NY Route 5
Fayetteville, New York
Surveys: Nov. 17, 2001; Dec. 16, 2001; April 18, 2002;
May 4, 2002; July 20, 2002; Oct. 5, 2002; Nov. 9, 2002
Green Lakes State Park is a popular multiple use park with 1,875 acres, 20 miles of hiking trails, nature center, waterfront for swimming and boating, campgrounds, cabins, and a golf course. The park takes its name from two glacial lakes (Round and Green Lake), which get their distinctive color from a combination of deep, clear water and calcium carbonate from limestone bedrock.
When the Eastern New York survey team first visited the park on Nov. 17, 2001, park staff believed perhaps five, maybe ten, acres were old growth forest, which were marked on the park's map of hiking trails. After that first survey, the team concluded the park contains perhaps 20 acres of exemplary, impressive old growth forest, most of it mixed hardwoods and hemlock.
However, each visit since has revealed more areas of old growth. Currently, the boundaries and size of old growth in the park have not been mapped and computed, but may exceed 800 acres! At any rate, we are convinced Green Lakes State Park contains the oldest, tallest trees in Onondaga County, probably in central New York, and perhaps—for a few species—the Northeast. And Green Lakes State Park is likely the finest old growth forest in central New York.
The park also has two small communities of northern white cedars, which may be ancient—well over a century old. These cedars usually grow very slowly on sites not favored by other species, such as cliffs, rocky slopes and wetlands, and do not reach great size in advanced age. One white cedar community is west of the outlet from Green Lake, beside the parking lot for the beach. The other is at Reef Point on the south shore of Green Lake. (For more about ancient cedar forests, read: Cliffs as Natural Refuges.)
Park History and Geology
All the land was part of the Military Tracts, which was acquired by the State of New York in the 1790 Salt Treaty with Onondaga Nation. The land was surveyed in 1792, and divided into standard lots that were used to compensate soldiers of the Revolutionary War. Much of what is now parkland was settled in 1817 by David Collin III, and divided among his children, whose descendants continue to own adjacent properties.
Green Lakes became a state park in 1928 with the purchase of 500 acres surrounding two glacial lakes: Round and Green Lake. The park increased to 1,835 acres with additional acquisitions in 1975, 1995 and 1996.
The park's outstanding feature is a deep channel carved into limestone bedrock by a post-glacial river of meltwater. 14,000 years ago, a continental ice sheet several thousand feet thick covered the area. In the warming post-glacial climate, this ice sheet melted to unleash torrents of water that flowed west to east along the glacier's southern edge. This massive river flowed rapidly from Butternut to Limestone valley, and plunged into Limestone Valley as a great waterfall at its eastern end. Like the Niagara River, this postglacial river slowly receded westward, eroding the bedrock, etching a deep valley into the hard limestone bedrock.
The waterfall carved out two deep basins—post-glacial plunge pools that are now occupied by two very deep lakes: Round Lake and Green Lake. Native Americans and early settlers believed these lakes were bottomless, but measurements found Round Lake is 180 feet, and Green Lake is 195 feet deep. Round Lake was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1975 by the U.S. Interior Department.
Both Round and Green Lakes are meromictic, two of only a few such lakes in the U.S. The lakes are so deep, there is no fall and spring turnover, and surface waters do not mix with bottom water. Hilly, forested heights and a shoreline belt of white cedars protect the lakes from wind. In such lakes, ancient plants and animals can be found in the lowest levels.
The lakes' green color is due to their great depth and the calcium carbonate dissolved from the surronding limestone cliffs. At least three groups of photosynthetic bacteria inhabit the lakes. Near the surface, photosynthetic bacteria and diatoms are the base of the lake's food chain. At 55 to 75 feet deep, a three-foot, rosy pink layer formed by purple photosynthetic bacteria plus green sulfur bacteria.
Old Growth Forests
According to forest botanists and ecologists, old growth is defined by at least ten characteristics that describe the trees, understory and terrain. One key criteria is that at least six trees per acre are at least half the maximum age of their species—150 years old for most hardwood species. Trees must also be a mixed variety of all age ranges, from young saplings to mature trees. Further, the forest must have a well-developed canopy, with a significant number of snags, downed trees and woody debris. There must be an understory of small trees, shrubs, herbs, ferns, mosses, and lichens to indicate a rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. Human disturbances should be absent or minimal.
It's estimated there are 400,000 acres of old growth forest in New York—the most in the east outside the Smoky Mountains. Most is in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountain Preserves, but in recent years, many small stands were documented outside these state parks. While the new survey team will conduct field trips to old growth in the Adirondacks and Catskills, the team intends to focus on undiscovered smaller sites on private land outside the parks. The team invites the public to nominate potential new sites, and in the next year, will survey these new sites and report their assessments.
Old growth forests are valuable because they provide habitat for a maximum diversity of biological life, including many rare, endangered and threatened species. Because of their complexity and maturity, and their minimal disturbance by humans, ancient forests are crucial as controls in scientific studies of forest dynamics. Some believe ancient forests are treasuries of genetics that can be used to restore and regenerate our forests. Certainly these magnificent stands of ancient trees provide experiences of appreciation and inspiration for a public seeking relief from crowded metropolitan areas.
Studies also demonstrate old growth forests are the best, most efficient systems to remove carbon from the atmosphere in an effort to mitigate global climate change from greenhouse gases. In this new millenium, human society must make serious efforts to expand the land sheltered under old growth in order to extract the carbon surplus from the atmosphere and reduce greenhouse gas effects. For this effort to succeed, we need to study the remnant old growth stands to learn about their properties and dynamics.
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TERRA: The Earth Restoration and Renewal Alliance — www.championtrees.org — updated 4/14/2003