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News from MRG

Cliff Trail Now Open

Mianus River Gorge celebrated the opening of the new Cliff Trail with donors, trustees, and the Jolly Rovers Trail Crew on Saturday, June 1, which was also National Trails Day. Many months in the making, the trail is nearing completion and can be safely navigated while the finishing touches are being applied.

The trail was built to go deeper into the Gorge and designed to appear as though it’s always been there, fitting seamlessly into the landscape. The trail has been constructed entirely by hand by three professional trail-building organizations who are taking great care not to disturb the fragile slopes in the process.

Mianus River Gorge raised funds from local hiking groups and received a grant from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation / Land Trust Alliance to help build the new trail. Known as the Cliff Trail (Red Trail), the new trail takes hikers far below the Rim Trail (Blue Trail) and High Tor, the iconic rock promontory overlooking the Mianus River far below.

Mianus River Gorge has always been a special place to hike. Now it’s even better! New trail maps will be available at the Map Shelter and on our web site (under the Visit the Preserve tab).

Poaching :(

The popularity of certain edible plants and plants with value as nursery products has contributed to increased poaching activity and decreased biodiversity in the Mianus River Gorge. Plants in the Gorge often grow in isolated patches, several of which have been devastated by poachers. Current levels of poaching could lead to complete loss of some plant species.

Recently, we have had a tremendous problem with poachers in the Gorge. Poachers have pulled up plants and wildflowers by the roots, rendering them unable to regenerate, which means they are lost forever! Poaching plants has a direct impact on biological communities, impacts our ability to conduct important research, and, of course, impacts your enjoyment of the Gorge.

Visitors witnessing illegal poaching are not asked to confront the offenders but to report the activity to us at (914) 234-3455. The mission of Mianus River Gorge is to protect the natural and historic resources of the Preserve so that they will be available for the enjoyment of future generations.

Trails are open!

misty trailTrails are open! Welcome to the Mianus River Gorge Preserve, an oasis of rich woodland and old-growth forest one hour’s drive from New York City. The preserve is open to the public from April 1 through November 30 from 8:30am to 5pm for hiking only. The hiking paths are narrow and winding, well kept, yet rugged.

Stop by the map shelter to learn about the delicate ecology and natural history of the Preserve and pick up a trail map. You’ll learn about our ongoing research and educational initiatives there, too!

Please click here to view details about your visit.

Spotted Lanternfly: a new, unwelcome invader!

Spotted Lanternfly: a new, unwelcome invader!

By Jennifer J. Lerner
Senior Resource Educator, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Putnam County

Here in the Hudson Valley, we have weathered waves of invasion . . . Insect invasion that is. Think of the multicolored Asian lady beetle buzzing around your house, soon replaced by the brown marmorated stinkbug dive-bombing your reading light at night. The emerald ash borer followed, and we see our native ash trees, their bark chipped away by woodpeckers foraging for larvae, standing as reminders that our actions have far-reaching impacts. Enter the newest invader. . .

The Spotted Lanternfly (Lycorma delicatula) is a colorful insect in the planthopper family that congregates in large numbers to feed on the sap of trees. As it feeds, it excretes “honeydew” a nice name for what is essentially a sticky excrement. That honeydew sometimes alerts people to the presence of the pest.

While the honeydew is a nuisance, the strain placed on the trees’ resources by the insects feeding often kills the tree. The Spotted Lanternfly’s preferred host, the Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), is also an unwanted invader despite its heavenly moniker. Great, you say? Maybe the Lanternfly will polish off the Tree of Heaven? Well these gregarious insects have a few more tricks up their spotted sleeves.

Why are we worried?

Like the brown marmorated stinkbug, Spotted Lanternflies are a pest of some important agricultural crops. They feed on and harm many fruit producing plants, including apples, peaches, plums, blueberries and grapes, as well as approximately 70 other plants. Besides the far-reaching economic impacts, there are ecological considerations too. Many of these trees and shrubs have relatives in our native ecosystem. For example, our native Shadblow or Serviceberry (Amelanchier sp.) is a close relative of the apple. It provides important forage for migratory birds who return to their nesting sites expecting to find its nutritious early fruits. Imagine the hole their loss would make in our ecosystem. We simply do not know yet how many host plants this insect can survive on or how wide their impact will be.

How can You Help?

Keep on the lookout and report your observations. Learn to recognize the insects themselves as well as the signs of the Spotted Lanterfly. While the insect may be easy to spot because of its bright spots, the egg clusters are harder to spy. They are tan to light grey, laid in row and sometimes covered with a mud-like protective layer. If you see the insects or spot the egg clusters, please report the sighting to Digital photos or dead insects are helpful too. While sticky honeydew is another signs of these sap-feeding insects, many other insects also excrete honeydew in quantities sufficient to make cars, fences and deck surfaces feel tacky.

Don’t help them spread!

Though Spotted Lanternflies may hitch a ride on a boat, trailer, or vehicle, their egg clusters pose the most insidious risk because the female will lay them on just about anything! (Watch a video of a female laying eggs here, Courtesy of NYS IPM: ). Hitchhiking egg masses can be found on pallets of stone, firewood shipments, Christmas trees, and outdoor furniture. Remember . . . never take firewood from your home to a favorite campground or weekend retreat. Similarly don’t pick up wood from far away and bring it home: you may be bringing a hidden invader with you. Observe the “Don’t Move Firewood” rule (read more here: Inspect boats and trailers for hitchhiking egg masses. If purchasing used outdoor furniture, or items frequently stored outside like garden tools and wheelbarrows, check all surfaces for egg masses. Yes, the adult insects can fly, but they spread much more quickly when humans help them along.

How did they get here? And How far have they spread?

Spotted lanternfly is native to China, India, and Vietnam. This insect was introduced into South Korea and spread throughout the country (approximately the size of Pennsylvania) in 3 years. On this side of the world, an initial infestation was found in Berks County, Pennsylvania, in 2014. This first infestation is thought to have arrived on a shipment of stone in 2012. Currently the insect is found in 13 counties in South Eastern Pennsylvania and these and many other PA and NJ locations are under NYS quarantine. Historically we know from Korea’s experience that this insect spreads fast. In 2017, one dead was insect found in Delaware County, NY. In New York, 2018 saw SLF adults or egg masses in Albany, Chemung, Monroe, Suffolk and Yates Counties, as well as Brooklyn and Manhattan– all thought to be hitchhikers. So far, there are no known New York infestations. Let’s work hard to keep it that way!

You can find photos of adults, nymphs and eggs here:

Photo: Lawrence Barringer,
Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture

Application period for 2019 RAP grant now open

The application periods for our 2019 Research Assistantship Program (RAP) for graduate students has begun.

Each year, MRG awards a RAP grant to fund a graduate-level study that investigates environmental challenges in urban and suburban ecosystems. RAP students are awarded a grant of $5,000/yr for two (Master’s) or three (Doctoral) years.

More info and the application forms for RAP are hereRAP apps are due June 1. Email or call Chris Nagy at 914 234 3455 if you have questions.

What We’re Working on this Winter …

What We’re Working on this Winter …

You’d think that after acquiring 52 acres to add to the land the Mianus River Gorge protects that Executive Director Rod Christie and the Board of Trustees would rest over the winter. But, as always, Rod is thinking about the next land conservation and protection opportunity in the Mianus River Watershed. With the full support of the Board, which generously spearheaded efforts to raise the necessary funding for last year’s acquisitions, Rod continues to work with land owners, donors, and community partners throughout the region to facilitate the purchase or gift of land and/or conservation easements.

Rod also shares his knowledge and expertise with the Hudson to Housatonic Regional Conservation Partnership (H2H RCP) as a member of the Steering Committee and co-chair of the Land Working Group. H2H RCP is consortium of organizations throughout New York and New England working together on regional land protection and stewardship for the benefit of people and nature. Rod’s work with the Land Working Group involves mapping the region to determine priority properties to protect and creating corridors between natural communities.

MRG’s research and education programs for high school, undergraduate, and graduate students keep collecting accolades and recognition as a premier opportunity for ecology-based applied research. The success of the education programs has been assessed in real-world accomplishments: awards and degrees received, published research papers, subsequent post-graduate endeavors of our former students, and on-the-ground contributions to better management of preserves like the Mianus River Gorge Preserve.

MRG Director of Research and Education, Chris Nagy, has been working with students to advance ecology-based research that informs management decisions both in the Preserve and throughout the region. In one project, he has been working with a Research Assistantship Program (RAP) graduate student who completed his field work testing amphibians and their habitat for microbiotic diversity. The RAP student in turn helped mentor a Wildlife Technician Program (WTP) high school student. Chris is helping the WTP student prepare a presentation for the annual Northeast Natural History Conference in April. The combined work of these students may have implications for treating the pathogenic chytrid fungus that harms frogs and other amphibians.

Chris is also working on several upcoming talks of his own. He is an active participant in the Environmental Monitoring and Management Alliance (EMMA), a regionally coordinated ecological monitoring network. Their focus is on sustainable management practices and natural resource conservation. Chris contributes his expertise in a number of ways, including evaluating the effectiveness of MRG’s and other preserves’ deer management programs.

Luckily, it has been a good winter for trail building. Director of Land Management, Budd Veverka, is overseeing the wintertime work of the trail-building companies that are out there in the elements, working to complete the new High Tor trail. As related by the Board members who got a sneak preview, it’s going to be spectacular! The trail was designed to fit seamlessly with the natural landscape and built with acute awareness of the fragility of the steep slopes and rare native herbaceous plants. We anticipate that the trail will be completed ahead of schedule and are planning a big celebration upon its opening. You’ll be invited, of course!

Budd and Preserve Steward Veronica Leeds are also outside in the winter weather as much as possible. They’re checking property boundaries, cutting woody stemmed invasive shrubs and vines, and repairing deer exclosures (fencing to keep deer out) within the Preserve.

The Board of Trustees was instrumental in raising funds to enable MRG to embark on a multi-year effort to save the hemlocks. Heading into the third year of the initiative, even on cold winter days, staff are monitoring the health and recovery of the ancient hemlocks in the old-growth forest following their treatment to mitigate the destructive, non-native hemlock woolly adelgid.

Much of our land management work revolves around response and control of invasive species. We’re anxious to get back outside to do battle with Oriental bittersweet, Japanese barberry, Mile-a-minute vine, and Japanese stiltgrass, to name a few. Budd is presently lining up volunteer work days and scheduling the Invasive Task Crew (from Lower Hudson Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management, or LH PRISM) to help with this monumental task. He is chair of the invasive species prevention zone working group of LH PRISM, a cooperative partnership of organizations and individuals throughout the Lower Hudson. The partnership meets regularly to both learn and share best practices to manage the introduction and spread of invasive species.

We recently shared the 2019 Calendar of Events, which you’ll find here on the web site as well. Two of the scheduled walks feature the recently acquired properties known as High Tor and the Taylor Preserve. Participants will learn the natural history of these parcels and their importance to the health and resilience of the Mianus River Watershed. Other events include the ever-popular Owl Walk and Tree ID, which also includes Shrub ID this year.

Finally, as part of MRG’s Wildlife & Habitat Consultations, we’ve installed cameras on some properties so owners might catch a glimpse of coyotes, foxes, bobcats, and other wildlife passing through their yards. MRG scientists are available to visit your property, too, to answer your questions or concerns and offer advice on a variety of topics including: plant and animal identification; wildlife management; natural history; invasive species; woodland, field and pond management solutions; and more. We’re scheduling appointments now for the spring, so please click here for more information or call (914) 234-3455.

Enjoy the rest of your winter, and we’ll look forward to seeing you in the spring!

Your donation to Mianus River Gorge helps us fulfill our mission to preserve, protect and promote appreciation of the natural heritage of the Mianus River watershed through land acquisition and conservation, scientific research and public education throughout the region. To donate, please click here or send your check to 167 Mianus River Rd., Bedford, NY 10506. Thank you!

Check it out!

Congratulations to Chris Nagy and the Gotham Coyote Project team for their newly published paper. Visit the Publications tab under About Us and click on Scientific Journals.

A monthly column called Sidewalk Naturalist by Lenora Todaro in Catapult Magazine takes an in-depth look at coyotes in the Bronx and includes lots of insights from Chris Nagy. You can find this article on the MRG Media tab under About Us–scroll all the way down to the section about The Gotham Coyote Project.

Applications for 2019 Summer Interns are up!

The application periods for our 2019 College Internship in Suburban Ecology (CISE) for undergrads has begun.

The CISE program offers summer or semester internships to college students and recent graduates who are interested in learning about the unique challenges facing urban/suburban natural resource managers. Through a variety of research and land management projects, interns are trained in the skills needed to pursue a successful career in the environmental sciences. College interns work individually and collaboratively with RAP students, and also serve as additional mentors to WTP students.

More info and the application forms for CISE are here .  CISE applications are due April 1, 2019.  Email or call Chris Nagy at 914 234 3455 if you have questions.

Should We Accept the New Norm?

The Outdoor Observer by Rod Christie

Should We Accept the New Norm?

Driving around at this time of year one gets a chance to look into the forest and view firsthand the changing of the northeast landscape. Forest trees are getting older (the better to store carbon), fields are growing into forests as farms are no longer in production and the woods are dominated by many species that were not here 30 years ago. Soils historically rich in mycorrhizal fungus have been changed by years of cultivation and animal grazing. These changes have made them susceptible to an invasion by a vast array of new species of plants and animals, an unfortunate side effect of our robust trade with other countries. Japanese barberry has overtaken the understory in many places along with autumn olive, bush honeysuckle, euonymus, common privet, and others. Roadways, once bordered by rich forests, are now draped with exotic vines like Japanese bittersweet, porcelain berry, mile-a-minute weed, and more. So as our landscapes change and adjust to this “New Norm”, should we give up and just let it happen? Are these new species that bad? They provide some habitat for native wildlife and surely some native species eat the seeds of non-native plants? What is all the fuss about?
In an effort to unravel the good and bad of invasives, let’s first look at what they provide. Species like Euonymus (burning bush), bush honeysuckle, common privet, non-native viburnums, and numerous other shrubs and trees provide structural nesting and resting habitat for native birds. And native birds do eat their seeds; that we know because birds transport the seeds everywhere. Of course it can be debated among biologists as to whether non-native seeds are as nutritious as natives. They may just fill birds up, but not fuel them as much as needed. But what I think is the most significant problem with non-native plants is what they are not providing – food for our native insects.

I recently saw a presentation by Doug Tallamy, University of Delaware, which pointed out that on any one native oak tree one may find thousands of caterpillars. And even more important, those thousands may be hundreds of different species. Why is this so important? Because many birds and other predators feed their young almost exclusively on high protein and fat containing caterpillars. Each spring they target specific native trees and shrubs to supply the thousands of caterpillars they need to raise a nest of young. And with a diversity of insect species on each tree, they are not out of luck if a certain insect population is low that year–they can mix and match to find the numbers they need.

On the other hand, a non-native species of tree like Ailanthus (tree of heaven) provides very little food for native insects. It just hasn’t been around long enough for native insects to figure out how to get past its toxic defenses to eat it. Therefore, Ailanthus thrives without any predators to help keep it under control. Ailanthus is also capable of suppressing competition with its allopathic chemicals, another great advantage. Ailanthus is more likely to be eaten by a non-native “invasive” species of insect from its native land like the recently reported invasive spotted lanternfly. Unfortunately, Ailanthus has evolved along with the lanternfly and has adapted to its predation. Even more unfortunate, the lanternfly eats Ailanthus during certain times of the year, but also is quick to adapt and eat native plants like apples, grapes, and other species as well.

With plants being the start of most food chains, non-natives are a dead end for native predators. With less insects there are fewer birds, small mammals, and so on all the way up the food chain. When natives are present, wildlife can easily feed and rear young, but non-natives actually function as a sink – sucking up time and energy without the food reward. The result is non-native plants that thrive without any insect or mammal predators to keep them under control, enabling them to take over areas and create dead zones for native wildlife.

So can we do anything about this? We can remove invasives where we find them and try to replant natives. This may be effective, but its success depends on what we plant. We don’t just want to plant the “pretty” landscape trees and shrubs, but those that have the greatest potential to provide food for native wildlife. Trees like oaks (Quercus), cherry (Prunus), willows (Salix), poplar (Populus), birch (Betula), and maple (Acer) all host huge numbers of caterpillar species. In fact, according to Doug Tallamay’s research cherry hosts over 400 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars and its fruit is also eaten by numerous other types of wildlife. Oaks are one step better, hosting over 500 species and feeding countless species of wildlife with their acorns.


How can you help? Be sure to cultivate native species as much as possible. And when you do replant, plant those native species that have the greatest potential to do the most good. If we don’t, our future forests and fields may not be too lively with the native species we have all come to enjoy.

Challenge Grant Extended!

CHALLENGE GRANT EXTENDED! Our would-be benefactor has generously offered to extend the “Challenge Grant” that she offered to help us raise the remaining capital to fully fund the historic High Tor acquisition. We now have until January 31, 2019, to raise $20,000.

As a reminder of how a challenge grant works, the generous donor will match the total amount raised up to $20,000. Most important: We can go over, but we can’t go under!

High Tor was MRG’s highest priority property to protect. This critical parcel in the heart of Mianus River Gorge Preserve features rare species of flora and fauna, healthy wetlands habitat, and, most impressive, a rock outcropping on its eastern-most boundary. The rock outcropping known as High Tor hangs over the steep slopes that descend to the Mianus River far below.

MRG has received generous leadership support from several individual donors, local private foundations and also a $50,000 gift from The Nature Conservancy in New York. If we can raise another $20,000 to meet the Challenge Grant, we will be $40,000 closer to realizing our goal.

With your help, Mianus River Gorge will not only protect High Tor from development but will preserve the land that buffers the old-growth forest and serves as a corridor for the movement of wildlife throughout the area.

Please help us meet the challenge! Click here and be sure to indicate that your donation is for the Challenge Grant.

Or you may mail a check to:
Mianus River Gorge
167 Mianus River Road
Bedford, NY 10506

Thank you!

The mission of Mianus River Gorge, an independent, not-for-profit organization, is to preserve, protect and promote appreciation of the natural heritage of the Mianus River watershed through land acquisition and conservation, scientific research and public education throughout the region.
Mianus River Gorge, 167 Mianus River Road, Bedford, New York 10506     914-234-3455

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