May 6, 2013

Park volunteers help out at Point au Roche

Chris Fasolino

BEEKMANTOWN — On a beautiful spring day, it was easy for North Country residents to remember why they love parks like the one at Point au Roche.

Saturday was New York’s “I Love My Park Day,” when residents were encouraged to volunteer at a state park. Point au Roche State Park marked the occasion with a special day of activities. A newly revitalized trail was dedicated in memory of a local ecologist, guided nature walks introduced visitors to some of the wonders of the park, a 5K race raised money and showcased the beauty of the trails, and volunteers worked on keeping the trails clean.

The Philip C. Walker Memorial Nature Trail honors the memory of a local naturalist and Plattsburgh State professor who loved Point-au-Roche Park. In 2011, the trail suffered damage from the flooding of Lake Champlain and Hurricane Irene. Volunteers have worked hard to clean it up, and new informational signs have been added.

Dr. Ken Adams, a retired professor of ecology who worked with Walker at the college, said he felt that the trail was an appropriate memorial for a colleague who deeply loved the natural world.

“This was one of his favorite areas,” Adams said. “There are so many areas of the North Country that have interesting ecological stories to tell, but Point au Roche was one of his favorites.

“He promoted it as a place of outdoor recreation — and renewal — but being an ecologist, he understood this was home for many plants and animals.”

Adams was one of several local ecologists who wrote the text for the trail’s new informational signposts.

“We tried to highlight themes Phil would have chosen.”

The 5K race was another event during “I Love My Park Day.” Park Supervisor Rob Hughes, who was also one of the runners, said the race both raised funds and highlighted the beauty of Point au Roche, since the racecourse was designed to follow some of the trails.

The day was bittersweet for Hughes, as it was his last as park supervisor. Hughes is transferring to Grafton Lake State Park because his wife will be attending college in Albany.

“It’s sad. This is my home and I’ve been here 11 years,” Hughes said. “It’s hard to let go. But I know it’s in capable hands, and I’m looking forward to coming back here to visit.”

Other events included a wildflower planting expedition for children and a walk to a beaver dam that was enjoyed by visitors of all ages. The walk highlighted a boardwalk near the dam, which is new as of last fall, and provides an excellent viewing platform.

Alice Sample, who led the walk, is no stranger to the beauty of the park. Neither are her dogs.

“I’m here every day with them,” she said, noting that her black lab mix, Shadow, and her terripoo, Mattie, really enjoy the park.

“The walk was great fun, and the children were excited to hear about how a beaver lodge has two levels,” she said.

Sample explained that the beavers’ entryway from the water is on a lower level, but they usually sleep in an upper level. She also noted that as many as 18 beavers may live in a lodge at one time. That includes the parents, yearlings and a new brood.

“The yearlings help care for the babies, and after that, they’re booted out.”

Among those who enjoyed the walk were Dan Liegel and Kelly Fitts of Plattsburgh and their three-year old daughter, Lily. In fact, they are regular visitors to the park.

“We come out here every weekend for a hike, and since this was the park friends’ day, we thought we’d come out and see the beaver dam,” Liegel said.

“We’re so happy our community has something like this,” Fitts said. “We’ve been here in all four seasons — even in winter when the snow was up to our knees.”

“Of course, somebody had to be carried then,” Liegel said with a smile, nodding at Lily.

Lily enjoys going to the park to see the animals, skip stones on the lake, and look for treasure.

As her father says, “It’s the simple treasures that are really important.”