This month, visitors to the vernal pool outdoor classroom at the Armstrong Preserve and Education Center, were excited to witness newly planted native shrubs and young trees, many protected by several fenced exclosures, along with beginning design, layout and construction of a viewing walkway through this vibrant habitat. Oversight by PR Wetlands Commission and Building Dept. called for hand digging of concrete peer base areas and limited disturbance. Walkway has been funded by a grant from the New York State Conservation Partnership Program as part of a series of enhancements to Armstrong Preserve’s outdoor, educational classrooms. A self-guided exploration loop trail includes educational signage with QR codes to additional information on PRLC’s website. Completion is scheduled for later this year.
Vernal pools, also called ephemeral pools, (‘vernal’ means relating to spring) are temporary, shallow ponds of water that provide habitat for a variety of plants and animals. They are considered to be a distinctive type of wetland usually devoid of fish, which permits the safe hatching and development of amphibian and insect species. Most pools are dry for at least part of the year, and fill with winter rains or snow melt. The vernal pool at Armstrong remains at least partially filled with water over the wetter months but dries up generally at the start of summer. During the wetter months and especially early spring, the Armstrong vernal pool is filled with life– species of frogs and toads, salamanders which use vernal pools for reproduction. Other inhabitants include Daphnia and fairy shrimp, the latter often used as an indicator species to decisively identify a vernal pool. Another indicator species in our NE region includes the wood frog.
Early morning on Saturday, August 1st, a group of volunteers, PRLC staff and board members installed one hundred and forty feet of 3 board-wide bog bridge over a large area of wetlands and low-lying woodlands, adjacent to the 5-acre Clark meadow. Teams of two carried slabbed locust and cedar cross- ties locally culled from downed red cedar in PRLC preserves. Hikers will now enjoy dry access to this large area of wetlands. Of course, there is more to install next year… as we extend the boardwalk further into the wetlands for best habitat protection as well as into the adjacent wet meadow whose spring and summer flora need protection from our tromping feet.
Butterflies, nesting turtles, and grassland birds like the Northern harrier are dependent upon large clearings. Other birds such as swallows, blue birds and kestrels are drawn to a meadow’s expansive openness, which they use as feeding and nesting grounds. Thickets and shrubs at the meadow’s edge are home to birds such as the common yellow throat, eastern towhee and grey catbird. Meadows are usually bathed in full sunlight, which favors the growth of wildflowers, ferns, grasses, sedges, and rushes, which attract butterflies, moths, dragonflies, bees, flies and a whole host of other insects. Many other species benefit from the productivity of insects and pollen in meadows and include them in their wider territory.
Two new benches have been installed for viewing wildlife and flora at the Armstrong Meadow at the 43-acre Armstrong Preserve. Volunteers guided an 18 ft long locust trunk which had previously been milled into two halves toward the meadow from the spot where it had fallen across the Armstrong trail. Half was used by an eagle scout project this summer for a foot bridge on the preserve while the other half became PRLC’s meadow ‘yin & yang’ benches. Why this name, you’ll need to see them for yourself!
During the week of July 13th, several days were spent by PRLC’s student volunteers and college interns reopening the white trail at Carolins Grove after severe storm damage made it impassable with several large, toppled hemlocks crisscrossing the trail and spanning an entire hillside. Using this trail permits hikers a beautiful, short and easy loop through the Grove and back to parking and the kiosk. In addition, staff, interns and volunteers have widened all the trails throughout the preserve and adjoining trail system to permit safe passage through patches of grown-in briars. Along the trail, hikers will notice several new deer exclosures reinstalled after last winter’s work funded by the Winfield Foundation, family of the original Carolin. Extensive clearing of toppled and interlocking hemlocks were cleared and timbered creating new planting areas for a more diverse, and therefore, healthy woodland. Volunteers and interns have planted additional saplings in the restoration areas: 100 white pines, eastern red cedar, and arrowwood viburnum, with more to come. While hiking, take a peek into the fenced areas to see other young seedlings taking hold, like tulip and black cherry along with native species of raspberry. They should all grow well in the available sunlight and will add diversity to this mostly pine forest.
The afternoon of July 15th, five volunteers joined PRLC’s Land Steward, Krista Munger, in undertaking a mass pulling of the invasive mile-a-minute weed at the vernal pool at the Armstrong Preserve. Volunteers ranged from a rising junior at Fox Lane High School, Luke Lyons, to Gail Jankus, Pound Ridge Conservation Board Chair. Also lending a hand was Carrie Sears from the Pound Ridge Invasive Project and a volunteer from Mile-a Minute Hudson Valley. While there are no strict requirements for volunteering on PRLC projects, volunteers who participated showed a marked affinity for nature, excitedly chattering about environmental topics and eager to demonstrate their knowledge of regional plant and animal species.
Weeding efforts focused on the Armstrong’s vernal pool, one of three ‘outdoor classrooms’ used for workshops and hands-on learning. Armstrong’s vernal pool is a highly functioning wetland ecosystem teeming with biodiversity. Volunteers set out with gloves and garbage bags as they made their way along the trail. The invasive is a thorny vine that not only hurts when picked without caution, but more importantly, has proven to be a competitively dominant invasive species that suffocates and crowds out other plant life. If pulled and then thrown on the ground, the vine is still able to regenerate. It is clear that mile-a-minute weed threatens the delicate vernal pool ecosystem as it tries to take root and displace native plants that are part of the pool’s complex web of species and interactions which keep the fragile ecosystem in balance.
Making their way through the tall, thick grasses, by early afternoon, the weed had been eradicated and the vernal pool no longer sported sprawling clusters of the invasive. PRLC relies on the dedicated help of volunteers to implement preserve management plans and their stated requirements, such as the removal of invasive or harmful species. Volunteer work sessions are a great way to not only be outside and actively protect important, local, natural habitats, but also to participate in educational opportunities for understanding the importance of land stewardship, preservation, and what human intervention is needed to manage sustainable habitats.
With Pound Ridge PRIDE Day in full swing downtown, several families came to the other end of town to join PRLC board members and our college summer intern, for a tour of the PRLC’s Armstrong’s working backyard landscape on a beautiful, Sunday afternoon, June 6th. The spring garden gave up over 150 strawberries that day and over the next few, all plucked by young fingers with large smiles after the sweet flesh and juice was tasted. It was learned that only after bees pollinate the dainty white flowers does the fruit appear. Bites of early parsley, lettuces, bok-choy leaves– all had different responses from those willing to sample. The red and purple butterfly garden was not yet in bloom although the foxglove’s tall flowery stalk made up for it. A dozen green, white and beige colored eggs were gathered from the hen-laying box and new understandings about composting and the importance of soil health were highlighted. Tim G.- our green energy guru -shared the component updates to our upgraded, off-the-grid energy systems that will continue to be the showcase for future energy tours for local architects, builders and homeowners. We will share the results of our monitoring systems as they produce data over the next months, comparing traditional family-household energy consumption to PRLC’s closed-loop experiment in ‘living lighter on the land’.
On May 2nd, eight art workshop participants were treated to a fabulous plein air charcoal session taught by well-known, local artist Kendall Klingbeil who has a studio and teaching space in Scotts Corners. This 2nd annual workshop set up in the Armstrong Preserve’s meadow to capture the structures and shapes of several multi-trunked trees, stone walls, an old twisted apple tree, and nearby vistas. The quietness of the meadow was the perfect place for one-on-one instruction for those needing a bit more assistance. For those immersed in their work, the meadow and woodland edge provided both inspiration and challenge. Materials were handed out before everyone took the short hike to seek their spot in the early spring meadow. Before heading out, Kendall facilitated an indoor exercise having everyone draw the shadows resulting from an egg to demonstrate how to use the charcoal stick most effectively. The “New York Times” describes Kendall as an “energy painter whose works make people feel good”. At the end of this plein air session, everyone had learned what was positive about their afternoon art effort!
For a second year, students from Pleasantville High School Honor Society lent a hand. Earlier this spring, with snow still on the ground, students joined Krista to earn community volunteer credit by helping with our spring clean-up of Armstrong’s working backyard landscape. They were treated to fresh eggs from Armstrong’s chickens and a taste of our first year maple syrup from our sugar bush stand. They assisted Krista with cleaning out the hoop house which already had early spring greens, turning the compost and freshening up the chicken coop and run. After mixing soil for seed starting, they dropped seeds into filled dried manure pots and moved germinated plant trays under Armstrong’s solar powered indoor lighting. They dug into freshly uncovered soil in the rear of the mandala garden to plant early peas. Participants at our upcoming May 30th workshop in the garden, Planting for Productivity, will move the young vegetable and edible flower plants established indoors- outdoors for the new growing season. (See online calendar for more info).
A dozen hardy souls joined PRLC’s Guided Hike in Search of Winter Wildlife at the Halle Ravine on the morning of February 28, and were duly rewarded for their efforts to bundle up early and explore this beautiful nature preserve. Hikers including our Land Steward & Educator, Krista Munger, had packed a narrow foot path through deep snow up and down most of the length of the marked trail system, and animal sign was abundant.
Halle Ravine is famous for its deep stream course and the stand of Eastern hemlock surrounding it, but the Preserve is also home to a mixed hardwood stands of Sugar maple, poplar, ash, and beech, and there is an Alder swamp in the southern end. One might expect to see woodpecker sign on the trees, and feathers, as we did, from foraging winter songbirds. The most commonly seen tracks are those of deer, gray squirrel, mouse, raccoon, and red fox, but we could also find long- or short-tailed weasel, coyote, fisher, or even bobcat passing through.
As usual, it was the sharp-eyed children who made the keenest observations. One family actually found a bit of fur from the tail of a Red fox. Fox commonly use human trails, especially when the snow is deep, and this fox’s trail crisscrossed and joined ours several times. Another noted a curious site where a squirrel track ended with a disturbance to the snow cover, and no tracks leading away. He deduced that a bird of prey had taken the squirrel. Scat was observed later in a large depression in the snow protected by a hemlock. This was discovered to be a deer bed!
On Saturday, January 10th, over a dozen Pound Ridge and neighboring town gardeners met to hear Olga Ivanova, originally from Russia, share her talents and knowledge of growing herbs specifically selected for creative, medicinal, aromatic, therapeutic and just plan delicious, home-brewed teas. Herbs make voluptuous complements to flower or vegetable gardens and have pollinating and pest deterrent benefits when companion planted with both native and non-native ornamentals or edible crops. This indoor event during the recent cold snap, was the first in a three part winter-spring gardening series offered at the Armstrong Education Center with everyone enjoying the heat of the wood burning stove while creating their own tea mixture out of over 50 samples brought by Olga from around the world– all with varying aromas, textures and tastes. Each tea selection was related to many of the plant families we are accustom to here in the Northeast but with a twist and, as the participants learned, are suitable for backyard or growing-in-pot conditions. Olga recommends brewing home-grown herbs for tea at varying temperatures and for different times for best results. In addition, she suggests certain mixes of leaves, flower petals, bark and berries. For example, to make an English rose tea, combine red rose petals, lemon balm dried leaves, and dried rosemary, all mixed well, in a single teaspoon for each cup of brewed tea. For more of Olga’s recipes and herbal combinations for teas, healthcare and relaxation, PRLC will be inviting her back for future, hands-on workshops. Stay-tuned!
Upgrades, Systems Integration and New Green Energy Components Highlighted at the Armstrong House’s Fall Energy Tour
Veterans of past Energy and House Tours as well as new visitors had the opportunity to informally tour the green energy systems of the off-the-grid Armstrong House and Education Center with local experts. The tour highlighted optimization of integrated energy systems for reducing residential resource consumption. Discussion centered around the Armstrong’s upgraded 7kw solar PV system sitting cliff-side, its low-temperature radiant heating system, indoor heat recovery unit, and plans for integrating its onsite, solar thermal array into the domestic hot water and radiant space heating systems. Recent work has included upgrades with safety, maintenance and future technology integration in mind. With the 40- plus year-old well pump finally biting the dust this past spring, visitors learned about the benefits of Armstrong’s newly configured water system with its latest, variable speed well-pump technology, monitoring computer and other components lending greater efficiency to what is often one of the larger, residential energy draws. The indoor tour featured a recap for first-time visitors on the completed 5-year renovation using reclaimed, green or recycled construction materials, sustainable interior finishes, low-energy use appliances, a superefficient wood burning stove, air-exchange and ventilation systems, cell foam insulation to create that important tight building envelope and 21st century monitoring capacities to understand how residents’ behavior can increase or decrease energy consumption and water use. Visitors look forward to PRLC’s Spring 2015 Energy Tour to be held in late April.