Have a hankering for a hike to look for birds in the Niagara Gorge? How about crouching by a creek in Wilson to look at fish or lingering in a lighthouse on Lake Ontario? An intriguing array of summer programs awaits patrons of the local New York State parks, accompanied by nature interpreters to point out interesting things along the way.
These free programs are sponsored by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and are conducted through the Regional Park Interpretive Programs Office, Niagara Frontier Region.
Take a hike from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday along the Devil’s Hole Trail and learn about the Devil’s Hole uprising, post-glacial Lake Tonawanda, the Great Gorge Route and some unique plants and animals. Meet at Devil’s Hole State Park.
“This is a nice hike, a pretty intermediate level,” said state parks interpreter Carol Rogers. “It’s nice because they’ve done so much work on those trails.”
Rogers said there have been recent sightings of white egrets as well as the more common great blue herons and black-crowned night herons in the gorge.
“It’s a joy to watch them catch fish there,” she said. “And if the sun comes out, there should be some snake activity. They won’t hurt you. There are milk snakes and northern brown snakes, but they need the sun to be active.”
Another hike is planned from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. July 20 at Whirlpool State Park. Hikers will explore the Whirlpool Rapids Trail, which features breathtaking scenery along the Niagara Gorge. Topics will include the whirlpool formation, natural history and daredevils, as well as the plants and animals unique to the gorge.
“Pack a lunch, because we stop and eat along the whirlpools,” said Rogers.
Meet from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. July 21 at Fort Niagara State Park to learn about New Fort Niagara and the World War II Prisoners of War Camp. The tour will include entry into the former Officers’ Club to view paintings as participants learn specifically where on the grounds the former POW camp was located. Parking fees apply.
The Great Gorge Railway Trail is the topic from 9 to 11 a.m. July 27 at Niagara Falls State Park. The hike begins at the Niagara Gorge Trailhead and follows the former rail bed of the Great Gorge Route to the beginning of the Whirlpool Rapids. The group will return on the Niagara Gorge Rim Trail. Bring a camera, because many scenic vistas await. Due to construction, plan to park in the southern end of the Aquarium of Niagara Falls lot.
A Creek and Beach Discovery Walk is planned from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. July 28 at Wilson Tuscarora State Park. Participants will enjoy a stroll along Twelve Mile Creek and explore Lake Ontario’s beach, keeping an eye out for birds, mammals and various types of beach stones.
“This is going to be a nice Sunday afternoon in the park,” said Rogers. “We’ll be exploring the creek, and your inner child would love that.”
The Underground Railroad will be the topic from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Aug. 4 for a collaborative program at the McClew Interpretive Center at Murphy Orchards in Burt. Costumed naturalists will lead a trek that will include a story of escaped slaves making their way to freedom in the North. Participants also will learn about the history of the McClew Farm and its involvement in the Underground Railroad.
An evening “Stroll Along the Rim” is planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 10 at Whirlpool State Park. The leisurely walk will take participants along the Niagara Gorge to Devil’s Hole State Park. The return trip will follow the Robert Moses Recreation Trail to Whirlpool State Park.
“This is a nice time of day for this, especially with the summer’s heat,” said Rogers. “This is a leisurely walk. It’s very easy because we stay on the rim so there’s no stairs. We’ve had a good turnout when we’ve done this in the past.”
Beavers will be the topic from 1:30 to 4 p.m. Aug 11 at Golden Hill State Park. Join the state park interpreters for a program on beavers followed by a hike to view a beaver lodge. After the walk, the Friends of the Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse will host a tour of the lighthouse and finish the day with light refreshments. Parking fees apply.
“The beavers are active in the early morning and evening, so we might not see beavers, but we’ll see their house – we’re able to get right up next to it,” Rogers said.
A Goat Island Adventure Walk is planned from 1 to 3 p.m. Aug. 18 at Niagara Falls State Park. Join a park naturalist to explore the oldest state park in the country, learn interesting facts and hear stories about Niagara Falls. Parking fees apply.
A Scenic Bike Ride Along the Gorge and Fridays on Old Falls Street are planned from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 23. Bring your own bicycle or rent one from Ride Niagara Bike rentals (www.FallsStreet.com). Join a park naturalist on an interpretive ride along the gorge up to Devil’s Hole and explore Old Falls Street upon your return, if you’d like. Fridays on Old Falls will feature a free outdoor concert with Lakeside Blues Band that evening, food and drinks from 7 to 10 p.m., followed by fireworks at the park at 10. Bicycle helmets are required, and this event is not for children under eight.
“We start the bike ride right outside Niagara Falls State Park and ride to Devil’s Hole and stop along the way and then ride back,” Rogers said. “If you choose to, you can go back to Old Falls Street after the ride and hang out because there’s so much to do there.”
A Niagara River Photo Hike is set from 9 a.m. to noon Aug. 25, from Devil’s Hole to Whirlpool State Park. This easy rim hike features breathtaking scenery, while parks interpreters discuss the natural history of the Niagara Gorge.
Devil’s Hole State Park will be the site of the End of Summer Bike Ride from 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 21. Bicyclists will take a leisurely ride from Devil’s Hole State Park to the Grand Island Bridge and back along the Niagara River. Bicycle helmets are required, and this event is not for children under 8.
“We did this in May and had about 15 people, and they really enjoyed it,” said Rogers. “We stopped and ate lunch at the city park in LaSalle and then rode back. It’s a total of 16 miles, but there are few inclines, so it’s not bad, and we make stops, so it’s very leisurely, and there are restrooms along the way.”
In addition, parks interpreter Tina Spencer is offering a Smartstart Paddling Orientation beginner’s class for kayaks, along with some nature interpretation, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. July 18 and 25 and Aug. 1, 8 and 15 at Beaver Island State Park. She is offering the same program from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. July 7 and Sept. 1 at Wilson Tuscarora State Park, but there is a parking fee in Wilson. Spencer is a certified kayak instructor. Participants must have their own kayaks and a Coast Guard-approved personal flotation device.
Call for tours
In addition, the Beaver Island Nature Center and Fort Niagara Nature Center are both open from noon to 5 p.m., Thursdays through Sundays. The Thirty Mile Point Lighthouse is also open for tours by calling 795-3885. Free Family Saturdays are also under way at the Earl W. Brydges Artpark State Park in Lewiston, with events held from noon to 4 p.m. each Saturday through July 27. For more information on this, contact the Artpark box office at 754-4375.
For more information or to register for any of the other events, call 282-5154.