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In Praise of Protectors’ 40-year Mission

In a filled room at LiGreci’s Staatten, Protectors of Pine Oak Woods celebrated their 40th anniversary on September 20th reaping the good wishes and congratulations from elected officials and community leaders and listening to the stories, memories, and hard earned accomplishments from the trailblazers and friends of the organization.

Ellen Pratt, a long-time member and conservationist, was quite fittingly the honoree at the 40th anniversary event giving Protectors an opportunity to recognize her decades long contributions to preserving the open space jewels that so distinctively make up our community.

The event, covered by NY1 News, was opened with a welcome by President Clifford Hagen who thanked all those who have made Protectors 40 years strong! The continuing program included remarks from Ellen Pratt after receiving her honor and special guest remarks from community leaders and governmental agency representatives who have worked with the organization over the years including Jane Cleaver, Thomas Paulo, Jack Bolembach, Barbara Sanchez, and James Scarcella, Joe Fernicola, an amateur herpetologist from Brooklyn who came to Clay Pit Ponds in 1972 to search for the rare Northern Fence Lizard, was also in attendance. Joe’s efforts in understanding the uniqueness of Clay Pit Ponds led to the formation of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods.

A special moment was when Deputy Borough President Ed Burke, adorned with an animal tie representing his love of nature, welcomed the guests and presented Ellen Pratt with a proclamation from the Borough President’s office. The Deputy Borough President spoke warmly of the group and recounted his experiences with Ellen over the years. September 22, 2015 was proclaimed Protectors of Pine Oak Woods Day by Borough President James Oddo.

—Elaine Croteau

awards 

Deputy Borough President Ed Burke presents Ellen Pratt with a proclamation from the Borough President’s office on the occasion of Protectors of Pine Oak Wood’s 40th anniversary celebration. Long-time board member and environmental advocate Ellen Pratt was singled out for special recognition.
Credit: MLM Public Relations

St. Francis Woodlands “The Jewel of the Greenbelt” Shines Bright after Preservation

JEWEL OF THE GREENBELT. That’s what we call St. Francis Woodlands, a 25- acre parcel of pristine woods nestled amid rolling hills and wet hollows. Ancient trees abound, many at least 200 years old, and they soar majestically upwards to create an impressive canopy above.

A small group of dedicated nature lovers met to explore the peaceful environs on a warm summer Sunday morning. We spent time on the two main trails, the Red and the Blue, which traverse the woodlands. Each has its unique landscape.

The red trail takes you down into the hollow to the newly designed parking lot on Helena Road. It’s only a short walk to the overlook at the Richmond Country Country Club golf course. While it is lamentable that the viewing deck is no longer there, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has thoughtfully placed a bench where you can sit and soak up the panoramic view down across the rolling greens of the golf course to the water at the horizon’s edge.

The red trail also takes you to the priory pond. While we were there, as if on cue, a large blue bird swooped in to hunt and feed. We deliberated whether it was a great blue or little blue heron, and the knowledgeable birders among us were able to identify it from key field marks as a little blue heron.

The walk was also intended to highlight how Protectors managed, with skillful negotiation and persuasion, to change the fate of this woodland near the top of Todt Hill. Through our efforts, we convinced Governor George Pataki to purchase the parcel from the Conventional Franciscan Friars for $10 million dollars with monies from the New York State Environmental Protection Fund. In 1998, the woodland acres were added to the already sizeable portions of the Greenbelt and put under the administration of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, together with other DEC properties.

Trail maps and helpful interpretive notes are available at the DEC kiosk on Todt Hill Road. More information can be found at www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/45344.html.
—Hillel Lofaso

To Whom Do You Trust To Speak For Parks on Staten Island: President’s Message

THOUGH PROTECTORS OF PINE OAK Woods remains fully committed to the preservation of open space on Staten Island,  we are often compelled to negotiate a greater stewardship of those properties we fought long to preserve.

Protectors continues to call for the de-mapping and transfer of Department of Transportation properties in the Greenbelt. We continue to monitor both the Goodhue Woods purchase and the conservation easement over Pouch Camp. Both deals are incomplete. Recognizing the imminent purchase of the St. Francis Friary, our organization is waiting to congratulate the new owners and educate them about the ecological value of the woodland property.

Meanwhile, Protectors continues our less-celebrated, underappreciated task of safeguarding the quality of preserved properties from irresponsible, ill-informed proposals that undermine the initial intent for those properties.

This year began with our successful effort to add an environmentally responsible voice to the West Shore Business Improvement District (WS-BID). Originally, the district management association responsible for the maintenance and security for the WS-BID (nearly 50% of the district is Parks property) was designed to exclude Parks representation. Despite Parks’ insistence, the creator of the WS-BID, the Staten Island Economic Development Corporation (SIEDC), was adamant that Parks not be involved.

Buffeted by Protectors energies—our comments at Community Board 2, our letter writing to City Council and our communication with the NYC Department of City Planning—SIEDC had to capitulate, and the WS-BID district management association is now to maintain regular communications related to the WS-BID properties with the Borough Commissioner of Staten Island Parks.

Soon after the resolution of the WS-BID impasse, Protectors was invited by the Staten Island office of the Department of City Planning to take part in a working group tasked with clarifying discrepancies in the zoning rules and regulations that govern the Special Natural Areas District, the Special South Richmond District, Lower Density Growth Management Area and the Hillside Preservation District. Our seat at the table was filled at each meeting of the working group and our concerns were shared. The productive discussions were driven in part by a commitment to the environmental integrity of our Borough of Parks.

Protectors works regularly with many of our elected representatives and government administrators to improve the quality as well as the quantity of parkland and open space on Staten Island. Nevertheless, we understand the need for constant vigilance.

Currently, Protectors is working to neutralize the impact of misinformed proposals that would introduce active recreation into the environmentally sensitive areas of Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve. The proposals—kayaking and fishing in small, shallow ponds, mountain biking and dog walking along horse trails—are unrealistic and inappropriate for a State Preserve guaranteed protection by Article 20 of State Park law.

Protectors of Pine Oak Woods has been celebrating the establishment of Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve for 40 years and we appreciate State Park’s financial dilemma. Maintenance and operation budgets are too often tied to park attendance numbers and our representatives in State government unfortunately leverage this mechanism of finance to impose their personal preference on the properties entrusted to State Parks.

Protectors has been working with State Parks, the horse riding community and local environmentalists to increase attendance at Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve without impacting the environmentally sensitive nature of the area. Capturing true statistics reflective of actual park usage will alleviate the financial constraints imposed by our representatives in State government.

You, as a member of Protectors of Pine Oak Woods, play a large role in our success as a volunteer, environmental preservation organization. Our strong, vocal membership allows Protectors’ voice to be shared, sought out and heard on issues relating to the stewardship of those properties which make Staten Island great. Protectors of Pine Oak Woods remains the champion of our Borough of Parks.
—Cliff Hagen

A Summer Walk After Rain Reveals Woodland Secrets

FOR OUR CUSTOMARY WALK after our monthly restoration workshop,  we
decided to make a loop from Lake Orbach to Pumphouse Pond and back. The
clouds were back again,  but no rain. There had been rain this week and last,  so the
woods were damp and fertile, apparently just the right amount of moisture in the soil
to cause mushrooms to pop up. On the way we met lots of them: a variety of gilled
mushrooms, the most conspicuous of which were amanitas (the group that’s home to the
most poisonous of our mushrooms) and russulas, and a number of boletes, the mushrooms
that have pores beneath their caps instead of gills. We plucked one of these with yellow pores and watched how the yellow surface bruised green-blue when scratched or squeezed. Mycologists use these various color changes as one of the clues to identify the species.
We also saw a good number of ghostly white Indian pipes (Monotropa uniflora),
both newly emerged plants whose waxywhite blossoms hung toward the ground
to keep out the rain (otherwise the pollen might be washed away) and older pollinated
plants whose flowers were turning brown and upright. Those not in on the secret think these are some kind of mushroom, but they are real flowering, seed-bearing plants that lack chlorophyll. Because they don’t have chlorophyll to produce their own nutrients from sunlight
and CO2, they must find them in their environment and so they steal those nutrients
from the threads of fungi in the soil.
Indian pipe wasn’t the only parasitic plant we saw. At Lake Orbach some of
the emergent vegetation was draped with a net of a thin, golden-brown vine called
dodder. Unlike Indian pipe, dodder has a limited ability—very limited—to photosynthesize.
When the dodder seed sprouts, it is green and has tiny, anchoring roots. As it grows, the tiny vine twists about seeking an acceptable host plant and when it finds one it spirals up, piercing
the plant with tiny hairs called haustoria that penetrate the conductive tissue
of the host. This is a necessary accomplishment; if the dodder doesn’t latch on
to a host soon after sprouting it will expire. Dodder uses its haustoria to absorb water and nutrients from its host.

While at Lake Orbach, Pumphouse Pond and Hourglass Pond we looked for water lilies, but all the impressive white water lilies (Nymphea odorata) were just beginning to open after the previous rain and just a little too far away for a good view without binoculars. At Pumphouse
Pond a few of the globular yellow blossoms of the yellow pond lily (Nuphar lutea) stood out of the water on long stems. Unlike the white water lily, these yellow globes never unfold their petals but open only at the very top to admit pollinators. Are they perhaps trying to keep certain ravenous insects out?

We returned along the shore of Lake Orbach, ducking under dense tunnels of
sweet pepperbush and highbush blueberry, getting showered with water every time we
bumped a low spreading branch. By then it was getting warm, and I at least found the
sprinkles refreshing. Back at High Rock, our restoration was over. It was good.
—Don Recklies
Ed. note: Don’s complete Restoration Workshop
reports, with stunning photos, can be found at
facebook.com/ProtectorsOfPineOakWoods.

 

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