Green Lakes State Park, NY—Part 1

En route from Waterhouse CG in VT on July 9, we took a really lovely drive through the Adirondack Mountains, with a stop at an odd little town called Speculator to get lunch and fuel. It is evidently a spot for sports (mainly winter sports?) and tourists, but we found a bakery/café serving to folks outdoors, and we had delicious sandwiches on home-made ciabatta rolls outdoors under an umbrella. While the breeze was blowing, it was quite nice. But, being near the traffic and the heat of the pavement, when the breeze eased it was hot. The café’s restrooms were not open, but down the road a bit were public restrooms maintained by the local fire/rescue dept., and we noticed a street market or craft fair in the adjacent community park—in which, while it looked interesting, we elected not to immerse ourselves.

Our site at Green Lakes SP in New York was along the edge of an open field off a very narrow (one-vehicle-wide) road. An enormous group of folks who somehow knew each other was taking up the entire bathhouse end of the loop with tents, 10 x 10s, party areas, piles of firewood, corn hole and darts games, etc. They were having a decidedly big time. And cooking some really aromatic, delicious-smelling food.

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All the sites in this area were unserviced, and while there was a bathhouse dishwashing station, with the mobs of folks in tents everywhere, we did our dishes at the camper because there was always a line for the dishwashing sink. Any of the sites could be either RV or tent, and some overlarge rigs crammed themselves into the mix.

Visitors with tents were on either side of us throughout our stay, although the families changed through the duration of our stay. Our site was (mostly) under 4 old, gnarly cedar trees, and they were the only separation between us—some sites had no separation at all. 

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Behind our Alto, however, was a dense wood with hiking trails, and one of the access points to the trails from the loop was off our site. The path, however, was narrow and threaded (badly) through tall poison oak. So we only ventured that way once.

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Each of the succession of users on one side of us had very young children. The last family to our other side also had tiny tots. So between the kids racing around, riding their bikes, crying and fighting with one another; and the block party going on between us and the bathhouse (when we had to go down there it was like running a gauntlet); and considering the oppressive heat of our stay, it was a very good thing we could run the generator to handle the AC and have some noise exclusion. Generators had to be off by 10, but once we’d charged the battery and the sun had gone down, our trusty ceiling fan managed the overnight noise handling like a champ.

About the two Green Lakes for which the state park is named

In 1973 Round Lake and 100 acres of surrounding old-growth forest were designated a National Natural Landmark, becoming our nation’s 182nd such area. This designation is “reserved for resources the are sensitive and unique, and which represent the natural heritage of our country,” 

The NNL Program, administered by the National Park Service (NPS) recognizes unique landscape features in both public and private ownership. Prior to designation, scientists inventory, evaluate, and review an area multiple times. Property owners are notified at each stage of the process—involvement in the NNL Program is voluntary, and designation does not include land-use restrictions.

The NPS assists involved landowners with conservation efforts and periodically monitors NNL areas to identify damage or threats to their integrity. The program’s goal is to foster the public’s appreciation of and concern for the conservation of the nation’s natural treasures.

Both Green and Round Lakes—the latter of which covers 34 acres and is 185 ft deep—are of national, ecological, and geological significance due to their glacial origin, *meromictic (non-mixing) character, and (especially Round Lake’s) the adjacent old-growth forest. This forest, which has abundant bird life and some of the oldest trees in the county, lies primarily southwest of Round Lake.

Round Lake’s partner is the equally rare Green Lake. *Meromictic lakes do not have the normal lake characteristic when the levels of water (surface and bottom) mix during different seasons. Such lakes have a high potential for evidence of ancient plant and animal life. There are only a few such lakes in the US.

Due to this sensitive nature, neither Green nor Round lakes allow outside/private boats, kayaks, or canoes to be used on the waters. There are, however, rowboat and kayak rentals available on Memorial Day from the Boat House.

Green Lakes became a state park in 1928 when NY purchased 500 acres surrounding and including the two glacial lakes. Through purchase of additional lands, the park is now 1,756 acres, and includes an 18-hole golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones. It also includes over 20 miles of hiking trails (although none are designated for bicycles, despite being used as bike trails by some visitors).

More important to us, anyway, is the park’s proximity to a long rail-trail that is part of the Empire State Trail System, called The Canalway Trail. 36 miles of this trail makes up the Old Erie Canal State Historic Park, and one access point, about 5 miles from the western terminus in a suburb of Syracuse called DeWitt, is across the road from the registration/office for the park.

Not knowing much about the trail at all, except that it followed the old canal towpath (and had very little if any grade either way, contrary to most rail-to-trail conversions) we hoped to ride the entire length of the trail during our stay. We pretty much discounted heading to the western terminus, as we really didn’t want to ride to or through that large city.

So on Friday, July 10—the hottest day we had yet to experience on this trip (squeezing the mercury into the 89-91 degree range)—we set out to “ride to Italy” by heading east on the Old Erie Canalway Trail (for more about the history of the canal and interesting tidbits about its construction and importance to commerce and travel in the region, there’s a “history” section at the end of the second part of this 2-part post—to skip ahead for that part, click HERE and scroll to the “history” section). It was, indeed, fairly flat and we headed toward Rome, NY with every good intention. 

And we saw many neat things along the way (none of which I got any photos, of course):

  • A tortoise with a two-foot-diameter shell (and many smaller ones)
  • An American kestrel family protecting their nest (“kak-kak-kak”)
  • Several great blue herons
  • A beaver
  • 4+ kingfishers
  • 4 pileated woodpeckers
  • And (while we saw but one fisher-person) 3-4 enormous fish swimming in the lazy canal water

We also saw Canada geese too numerous to count. They evidently, were late-sleepers as they were just crossing from their breakfasting grounds back to the canal when we passed their gauntlet (a stretch of the path at least a mile or so long) around 10am. As there were youngsters included, the adults all hissed at us passing through their gaggles, but none tried to take bites out of our ankles.

There were also many reader boards along the way, enlightening us about the length, age, and history of the trail. Too bad those bits of info were not available before we headed out.

When we reached mile 25 and had still not made it to Rome, we reconsidered our goal. Committed at that point to a 50-mile day, we reversed course and ate our packed lunch in Verona, at a public park near this mural that was so long I had to take it in two shots:

The geese were mostly gone on our return pedal, except in one place, where a pair of (among many) motorized-vehicle-excluding gates demanded that we weave our bikes through a tight zig-zag. But the geese appeared to have different ideas about our vehicles, watching our approach ominously, gaggled at the Z. Jack commented, “Guardians at the Gate.” You just gotta laugh, even if you’re so hot and tired you can hardly turn the cranks.

We were able to get some electrolytes by buying huge bottles of Gatorade and to refill our water bottles, at a small convenience store somewhere along the way (several of the canal towns’ names began with “C” and we tended to confuse them all). Which probably saved us from suffering heat exhaustion or dehydration. By mile 40 we were both seriously sagging and I was offering Jack options for him to stop and let me come back with the car to fetch him. Yet we were both still sweating, our skin was not abnormally cool, and we did not really think we were in any heat-related danger. We were just, plain, tired.

And we made it, with the final hope that the park office would sell us some bottles of water to sustain us up the final, sunny, uphill 3/4ths mile to our site. While they did not sell water, they said, “The state has allowed us to open up our water fountain and it’s refrigerated. Help yourself.”

I did so, and we sat on a bench at the bottom of our final hill until we felt slightly human again, and chugged up the hill to site 134. What a day:

Bike Stats: 50 miles; 4:15 total ride time; 2:16 stopped time; 11.77 average speed.

This post has been broken into parts to make the upload easier. To continue learning about our Green Lakes SP adventures, please click HERE for Part 2.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018 •

Colder night (30 degrees) than expected, but all of us slept well. I was out on the boat launch dock by about 6:45A and the others came around 7:15 or so. There were lots of swans in more-or-less the same configurations as the day before, and as the sun came up, their noise levels increased. We noticed many, many more different kinds of birds today compared to yesterday AM. Gulls, many differing types of ducks, herons, and, far far away near the eastern shore, two bald eagles fighting—one stayed put and, noting by his body language and movements, was eating a catch I couldn’t see even through binoculars. The other came and went, harassing the lucky eater to no avail. I heard their cries at one another several times when the interloper would come calling and get rebuffed.

It was well past 8 with the sun shining brightly (and warming things on the dock) when the swans began moving off the water. After a while, we all decided to get warm at the campers, have breakfast or coffee/tea. It was colder in the parking lot closer to the still-deep snow than it had been out on the dock.

After breakfast, we readied ourselves to head to Mattamuskeet Lake Wildlife Refuge, and over Alligator sound to another refuge. Jack drove the gang today, and we left around 11.

The bridge over the Alligator sound/river is closed for repairs starting today through about January 19. The detour is not quite 100 miles—awfully glad I don’t live around here (or need to deliver packages to those who live around here) because that’s an enormous distance to add to a commute or delivery.

In our meanderings we took some side roads, and discovered a lovely small inlet called Frying Pan. Mike and Barbara got all excited about this find because it looks quite good for kayaking, and even has a parking area and a boat launch to access the bigger water. Oddly enough, the parking area is off Frying Pan Road.

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In our search for the road, we passed a juvenile bald eagle at the edge of a cultivated (but currently fallow) field. We missed our turn and by the time we passed the eagle again, an adult had landed next to it. We didn’t see any kill or other items of interest, but the two were just standing there, apparently in some sort of face-off. So that sighting amounted to 4 eagles for the day.

We got to Mattamuskeet and hopped out of the truck along the roads to see the small ponds/wetlands around the visitor center, and saw many and varied species of water birds, including tundra swans. We did not spot any snow geese but saw Canadas, and among the ducks and other waterbirds, we noted pintails, goldeneyes, teals, scaups, coots, and more. Not many mallards, no egrets, but many great blue herons.

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En route, we saw a mammal, long and slick, with a long-ish tail. We thought, before it disappeared into the water along the road, that it might be a river otter. We also postulated nutria, as we know they are here as invasives and pests. Jack suggested it was bigger than that, but smaller than a beaver.

As we drove closer toward the visitor center, we saw two nutria, which are significantly large, but not as big as what we’d seen earlier. One of the critters was right beside the road, nibbling on the stalks and roots of the water grasses that grew close to the edges of the water.

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Inside the VC, we confirmed that what we’d seen earlier was a river otter.

Outside the window of the VC, we also saw a woodcock, merrily foraging in the lawn! One of the rangers invited us to her office to see more clearly, and I took a couple of pix there, then went around to the front porch and had the opportunity to take an even better photo.

A group of elderly folks on an airport-style bus were there, too, and they crowded the poor woodcock (all the time calling it a wood duck) and finally chased it away. Stupid, ugly Americans.

There were a few picnic tables under the trees, but one was getting a bit of sun, so we had our lunch there. The average temp at the warmest part of the day was upper 50s, so we still needed a jacket, but it was a very nice picnic.

We spent a lot of time on the back side of the marshy area (called, oddly, Wildlife Drive) taking pictures of some great blues (one of which had caught a small snake, but carried it away into the wetland before we could capture a photo of it) and collections of diverse groups of species. The cacophony was higher-pitched, less volume, and more varied than we’ve heard with the masses of swans and geese we’ve encountered so far. Lots of small duck vocalizations.

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Nearly at the end of Wildlife Drive, we saw another adult bald eagle, sitting on a low snag. None of us had enough lens-power to photo it, but we all were able to see it through binocs. Without going back into the main drive to the VC, where there is hardly any passing space, let alone turn-around space, we would not be able to get closer to it.

Needing fuel, we mapped our way to a small burgh called Englehard, which (happily) was en route to our next destination: the enormous “void” on all our maps called the Alligator Wildlife Refuge, encircled by a “scenic drive.”

Refueled (they are very very proud of their fuel down here and price it accordingly) we found the scenic drive and it was long, flat, straight, and boring. Once we passed a couple of open fields that did not hold any snow geese or tundra swans, we were enclosed by pine forest, much of which had been burnt (intentional or accident?) and signs saying the area was a bombing range for a nearby military base.

Still hopeful to see something new or special on our drive, we did spot a gang of maybe 4 egrets sitting in a snag—big blobs of white in a drowned tree in the middle of a wetland. Passed by too fast to grab a photo, but it reminded me of the “hairy” egrets we saw while we were cycling around Assateague Wildlife Refuge last April.

Mike spotted another juvenile baldie sitting in one of the burnt snags near the road, sunning himself. So that made 6 bald eagles for the day. Later, Barbara spotted a mature redtailed hawk with a lovely white breast, just a little rust color up near its shoulders and throat, solemnly watching us stare at it.

Also along the way we saw many kestrels along roads with open fields beside them; and even a couple of merlins doing their hard-pumping thing over the fallow fields. I really lost count of the non-eagle raptors, because I was trying to see kestrels soon enough to point them out to Barbara, but we were in the back seat of the Honda (which is surprisingly roomy and comfortable) and I never saw them soon enough. We also saw a few red shouldered hawks, possibly 2 other redtails, and at least one Cooper’s hawk. Many, many great blue herons were spotted along the roads and near by in fields and along ditches.

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This great blue was captured at the Mattamuskeet Visitor’s Center, but it’s emblematic of all the many that we saw along ditches and in fields next to the road.

Disappointed at not being able to find all the “scenic” or the “wildlife” around the refuge’s scenic drive, we headed homeward about 4:30, and with only spotty cell service, tried to find a place to eat that was different from where we’d eaten last time, in Columbia.

We thought Englehard had a marina seafood place, but were unable to find it by the time we reached there (about 5:30) so headed on to Columbia to the place we’d eaten before, in the Columbia Crossings Center (at the intersection of 64 and another major road, 94). While the food is as good as we remembered, it is a bit grody and the people are not very friendly. They were offering a fried chicken and “country steak” buffet, and a couple of specials, but we ordered off the menu, getting a variety of seafood. Tasty, but a strange atmosphere. Barbara overheard a conversation when some young folks came in as we were headed out, obviously looking for a place to have a beer (there’s a “tavern” next door and affiliated with this “family” place). The waitress evidently asked her manager, “Can I tell them we’re closing at in a half hour?” When the hostess demurred, she said, “What if they stay here drinking and chatting until after closing?”

That was the extent of the overheard conversation, but we were not impressed with the staff’s capacity (or willingness) to serve their customers.

Finally got home about 8P, after a 250-mile day. Jack and I cracked out the whisky for a wee dram before bed, and we read until about 9:30. Set the thermostat again for 50 and hit the hay. Forecast has changed from rain all day tomorrow to rain only in the afternoon/evening. We called Lacey (housesitter) to let her know we’re planning to hit North Bend for Thursday night en route home, and not arrive back until Friday. All’s well with the world (and with the tundra swans).

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Long Ride to Deal Island, MD (Ap. 17)

I have fallen behind in my blog posts of our Eastern Shore trip. We have had some anomalies with our connectivity here at Janes Island SP. It’s been strange enough that Jack and I have come up with some interesting “conspiracy theories” about the military base nearby reaching out to block our signal or to choke our access; or maybe it’s all those political posts I’ve been putting up on Facebook.

Whatever it is, we found that we might get good cell signal for a minute or two, and then for no apparent reason, it falls into the pits, and one cannot even download email. At first this did not happen, but the longer we were at the camp, the less we were able to use our cell service. And the variations seemed to have absolutely nothing to do with how many people were in the campground with us (who might have been clogging the channel with their own data downloads). We kept asking ourselves, “Did they (THEY) find us again?”

Maybe it was construction-related. There was a broken water main while we were there, so maybe they cut a fiber or cable link in addition. Who knows? Anyway, I’m back and since I’ve been actually writing the blogs without uploading them, here they are, late but full of what I know you are looking forward to in terms of each and every tiny detail <grin>.

April 17, 2017

Even though the forecast was for showers all day, we set out to do a longer training-style ride (as opposed to a neighborhood dawdle), after being fortified with cinnamon rolls baked in the Omnia oven.

Once we’d loaded the bikes on the hitch-rack, we set off for a ride marked on a bicycling route map that we now know to be completely inadequate and inaccurate. The Big Idea was to ride from Princess Anne out to a peninsula that included a small spot called Mount Vernon and its harbor where the water meets the land. Those 8 miles (according to the map) would be repeated back to PAnne, grab some lunch, and we’d head land-ward (the opposite direction from PA) for another 8 or 10-mile spur out and back, pick up our car and drive back to camp. We thought that perhaps we’d log 30 miles or thereabouts.

Arriving in Princess Anne, we found few “municipal” parking areas near the start point for our route. And PA is just “meh” in terms of meal options, so we revised as we drove.

I had been perusing a more robust map (including smaller street indications WITH NAMES!) and, discovering that the ride to/from PA is a long, straight, flat, rather boring, heavily-trafficked artery to the Mount Vernon harbor, I thought we might do better to stay closer to the water, despite the ever-present wind and offshore storm clouds.

So we parked at Mt. Vernon harbor (which, to be honest, was at least 2-3 miles longer than the map’s reported 8 miles), and set out on an exploration of the district.

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Mt. Vernon derelict.

We rode into a wildlife management area off Mt. Vernon’s “point” with a few homes along a dead end road. The ditches and waterways were full of life, including a raccoon wading along fishing, I suppose, and some turtle action in an area that was too muddy to see much of what the pair were doing. Upon reaching the end, we reversed back around to the main church, which serenaded us with a long, long bell chime for the mid-day hour. As we rode away from Mt. Vernon, we were still hearing the song at 3 and 4 minutes past noon.

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Our route did go up the long, boring road toward PA for a while, but turned off on Black Rd, which would hook up with another long, straight, flat road headed out to a peninsula called Deal Island, and beyond that, a harbor town called Wenona. In the map included, I marked our route out and back in black pen.

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Xs mark the beginning, turn-around, and end of the route, marked in black pen. The return took an extra road called Fitzgerald to cut some of our time on #363.

Boring down through the headwind along that road (363 or Deal Island Rd) was a slog. There were lots and lots of birds, though, including nesting Osprey, egrets, and blue herons. Most of the area toward the end was wildlife management preserve. We crossed a high bridge onto Deal Island proper, and I began looking for the “cottage” we spent a lot of time at in Deal when I was young. It was a family time of crabbing off the dock and swimming (while avoiding jellyfish),  swinging in the group hammock, and getting browned cedar thorns and sand burrs in our feet.

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Didn’t see a thing that was familiar, but then again, that was about 50 years ago now.

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We left Deal proper and crossed another waterway into Wenona where we rode down to the harbor, hoping against hope that there was any place we could get food, because we were both quite hungry (and had even shared one of the granola bars I had brought for emergencies).

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By 2PM and with 26 miles under our butts, we found a splendid eatery called Arby’s Dockside Bar and Grill. It was a local place, so open, and had all the local personality one might want to find. AND good eats.

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We were greeted by a vivacious (very loud) young lady of about 8 years. Later we heard that she is the youngest of 3 generations of women running the joint. She promptly got us some menus and a couple of bottles of water from the convenience store attached, and we settled in, overhearing conversations around us, among the locals and the staff/owners (not sure the waitress/cook/mother to our greeter’s status).

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Young Greeter is foreground right, her mother is cooking in the background behind a counter.

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Mike is the local barfly, having a Bud Lite and moving outside (upwind and not very far away) to smoke the occasional cigarette. There was another woman of undetermined connection jawboning with him, and once Greeter’s mom took our orders and began cooking, the volume amongst the group increased by a considerable number of decibels.

Greeter had a younger (much!) brother toddling about whom she bossed more than she bossed us, and rather than speak to one another when a phone rang or a dog wandered in or a question was raised, they simply shouted across the buildings for answers or demands.

We learned that everyone was quite weary of Greeter’s “underfoot” presence due to the fact that her Spring Break was one day from ending. She was interested in everything about our bicycles and gear, while the adults were interested in our trip (where and when we started the ride, where we were staying while visiting, etc.). Their questions and interpretations of our answers might have been one clue about why they always shout at one another: we had to raise our voices to let them know the correct answers to our questions.

“You’re staying in Rumbley?”

“No, Janes Island.”

“You started your ride to here from Rumbley?”

“No, Mount Vernon Harbor.”

“Where’d they say they are staying?” one asked of another.

“We live right next door to Janes Island,” a third shouted over someone else.

It was all very amusing and good fun, even though it sounds frustrating. Maybe we have good feelings about the chaos because we were so very hungry and the food was better than good. It was excellent. And we made it disappear in short order.

Jack got a fried oyster basket (with hand-cut fries) and I got a burger with fries (also hand-cut). She piled on extra oysters for Big Jack and, although they didn’t serve water or have any ice for our water bottles, we added into our tally four bottles of water from the cooler, plus a couple of Snickers bars for the return trip (jet fuel) and generously tipped our new friends.

The return was very much like the outbound, except the wind had changed direction as the storm that we were riding into, but which never rained on us before lunch, moved across the horizon so we were riding toward it again. Still, it wasn’t nearly so strong as that off-the-bay wind we endured outbound.

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Storm brewing.

We did pause along the way to rest our parts and stretch our backs; shared a Snickers bar; and stopped at a pretty little church with graves including the last name of a good friend, so we took photos.

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Having skipped the repeat tour of Mt. Vernon on the return, we carved off a couple of miles and ended up back at the car with a couple of tenths of a mile short of 50. Neither of us wanted to stay in the saddle long enough to round it out, and the storm looked like it was blowing up for sure (but it never hit us), so we loaded the bikes and drove back.

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Crisfield area map, with Crisfield circled center bottom. Toward the top you’ll see Princess Anne and the penned-in route of our ride.

A quick stop at a random grocery store for Gatorade and a salty snack, and after we fixed ourselves a quick dinner of pasta-and-pesto, we were again treated to an extraordinary sunset, which has become a looked-for routine from our tree house. I have to say, our site #23 is truly a perfect spot from which to view sunsets in April.

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As the sunset faded, we began hearing calls over on Janes Island. At first we thought it might be some of the water birds, but it was too dark for them to be anything but silent and still. We didn’t think there were many mammals at all, and likely few-to-no predators over there, but nothing but night predators would be making those noises. Sometimes they sounded like cat calls, and sometimes they sounded like foxes. I thought the latter, as unlikely as it might sound, could be the case, because I remembered seeing a low-slung critter with a long bushy tail scampering across the road in front of the state park earlier, and had guessed it was a fox.

Eerie noises from the wild-wild marshland across the way; an area that looks pristine and friendly to ground-nesting waterbirds — “sitting ducks” so to speak, for nocturnal predators. By about 9PM all was quiet again across the Creek (that we learned the locals call “Dougherty Ditch”).