become the first within the Lake George watershed to ban the use of lawn fertilizers containing phosphorus.

If the ordinance that Supervisor Frank McCoy has proposed is adopted in June, Lake George will not only be the first town within the watershed to limit phosphorus, but the first community within the Adirondack Park to take that step, said John Sheehan, a spokesman for the Adirondack Council.

“The Lake George Park Commission should follow the town’s lead and ban phosphorus in fertilizers everywhere on the lake,” said Sheehan. » Continue Reading.


Friday, May 28, 2010

This Week’s Top Adirondack News Stories


Thursday, May 27, 2010

2nd Annual Lake Placid Adaptive Cycling Festival

The 2nd Annual Lake Placid Adaptive Cycling Festival will take place in Lake Placid on Saturday, June 12th. The event, which will begin at 9:00 am at the base of the ORDA Ski Jumping Complex on Route 73, is sponsored by Adirondack Adaptive Adventures (TriAd) and Mountain Orthotic and Prosthetic Services.

The Adaptive Cycling Festival features activities for cyclists of all abilities, and anyone who rides bicycles, tricycles, handcycles, tandems, recumbents and anything else cycling-related is welcome to attend. “This is a celebration of adaptive recreation,” notes Jeff Erenstone, certified prosthestist and owner of Mountain Orthotic and Prosthetic Services in Lake Placid, “We believe everyone should be able to enjoy cycling.” » Continue Reading.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Current Conditions in the Adirondack Park (May 27)

This announcement is for general use – local conditions may vary and are subject to change. For complete Adirondack Park camping, hiking, and outdoor recreation conditions see the DEC’s webpage. A DEC map of the Adirondack Park can also be found online [pdf].

Fire Danger: HIGH

Memorial Day Weekend
Due to Monday’s holiday and the forecast for good weather, visitors should be aware that popular parking lots, camping sites, motels and hotels may fill to capacity. This is a weekend to seek recreation opportunities in less-used areas of the Adirondack Park.


Weather

Friday: Sunny, with a high near 74. Calm wind becoming northwest around 5 mph.
Friday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 44. Light north northwest wind.
Saturday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 73. Winds 5 to 8 mph; could gust to 23 mph.
Saturday Night: Partly cloudy, slight chance of showers after 2am. Low around 52.
Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 79.
Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 46.
Memorial Day: Chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, high near 79.
Monday Night: Chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, low around 54.

Biting Insects
“Bug Season” has begun in the Adirondacks so Black Flies, Mosquitos, Deer Flies and/or Midges will be present. To minimize the nuisance wear light colored clothing, pack a head net and use an insect repellent.

Firewood Ban
Due to the possibilty of spreading invasive species that could devastate northern New York forests (such as Emerald Ash Borer, Hemlock Wooly Adeljid and Asian Longhorn Beetle), DEC prohibits moving untreated firewood more than 50 miles from its source. Forest Rangers have begun ticketing violators of this firewood ban. More details and frequently asked questions at the DEC website.

General Backcountry Conditions
Wilderness conditions can change suddenly. Hikers and campers should check up-to-date forecasts before entering the backcountry as conditions at higher elevations will likely be more severe. All users should bring flashlight, first aid kit, map and compass, extra food, plenty of water and clothing. Be prepared to spend an unplanned night in the woods and always inform others of your itinerary.

Blowdowns: Due to recent storms and high winds blowdown may be found on trails, particularly infrequently used side trails. Blowdown may be heavy enough in some places to impede travel.

Bear-Resistant Canisters: The use of bear-resistant canisters is required for overnight users in the Eastern High Peaks Wilderness between April 1 and November 30. All food, toiletries and garbage must be stored in bear resistant canisters; DEC encourages the use of bear-resistant canisters throughout the Adirondacks.

Local Conditions

Lake George Wild Forest / Hudson River Recreation Area: Funding reductions have required that several gates and roads remain closed to motor vehicle traffic. These include Dacy Clearing Road, Lily Pond Road, Jabe Pond Road, Gay Pond Road, Buttermilk Road Extension and Scofield Flats Road.

Moose River Plains Wild Forest: Funding reductions have required that most gates on the Moose River Plains Road System will remain shut and the roads closed to motor vehicle traffic, however crews began clearing the main Moose River Plains Road this week and plan to open it Friday. Roads south of the “Big T” junction (Otter Brook and Indian Lake roads) will remain closed for now.

Raquette River Boat Launch: The Raquette River Boat Launch along State Route 3 is closed at this time as DEC is rehabilitating the boat launch. See the press release for more information. It is expected to reopen in mid-June.

Pok-O-Moonshine Mountain: A peregrine falcon nest has been confirmed on The Nose on the Main Face of Poke-o-moonshine Mountain. All rock climbing routes including and between Garter and Mogster, are closed. All other rock climbing routes are open beginning May 12.

St. Regis Canoe Area: The carry between Long Pond and Nellie Pond has a lot of blowdown. Also beavers have flooded a section of trail about half way between the ponds. A significant amount of bushwhacking will be needed to get through the carry, so be prepared for a real wilderness experience.

Chimney Mountain / Eagle Cave: DEC is investigating the presence of white-nose syndrome in bats in Eagle Cave near Chimney Mountain. Until further notice Eagle Cave is closed to all public access.

Giant Mountain: All rock climbing routes on Uppper Washbowl remain closed due to confirmed peregrine falcon nesting activity. All rock climbing routes on Lower Washbowl in Chapel Pond Pass are opened for climbing.

Opalescent River Bridges Washed Out: The Opalescent River Bridge on the East River Trail is out. The cable bridge over the Opalescent River on the Hanging Spear Falls trail has also been washed out. The crossing will be impassable during high water.

High Peaks/Big Slide Ladder: The ladder up the final pitch of Big Slide has been removed.

Calamity Dam Lean-to: Calamity Lean-to #1, the lean-to closest to the old Calamity Dam in the Flowed Lands, has been dismantled and removed.

Mt. Adams Fire Tower: The cab of the Mt. Adams Fire Tower was heavily damaged by windstorms. The fire tower is closed to public access until DEC can make repairs to the structure.

Upper Works – Preston Ponds Washouts: Two foot bridges on the trail between Upper Works and Preston Pond were washed out by an ice jam. One bridge was located 1/3 mile northwest of the new lean-to on Henderson Lake. The second bridge was located several tenths of a mile further northwest. The streams can be crossed by rock hopping. Crossings may be difficult during periods of high water.

Duck Hole: The bridge across the dam has been removed due to its deteriorating condition. A low water crossing (ford) has been marked below the dam near the lean-to site. This crossing will not be possible during periods of high water.

——————–
Forecast provided by the National Weather Service; warnings and announcements drawn from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation.

The new DEC Trails Supporter Patch is now available for $5 at all outlets where sporting licenses are sold, on-line and via telephone at 1-866-933-2257. Patch proceeds will help maintain and enhance non-motorized trails throughout New York State.


Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gates to Remain Closed at Hudson River Recreation Area

Saying the agency was “acting to protect natural resources and to curtail illegal and unsafe activities,” the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has announced it has relocated six campsites closer to main roads and will not reopen the gates at the Hudson River Special Management Area (HRSMA) of the Lake George Wild Forest. The gates, only recently installed to limit the area’s roads during spring mud season, will remain closed until further notice. “Unfortunately, due to funding reductions resulting from the state’s historic budget shortfall, DEC is, as previously announced, unable to maintain many of the roads in HRSMA and must keep the gates closed until the budget situation changes,” a DEC statement said.

Also known as the “Hudson River Rec Area” or the “Buttermilk Area,” the HRSMA is a 5,500-acre section of forest preserve located on the eastern shore of the Hudson River, straddling the boundary of the towns of Lake Luzerne and Warrensburg in Warren County. Designated “Wild Forest” under the Adirondack Park State Land Master Plan, HRSMA is a popular location for camping, swimming, picnicking, boating, tubing, horseback riding, hiking, hunting and fishing. The Hudson River Rec Area has been a popular spot for late-night parties, littering, and other abuses.

Six campsites (# 6-11) have been relocated due to vandalism and overuse. Campsites #6, 7, 8, and 10 and 11 are relocated in the vicinity of the old sites and just a short walk from the parking areas. Parking for each of these sites is provided off Buttermilk Road. Site 9 has been relocated to the Bear Slide Access Road providing an additional accessible campsite in the HRSMA for visitors with mobility disabilities. Site 11 is located off Gay Pond Road, which is currently closed to motor vehicle traffic.

Signs have been posted identifying parking locations for the sites and markers have been hung to direct campers to the new campsite locations. Camping is permitted at designated sites only – which are marked with “Camp Here” disks.

Gay Pond Road (3.8 mi.) and Buttermilk Road Extension (2.1 mi.) are temporarily closed to all public motor vehicle access. Pikes Beach Access Road (0.3 mi.) and Scofield Flats Access Road (0.1 mi.) may still be accessed by motor vehicle by people with disabilities holding CP3 permits. As in the past, the Bear Slides Access Road and Darlings Ford are closed to motor vehicle use by the general public but will remain open for non-motorized access by the general public and motorized access by people with disabilities holding a CP-3 permit.

Currently eight campsites designed and managed for accessibility remain available to people with mobility disabilities. All of the designated sites are available to visitors who park in the designated parking areas and arrive by foot or arrive by canoe.

DEC Forest Rangers will continue to educate users, enforce violations of the law, ensure the proper and safe use of the area, and remind visitors that:

* Camping and fires are permitted at designated sites only;

* Cutting of standing trees, dead or alive, is prohibited;

* Motor vehicles are only permitted on open roads and at designated parking areas;

* “Pack it in, pack it out” – take all garbage and possessions with you when you leave; and

* A permit is required from the DEC Forest Ranger if you are camping more than 3 nights or have 10 or more people in your group.

Additional information, and a map of the Hudson River Special Management Area, may be found on the DEC website.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Carpenter Ants: Marching One by One

It happens every year. The heat of summer arrives and the ants are on the move. I usually first see them in the evening when I take the dog for his walk, and then again the next morning. The apparent migration lasts for several days. Who are these ants, where are they going and what are they doing? I had to know.

First I needed to know what kind of ant I was encountering. I headed out last night with my camera and attempted to photograph some of these insects. It seems that whenever I need a close-up of a plant, the wind blows. Likewise, when I need a close-up of an insect, it insists on continuously moving… rapidly. Still, determination was on my side and I finally captured a couple images that were good enough for ID.

I suspected these were carpenter ants simply because of their size. My insect field guide has images of two carpenter ants: the western carpenter ant and the black carpenter ant, the latter of which is common here in the east. But, my ant is not totally black; it has a red thorax. I needed a better ID source.

Once more, www.bugguide.net came to the rescue. Within half an hour of posting my photos the answer came back: Camponotus noveboracensis, the New York carpenter ant. This is a nearctic species, which basically means it is found in the northern parts of North America. How lucky are we New Yorkers to have a carpenter ant named after us?

When it comes to carpenter ants, most of us have an understandable aversion, for they can be the bane of the homeowner’s existence. When I bought my house, the insurance company went over details of my policy with me over the phone. One comment that the agent made has always stuck with me: we don’t have termites up here, so we don’t have to worry about that. But she said nothing about carpenter ants.

Termites eat wood; carpenter ants do not. Still, carpenter ants are not called “carpenter” for whim alone. These large ants live in wood. A newly fertilized queen seeks out a damp, rotted stump or log to set up home. Damp, rotted wood is soft and easier to excavate. She finds a suitable site, enters, breaks off her wings, and commences the business of creating a colony: excavating a nest and laying eggs.

Because she has no workers to help her out with this first batch of young, the queen has to take care of them all by herself. She never leaves the nest to forage, so when her eggs hatch into hungry larvae, she feeds them from reserves in her own body. Because this food is rather Spartan, these larvae end up pupating into rather runty adults, which are known as “minors.” Once they are all grown up, these minors live to serve their queen: they forage for food, further excavate the nest, and raise the queen’s subsequent broods.

Adults born from later broods are more robust (and thus called “majors”), thanks to the foraging efforts of the workers (which are sterile females). When they are full adults, they join the workforce as additional workers. Slowly the colony builds up. By the time the colony is about four years old, there may be 400 individuals populating it.

It isn’t until the numbers swell to about 2000 (six to ten years) that the colony is ready to divide. At this point the queen lays eggs that hatch into winged females and winged males, both of which are called “reproductives”. These hormonally active adults are produced at the end of the summer and spend the winter at home with Mom and all their sisters. When the first really warm weather of the following spring arrives, they head out in search of mates (ah-ha!). After mating, the males die and the newly inseminated females, now queens in their own rights, seek out stumps or logs to call home.

So, it turns out that the (mostly) winged ants that I’ve been seeing on the roads are the reproductives. Knowing that once the colonies are large enough to expand and form satellite colonies, which are often in our homes, I don’t feel too guilty when I step on any individual that gets too close to my foot.

But when do they become problems in our houses? As mentioned above, the queens seek out soft damp wood because it is easier to excavate. If your house has damp conditions, you may be a target for carpenter ants. But even if your house is high and dry, well-ventilated, free of foundation plantings and woodpiles, you could still have carpenter ants, for satellite colonies are not as fussy as the queen in the parent colony. No, these industrious individuals are just as happy to take up residence in solid wood – the timbers of your home. Here they excavate extensive galleries that enable them easy access to other parts of your house, to food, to friends and family.

If you see piles of sawdust collecting about your house, you should be suspicious. You should also look for trails in your yard, for these ants are a lot like people, building highways for repeated use and maintaining them for ease of travel by keeping them free of debris and vegetation.

They also like sweets. While insects and other arthropods make up a large part of the carpenter ants’ diet, they also collect the sweet exudate, or honeydew, produced by aphids. And they seek out rotting fruits.

Eliminating carpenter ants from your house can be a real chore, for you have to eliminate the parent colony in order to have any real success. And if you have carpenter ants, you really should look into getting them under control, for they can seriously damage the structural integrity of your home.

Still, in their rightful place out in nature, carpenter ants serve a useful purpose by helping turn old, rotting trees into sawdust that eventually becomes part of the soil of the forest floor, creating a continuously self-renewing and balanced ecosystem. And it’s hardly the ants’ fault if we provide them with such lovely abodes in which they can take up residence. We just need to build better and learn how to make our homes less appealing to our small carpenter friends.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Lows Lake to The Upper Oswegatchie River

It’s been exactly two years since I paddled the Lows Lake-Oswegatchie River traverse with my friend Dan Higgins. So by now the bug bites have healed.

That is, of course, the danger of doing the Adirondack’s greatest canoe trip in the middle of black fly season. But with a bit of perseverance, some luck as to the weather (lower temperatures and wind keep the flies down), bug dope and a head net, and the trip this time of year can be not only tolerable but even grand. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Commentary: Climate Change in the Champlain Basin

Over the past several hundred thousand years, global atmospheric levels of carbon dioxide have remained relatively stable, averaging 280 parts per million (ppm) and varying between 180 and 300 ppm through several ice ages. But over the past 60 years, the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmospheric has risen steadicly, at an accelerating rate from decade to decade, to the current level of 392 ppm.

Why should we care? There is a strong causal link (shown by ice core and other scientific studies) between atmospheric concentrations of “greenhouse gases” such as carbon dioxide and global surface temperatures. Moreover, scientists who study the earth’s history have discovered periods in the Earth’s history, tens and hundreds of millions of years ago, when high concentrations of greenhouse gases apparently led to global warming and mass extinctions of the earth’s biota as much of the planet became uninhabitable. In the current period of rapidly rising atmospheric CO2, we are already seeing dramatic evidence of ecosystem change. Among many recent examples of climate-caused ecosystem change, two widely publicized ones include coral reefs bleaching and dying as the oceans warm and become more acidic, and dramatic losses of summer ice cover on the Arctic Ocean as the poles warm.

Why should we care? Well, if you live in the Arctic, or if you live on a low-lying island in the ocean, or if you live in an area suffering from climate-caused drought, or if you live an an area where the forests are dead all around you (e.g., southern British Columbia and many areas in the Rocky Mountains), or if you fish for salmon in Alaskan rivers, you care. But for those of us living in temperate regions it is often hard to perceive, and thus to care about, the relatively slow incremental changes that are occurring due to rising levels of atmospheric CO2 and a changing climate. Scientists have only recently started to focus on impacts of climate change on a regional or local level in the temperate parts of the world.

A new study by Dr. Curt Stager and Mary Thill sheds light on climate impacts that have already occurred in the Lake Champlain Basin and what impacts are to be expected in the near future. Funded by The Nature Conservancy, the research was an effort to find out how climate change might affect the aquatic habitat in one relatively small region. Their research showed that average temperatures have risen 2°F in just the past 30 years and that winter ice cover is significantly less extensive than in the past. For example, in the 19th century the lake failed to freeze over only three times, while between 1970 and 2007 it failed to freeze over 18 times.

No one can precisely predict future climates, but a host of climate models do a demonstrably and increasingly good job of doing so. An on-line tool is available, Climate Wizard, which allows anyone to easily access leading climate change information from 16 leading climate models and visualize the impacts anywhere on the planet. Report authors Stager and Thill applied Climate Wizard to the Champlain basin to develop a deeper understanding of how climate change might impact the basin and what resource managers could do. The good news is that many of their recommendations are things that we are already doing or should be doing: reduce pollution inputs, monitor environmental conditions and vulnerable species, be flexible and adaptive and prepared for varying lake levels, and prevent alien species invasions. As the authors state, dealing proactively with potential climate change impacts in the basin will be less costly and more effective than trying to respond after the fact.

The same thought process applies at the global level where I began this commentary. Climate change is real. It is going to get much warmer within the next 50-100 years. There is strong scientific consensus (e.g., Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports) that the primary cause of the dramatically rising atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases are human emissions. But this is good news, in a sense, as it means that unlike past episodes of climate change linked to volcanic eruptions and meteor impacts, we can control our future – if we take steps soon to reduce greenhouse gases before large areas of the planet become uninhabitable.

The steps we should be taking – reducing our dependence on foreign oil, eliminating the burning of coal until its combustion is clean and non-polluting, using renewable energy sources, eating locally grown food, driving hybrid and electric cars, and reducing our heating and electric bills – are things that we should do regardless, even if all the climate scientists are all wrong (inconceivable to me). These steps amount to taking out relatively cheap insurance to ensure that our grandchildren inherit a healthy planet – just in case the scientists are correct.

Curt Stager and Mary Thill’s full report is available here.

Graph: Lake Champlain ice dates, courtesy Curt Stager.



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