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.
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
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.
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.
Ed. note: Don’s complete Restoration Workshop
reports, with stunning photos, can be found at