Items tagged with 'outside'

Registration open for Troy Turkey Trot, Albany Last Run 2015

troy turkey trot 2014 pat hendrick photographyJust a heads up about two popular races...

Turkey Trot
Registration is open for the Troy Turkey Trot. The annual Thanksgiving morning race includes a 5k ($30), 10k ($30), walk ($10), and grade school mile ($12). You can register online.

The Troy Turkey Trot is now in its 68th year. And is said to be the 12th oldest road race in the nation. Last year almost 7,500 people took part.

Albany Last Run
Registration is also open for the Albany Last Run 5k on December 19 through the Capital Holiday Lights in Washington Park. Registration is $30. The race is capped at 1,700 people and often sells out, so if you're interested in signing up, do so earlier rather than later.

photo: Pat Hendrick Photography / Troy Turkey Trot

Four fall hikes (and post-hike bites)

fall hikes composite

It's all about the view.

By Julie Madsen

The leaves are starting to change, the days are getting chilly, fall is inarguably in the air.

Hiking and fall go together like peanut butter and jelly. Cooler weather makes the exercise comfortable and the forests in our region are bursting with color. We are lucky.

So, to take advantage of this glorious season, go take a hike! Here are some hikes to get you started, along with places to east post-hike...

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Wild edibles foraging and wilderness skills classes with Sean Rowe

sean rowe tree to table mushroomAs you know, Sean Rowe is a singer/songwriter from Troy who's risen to fame over the last few years, touring around the world and performing on TV. He's also an accomplished naturalist -- and he's teaching a handful of foraging and outdoor skills classes over the few months. Blurbage:

Ok so forget Naked and Afraid. How about Naked and Comfortable? Sort of. How about just for fun, we go out on a day hike and leave our matches and lighter at home? How would you like to go out into the landscape, pull off a dead branch from a Cottonwood tree, take your knife or sharp rocks and carve out a bow and drill fire set with nothing but your bare hands? Then, make some rope from the wild Dogbane plants that live there to use in your fire kit. Sound cool? Let's do it!

The dates include:
+ A foraging and skills class at Kawing Crow Awareness Center in Greenfield Center on September 27.
+ A journalist naturalist class for kids at Kawing Crow on October 12.
+ A foraging and skills class at East Greenbush Town Park on October 18.
+ A natural history walk at Peebles Island on October 25.

photo via Sean Rowe FB

12 hours in the Catskills

12 hours catskills composite

By Julie Madsen

Sometimes it's easy to forget just how close the Catskills are to the Capital Region. The northern edge of the area is in Greene County, immediately to the south of Albany County. And it's just an hour's drive away.

So you can head out to the Catskills for a day full of hiking, shopping, and eating -- and still be back home to sleep in your own bed...

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A stolen summer day: outside

sand island sacandaga lake

Sometimes the best places to get away are a little out of the way.

If you're lucky enough get a summer day all to yourself -- no work, no commitments, no rush -- you've gotta spend it outside, right?

Because as cold and harsh a winter's day here can be, we also get some of the most beautiful summer days -- bright blue skies with puffy white clouds, warm sun, and the occasional cooling breeze.

So we asked a handful of people who love spending time outdoors how they'd spend a stolen summer day...

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Favorite lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, and other bodies of water

canoes at Grafton Lakes

Grafton Lakes got a mention.

It is currently time to do all the summer things. And "all the summer things" often includes finding a lake, river, stream, some body of water to take in the view, relax by, dine next to, kayak in.

A few weeks back as part of the River Week drawing, we asked you about your favorite bodies of water around the Capital Region. There were a bunch of good suggestions. So, as with the neighborhood highlights, we combined all the suggestions into a clickable map and listing.

Have a look...

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Where to rent a boat on Lake George?

boat bow waterSean emails:

I've got some friends coming into town and we thought it would be a blast to head up to Lake George and rent a boat for the day. There seems to be a ton of places out there that rent so I was wondering if any of your readers have done this before and could perhaps recommend something to us. We'll have 7 adults and are not tied to any particular location on the lake.

If you have a place to suggest -- or even thoughts on what to look for -- we'll be awarding non-redeemable bonus points for suggestions that include a sentence or two about why that's a good place.

Got advice for Sean? Please share!

Earlier on AOA: Where to go paddleboarding?

Hopping islands in the Hudson River

paddling past Peebles Island

Paddling past Peebles Island.

By Duncan Crary

Ahead of the Rail, River, Hudson II tour this coming weekend, we have a series of posts focusing on the Hudson River this week.

I've got a thing for islands. And not just the tropical resort kind. Show me a dry spot in a parking lot puddle and I'm compelled to adventure onto it.

Every island, like every potential lover, is mysterious from afar. Little worlds unto themselves, they can be paradise or prison -- deep dark sanctuaries where the wild things are. Put the spade to their sands, and you may strike pirate gold.

Here in Albany, our recorded history begins on the islands where friendly Mohicans once welcomed Henry Hudson ashore. I often wonder about that first languageless exchange -- of arrows snapped across the knee and spirits passed around the fire. Today, there are fewer islands and even fewer Mohicans in these parts.

So for the wayfarer of backyards, these are some notes I've logged on a handful of the Hudson River islands among us.

River Week is sponsored by: Albany County Convention and Visitors Bureau, Downtown Albany BID, Dutch Apple Cruises, Harmony Mills, Hudson River Greenway, Nine Pin Cider, Sweet Sue's, and Downtown Troy BID.

River Week in-post ad Dutch Apple

River Week in-post ad Hudson Valley Ramble

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Restricted public access at Kaaterskill Falls this summer

kaaterskill falls

The two falls have a combined drop of 260 feet.

The state Department of Conservation announced this week that it will be restricting public access to Kaaterskill Falls in Greene County starting July 6 and running through the rest of the summer. DEC says the closure is that work on trail and safety upgrades can be completed. From the press release:

Access to the falls will only be allowed from the Kaaterskill Falls trailhead located on NY Route 23A. DEC will prohibit public access past the wooden fences at the base of the falls. The Laurel House Road parking area near the top of the falls will be closed and visitors will not have access to Kaaterskill Falls from the parking area for the remainder of the hiking season. Individuals found trespassing in construction areas will be ticketed by law enforcement personnel.
DEC staff and contractors will construct a new foot trail from the end of the marked Kaaterskill Falls trail at the base of the falls to the Escarpment trail at the top of the falls. This 0.2-mile trail will include construction of a new, approximately 260-foot stone staircase, with 200 stone steps.
In addition, an approximately 300-foot spur trail will lead from the staircase to a point above the middle pool of the falls. At the end of this trail, DEC and its contractors will install another shorter set of stone stairs to provide access to the middle pool area. The stone staircase will be designed to blend in with the natural stone of the area at a location that will limit its visibility from below. DEC will also build a fully accessible trail that leads to an accessible viewing area and overlook platform at the top of the falls.
The new trails and stone staircase will accommodate the public's desire for access to a better view of Kaaterskill Falls and the middle pool area, while also protecting public safety. In recent years, DEC has taken additional steps to prevent people from continuing past the end of the marked Kaaterskill Falls trail, including an increased number of signs warning of potential risks, but some people ignored the warnings and put themselves in danger by continuing past the fence at the end of the trail.

The falls are an impressive, beautiful site, and they're a popular hiking spot, just about an hour south of Albany. (It's one of those not-a-lot-of-effort/big-payoff hikes.) They've also been the scene of multiple deaths -- Watershed Post fills in some of the context.

About those coyotes

albany pine bush camera trap coyote cropped

This photo was captured by a camera trap in the Pine Bush about a year ago. / photo: Albany Pine Bush Preserve

Noted this week, from the state Department of Environmental Conservation press release:

If you see a coyote, be aggressive in your behavior - stand tall, and hold arms out to look large. If a coyote lingers for too long, then make loud noises, wave your arms, throw sticks and stones.

Just remember that words will never hurt them.

Coyotes? Here? Yep.

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A few more bits about the planned upgrades at Thacher State Park

Thacher State Park Visitor Center 2015-March rendering cropped

Here's a larger, uncropped version. / image: NYS OPRHP

The rendering above is the latest version of the new visitor center planned for Thacher Park State Park. It was released this week as part of the announcement of the Cuomo admin's NY Parks 2020 plan, which proposes to spend about $900 million on upgrades for state parks.

The plan reiterates some of the already-planned new amenities for Thacher Park, including the $3.8 million visitors center which will overlook "the most dramatic views in the region." Dan Keefe, deputy public information officers for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, says there isn't a target completion date for the visitors center yet. But planning is already in progress for exhibits inside the center, and an effort to raise private money to pay for those exhibits will start this spring.

Thacher is also in line for new facilities for mountain biking, caving, and a high ropes course. Keefe says those are expected to be ready for this summer. And park officials will be working with the Thacher Climbing Coalition to identify rock climbing locations after the snow melts.

Other state parks in the region are also slated for upgrades as part of NY Parks 2020 (pdf). Among those plans: facilities improvements for Spa State Park, possibly adding the former Mt. McGregor prison forestland to Moreau Lake State Park, and the digitization of a collections at at Peebles Island. [Daily Gazette] [TU] [Troy Record]

Earlier on AOA:
+ Funding for new Thacher Park visitor center
+ A master plan for Thacher State Park

The quiet is close

national park service noise map

One of the good things about the Capital Region is that you don't have to travel all that far to go hiking, experience some natural areas, or just kind of get away from it all.

We were reminded of that recently by the map above. It estimates noise levels on summer day around the country. The deeper the blue, the more quiet the place. And as you can see, both the Catskills and the Adirondacks (especially) offer some rather deep quiet.

The map is the creation of the National Park Service Division of Natural Sounds and Night Skies. Researchers have been gathering the information and making the models to study noise and light pollution, and how it affects animals (including humans). The map was presented at the recent annual AAAS conference (it's a big science conference). [AAAS] [Science] [AAAS]

The map's not really that surprising -- it appears to match up relatively well with maps of population density and light pollution. And in the Northeast, the Adirondacks are one of the least-populated places, and they have some of the darkest nighttime skies. And they're rather quiet, too, apparently.

Earlier on AOA: The closest darkest place

On the frozen lake, waiting for a bite

ice fishing composite

By Lauren Hittinger

I have spent most of this winter avoiding the cold and staying indoors. But there is a different way: Some people actually embrace the frigid weather and enjoy activities that are winter-specific.

I've always marveled at the groups of people ice fishing out on solid lakes and rivers. To a novice like myself, the whole thing seems very mysterious and dangerous.

So, naturally, it was time to go ice fishing.

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Capital Region ice skating spots 2015

hockey skates on ice

The long stretch of cold weather this month and (until now) lack of snow has made for some good outdoor ice skating.

There are a bunch of spots around the Capital Region for ice skating, both outside and inside. We recently updated AOA's map/listing of those places with information for this winter -- check it out.

And if you know of a place that should be on the list, please let us know in the comments.

Today's moment of winter

cohoes falls partially frozen

A different class of icicle.

From the how-cold-is-it file: It's been cold enough to freeze (part of) the Cohoes Falls.

We took a minute Friday afternoon to gawk at the partially frozen falls.

Here are a few more pics.

Good sledding hills?

sledding at capital hills albanyChristina emails:

Where are the best sledding hills? I know of the public golf courses in Albany and Troy, and there's another hill (privately owned by a family southwest of Albany?) but how about something further north in the Saratoga region?
I'm itching to grab a lunch tray and feel like a little kid again!

This topic came up a handful of years ago, and there were handful of answers that pretty much all focused on Troy and Albany. In part, we suspect -- because they have some good spots, like Capital Hills in Albany and Frear Park in Troy (as Christina mentions).

Got a suggestion? Please share!

Seneca White Deer

seneca white deer dennis moneyOdd New York State wildlife fact of the day: What's thought to be the world's largest population of white deer lives on a former Army depot in the Finger Lakes (map). Here's a photo gallery.

The relatively high numbers -- reportedly 200 white deer that are part of a larger deer population of 800 -- are apparently the result of the depot land being surrounded by a 24-mile-long fence during the 1940s. The original population had a small group of white deer and their numbers have increased over the decades.

From the website for the Seneca White Deer org:

The white deer found at Seneca Army Depot are a natural variation of the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which normally have brown coloring. The Seneca White Deer are leucistic, meaning they lack all pigmentation in the hair but have the normal brown-colored eyes. Albino deer, which lack only the pigment melanin, have pink eyes and are extremely rare. The Seneca White Deer interbreed freely with the brown deer in the former Depot and appear to share the habitat equally. Some of the white bucks show a flattening, or palmation, of the antlers, but are physiologically similar in most other ways.
The genetics of these deer have not been studied extensively, but a recessive gene for lack of pigmentation apparently prevents normal (i.e. brown) coloration of the hair. Management of the white deer within the former Depot increases the proportion of deer exhibiting the trait.
In an unprotected environment, white deer are usually easy prey for predators or hunters. The limited predators and controlled hunting on the former Depot have allowed the white deer to interbreed and increase in numbers for more than 60 years. Other white deer herds exist in protected environments, including white fallow deer in Ireland, but none of those herds are as large as the white, whitetail deer of the Depot.

There's been some tension over the last decade about what should be done with the depot. Seneca County officials have been looking at ways to possibly used the land for development, while preservationists have promoted the land -- and the deer -- as a possible park and tourist attraction. The TU's Brian Nearing had an article over the weekend about the latest state of the situation, including an attempt by preservationists to get the state involved. [NYT 2004] [TU]

photo: Seneca White Deer / Dennis Money

Albany planning a skatepark for Washington Park

go skateboarding day 2013

From Go Skateboarding Day in Washington Park in 2013.

The city of Albany announced Thursday that a skate park is being planned for Washington Park. And there's a public info session about it lined up for Thursday, November 13 from 6-8 pm at Bleecker Stadium. From a press release:

Department of Recreation staff will provide a brief overview of the planning effort and an introduction the city's vision for the proposed skateboard park at Washington Park. The public is invited to provide suggestions on issues, impacts and considerations that should be addressed in the creation of a draft plan and draft environmental impact statement.
People unable to attend the meeting may provide written comments by Friday, November 28, 2014 to: Elisabeth Draper, Deputy Commissioner, City of Albany Department of Recreation, 7 Hoffman Ave, Albany, NY 12209.

Draper* says the city is looking at converting four currently underutilized tennis courts into the skatepark. That location -- "The Blue Banks" -- has been used for Go Skateboarding Day events in the past.

A skate park for Albany has been on the wish list of a lot of skaters for a long time. As Dylan Longton, the local organizer of Go Skateboarding Day, pointed out to us last year, skaters get hassled for skating at places like the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, but the city lacks a place where it's explicitly allowed.

"I'm stoked on the movement finally," Longton said to us Thursday via text, adding he'd like to offer input on the design of the park. "[The] location is perfect and a lot of skateparks are made on old washed up tennis courts and the way the Blue Banks are it is already a great foundation to have something to offer for all styles of skating and bmxing."

Added Longton in a follow-up text: "And a shoutout to Trev [Trevor Culley] at Seasons Skateshop for going to the council meetings and staying with the skatepark movement."

Earlier on AOA:
+ In the park for Go Skateboarding Day
+ A concrete vision of the future for skateparks in the Capital Region?

*Elisabeth Draper has written for AOA a few times in years past.

Registration open for Troy Turkey Trot, Albany Last Run

albany last run 2014 logoA few quick bits about a couple of popular local 5ks coming up:

+ Registration is open for the Troy Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning. The Turkey Trot includes a 10k, 5k, kids mile, and a walk. Registration for the 5k and 10k is $30 before November 22, $35 during last-chance registration. The kids mile is $12/$15 and the walk is $10. (Online registration ends November 24.)

+ Registration is also open for the Albany Last Run 5K on December 6 through the Capital Holiday Lights in Washington Park. Online registration is $25. And we heard today that only about 200 of the 1700 spots in the race still remain.

Pittsfield State Forest


By Lauren Hittinger

This year I've been visiting local state parks. Well, mostly state parks -- last time it was Saratoga National Historic Park. This time, it's Pittsfield State Forest in Massachusetts.

Fall is very much in progress and it will soon be over. So now is the time to go on a hike and get a look at the last part of foliage season.

To do just that I headed over to Pittsfield State Forest this past weekend. It's very beautiful and a great place to enjoy a beautiful autumn day. And it's just across the border in Massachusetts.

My suggestion: Head over to the forest for a walk, and then make a day of it by exploring some of the small towns in the Berkshires.

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Where the wild things aren't... yet

mountain lion in zoo by Greg Hume cc

A mountain lion (cougar) in a zoo. / photo: Greg Hume (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikipedia

The reported mountain lion sightings near Cambridge in Washington County recently is a familiar story. [Post-Star]

Mountain lions!? Here!? In 2011 The US Fish and Wildlife Service declared that the eastern cougar had likely been extinct since the 1903s. Even so, there have been people -- naturalists, hikers, people drinking coffee on their decks -- who say they've seen one of the big cats in the eastern US since then. And the rather wayward journey of one of the cats through New York and into Connecticut a few years back just stoked those rumors.

After covering this topic a bunch of years ago for another outlet, we've thought this was one of those fun mysteries -- the kind of thing people hoped was true. That maybe our part of the world was a little more wild than we all thought.

Many parts of the Northeast have been going through an interesting environmental change over the last century in that they've actually been gaining forest land as former farmland falls back into being forested. As it happens, these once-again-spreading forests aren't exactly like the Northeastern forests of centuries ago -- the mix of trees is probably different. And they lack many of the big predators that disappeared through hunting and habitat loss. Or, at least, they have lacked those predators -- because that could be changing. [Science Daily]

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Quick trip: Beebe Hill fire tower

Beebe Hill fire tower

Here's another quick trip that could be fun this time of year: Beebe Hill and its fire tower.

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Saratoga National Historic Park

fall foliage and cannon at Saratoga National Historic Park

By Lauren Hittinger

This year I've been visiting local state parks. Today we are switching it up with a National Park located in Saratoga County.

Much of Saratoga National Historic Park is centered around its history as the site of two major Revolutionary War battles, making it an excellent stop for history buffs.

But the views and distinctive touring route makes this park worth a visit even if social studies was never your thing.

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Favorite fall hikes?

sleeping beauty trail in autumn

Sean emails:

I was wondering if your readers could weigh in with their favorite Fall Hikes. Some friends of mine are coming to town and I'd really like to "wow" them with a spectacular view. We're willing to drive up to the Adirondacks, down to the Catskills and anywhere in between!

We've touched on this topic a little bit before, but we're always up for hearing about good/fun places to hike this time of year.

Got a favorite to share with Sean and the rest of us? Please share! Bonus points for a line or two about why you like that spot.

Earlier on AOA: Quick trip: Vroman's Nose

Prime fall foliage is here

I Love NY Foliage map 2014-10-03

Because autumn: Here's the latest foliage map from the I Love NY site, which posts regularly updated -- and extensive -- foliage reports by area and county. Here's a clip from this week's report:

In Rensselaer County, spotters predict 55-65 percent color change in the eastern and northern portion of the county and near peak conditions this weekend, while the county's western and southern areas will be at about 35-50 percent changed and at midpoint of transition. In the northern and western portions of the county, look for a variety of colors, including bright shades of orange, yellow and red. In the western and southern parts of the county, look for bright shades of red, orange and yellow.
In Albany County, foliage spotters in Voorheesville reporting from Thacher Park predict up to 60 percent color change with bright yellow leaves along with touches of red. Foliage is at midpoint of transition. Schenectady County spotters reporting from Schenectady expect 50-55 percent color change with brilliant shades of yellow along with a tapestry of red at midpoint of change. In Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs leaf peepers predict 35 percent color change with bright, vibrant yellows, oranges and reds visible throughout most of the area with subtle touches of gold.

More foliage mappage: Yankee Magazine and the aptly-named Foliage Network.

map adapted from I Love NY

Quick trip: Vroman's Nose

Vroman's Nose view to the north

If you're looking for a quick day trip, especially as the leaves turn this fall, here's a good bet: Vroman's Nose.

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Fun fall 5k races

insane inflatable 5k obstacle

The Insane Inflatable 5k also includes obstacles.

By Lauren Hittinger

Fall is a good time to lace up your sneakers and hit the pavement. But, if you're like me, motivation can be a bit of a barrier when Netflix is calling. Luckily there are a handful of local races with silly or fun themes to take the edge off.

After all, nothing says motivation to run quite like being chased by someone in a zombie costume.

If the undead aren't your thing, maybe another theme appeals to you. Here are a handful of upcoming 5k races that could be fun...

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Hudson Crossing Park

Hudson Crossing Park river

By Lauren Hittinger

This summer I'm visiting local parks to bring the scoop on each one to you. Today I'm headed north to Hudson Crossing Park. I've also already visited Cherry Plain, Moreau Lake, Grafton Lakes, and Peebles Island.

Hudson Crossing Park is a little bit different from the other destinations I've visited this summer. First off, it's not a State Park and subsequently has no admission fee. Also, it's specifically focused around environmental responsibility, and you can see evidence of that all around the park.

It may not have as many amenities as other locations, but the beautiful setting and unique eco touches make it worth a stop.

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Moreau Lake State Park

moreau lake state park bridge

By Lauren Hittinger

This summer I'm visiting local state parks and sharing the scoop on each one. I've already visited Grafton Lakes State Park and Peebles Island. Today I venture a little farther north with a visit to Moreau Lake State Park.

Located at the northern edge of the Capital Region, Moreau Lake State Park is going to be a bit more of a drive for some people, but it's worth a visit. The day use amenities are not unique, but the size and natural setting of the park is.

Moreau Lake State Park is certainly one of the more beautiful local state parks, and there's lots of space to explore.

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Grace Peak

Grace HudowalskiEast Dix, one of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks, was recently renamed Grace Peak in honor of Grace Hudowalski, one of the original 46ers (she was #9). Here's the mountain on a map.

Hudowalski lived in both Troy and Albany, and Paul Grondahl recently had a nice story about her legacy and what she's meant to many Adirondack hikers.

From an Adirondack Forty-Sixer bio of Hudowalski, in reference to her first hike up Mt. Marcy:

Reflecting on that trip years later she said,
"It was tough. I was on all fours sometimes. I didn't think I was going to get there. But I had to get to the top - there was some reason. God knows what it was but I had to go on. And on the top just for a fraction of a moment, the clouds lifted while I was there and I looked down and there a mile below me was Lake Tear of the Clouds, the Hudson's highest source. And you know, that did something to me. I had seen something - I felt it. I never forgot the mountain and I never forgot that trip."
From that point on she said, "I never talked about anything but mountains. I talked about them, I wrote about them. I gave speeches about them."

Hudowalksi passed away in 2004 at the age of 98.

As Douglas Arnold, the Forty-Sixer who led the effort to name the mountain in honor of Hudowalksi, said to the Syracuse Post-Standard: "Everyone has a mentor, a coach, a parent or grandparent, friend, or teacher who influences the outcome of their life. These angels are remembered but rarely honored. Grace Hudowalksi was a mentor to thousands of people as she shared her enthusiasm for the Adirondacks with everyone."

Earlier on AOA:
+ The Winter 46ers
+ How to hike the High Peaks and not be That Guy

photo via The Adirondack Forty-Sixers

Grafton Lakes State Park

grafton lakes beach

By Lauren Hittinger

I'm visiting local state parks this spring and summer and will be sharing the best parts of each spot. Last time it was Peebles Island. Today, we talk Grafton Lakes.

Grafton Lakes is the reason why I fell in love with New York State parks. While I've been impressed with some other spots, Grafton Lakes has the closest thing in this area to a real beach. That's not to mention the trails, boating, picnicking, and basically any other outdoor activity you can think of...

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Peebles Island State Park

Peebles Island looking onto Mohawk River

By Lauren Hittinger

I really love state parks. As an apartment dweller, I have limited access to my own outdoors space and rely on parks and natural spaces to get sun and fresh air. Over the next few months I'm going to be sharing my favorite parks around the region, and highlighting the best parts of each spot.

Imagine there was a natural retreat with walking paths, wildlife, barbecue pits, and peaceful rivers just a few minutes from your house.

Okay, you can stop imagining now, because Peebles Island State Park is it. And if you're not already taking advantage of this spot, then you're missing out.

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Botanical gardens in the region?

Thumbnail image for Berkshire Garden -Pond.jpgKatie asks via Twitter:

I'm looking for botanical floral gardens both public and private in the capital region area. any leads?

The one that sprang to our mind immediately was the Berkshire Botanical Garden just over the border in Western Massachusetts.

Got other ideas? Maybe even places that aren't botanical gardens exactly, but do have excellent floral gardens? Please share!

Wild edibles foraging tours or classes?

wild ramps by Flickr user Danielle Scott ccWith ramps and fiddleheads in season, Burnt My Fingers emails:

Could you ask your readers to recommend foraging strategies and likely spots? Also, does anyone do foraging tours that I could join in on? (Morels would also be interesting.)

Apparently there's a whole world of wild edibles out there, but it's the kind of thing where you definitely want to learn from someone who knows what their doing. And you want to really get it right, because getting it wrong could have serious consequences.

So, suggestion for foraging tours or classes? Please share!

Funding for new Thacher Park visitor center

Indian Ladder trail view at Thacher State ParkState parks in the Capital Region are getting $8.675 million for a handful of construction/repair projects, the Cuomo admin announced today.

The biggest chunk -- $3.8 million -- has been tagged for the construction of a new visitor center at Thacher Park. Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, told us this afternoon that the agency is currently also raising private money for the project, but it's scheduled to begin construction this fall with the goal of being finished by fall 2015.

As projected in the the park's master plan, released last November, the new facility will include a visitor center, event space available for rent, exhibits, and offices. Keefe said it will also have a view from the escarpment.

The Thacher Park master plan covered a wide range of projects intended to be spread out over many years. Keefe said a a few of them are lined up for work this season -- including replacement of bathrooms in late August.

A list of the other regional park projects funded in today's announcement is after the jump.

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Where to go for golf lessons?

Thumbnail image for golf club head in grassDeanna asks:

My five year old daughter has recently taken a huge interest in golf. She insists on watching it on TV, chiding the players with vigorous, "Ah, you almost had it buddy," and, "just get the ball in the hole!" Needless to say, she is inquiring about lessons. I'm quite happy with this, and in classic horse-before-the-cart fashion, we bought some kid-sized clubs for her last year in hopes she would express a desire to chase the little white ball. Does anyone have a suggestion for children's golf lessons? Preferably a group lesson in the Albany or Schenectady area? Thanks AOA readers!

Deanna's asking about kids lessons, and if you have a place to suggest, great. But if you know a good place/person for lessons generally, we're interested in hearing about that, too -- because they might also offer kids lessons, or be able to recommend someone good.

So, have a suggestion? Please share!

The ice skating rink at the Empire State Plaza opens for the 2013-2014 season this next week

empire state plaza ice skating 2012

Update: The opening of the rink has been postponed to December 7 because of weather. (Thanks, Ron.)

We've mentioned this a few times, but it bears repeating as its own post: The ice skating rink at the Empire State Plaza opens for the season this Friday, November 29.

The rink -- located at the Capitol end of the ESP, near The Egg -- will be open 11 am-8 pm daily, weather permitting, until the end of the season (probably mid March). Skating is free. Skate rentals are $4 for adults / $3 kids 12 and under -- and every Friday is free rental day.

The skating rink also hosts a handful of events during the season, including popular (and free) learn-to-skate clinics. The first one is this Saturday. Pre-registration is required and they fill up fast. Also this season: a few "rock and skate" sessions featuring live music.

Tip: If you're worried about crowds, try stopping by after work during the weekday, if you can. Taking a few turns on the ice has a way of making it easier to release the stress from all those TPS reports.

This winter will be the third season since the ice skating rink was restored followed budget cuts a few years back. It's one of those things that's worth doing at least once during the winter. The fun-to-cost ratio is very high.

A master plan for Thacher State Park

Indian Ladder trail view at Thacher State Park

"This magnificent panorama has no parallel in the capital district."

The Cuomo admin released the final master plan for John Boyd Thacher and Thompson's Lake State Parks this week. The plan, which follows a draft plan from earlier this year, is like a road map for the future direction of the parks, identifying new uses and facility upgrades along with a general sense of how those developments are prioritized.

A quick scan of the highlights are after the jump. They include: a merger of the two parks, a redesigned main park area, rock climbing, cave access, mountain biking, expanded beach area, and new bathrooms.

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The Kinderhook Creature and other Monsters of New York

bigfoot photo illustration

Did you see that?

Bruce Hallenbeck remembers watching Frankenstein with his cousin when he was just five years old. "I wasn't frightened... I was fascinated."

These days Hallenbeck's fascination with monsters extends into the real world. When he's not working with microfilm and genealogy at the New York State Library, Hallenbeck writes books about horror movies and what he refers to as "real-life monsters" -- monsters of the bigfoot and Loch Ness variety.

A few years ago Hallenbeck wrote Monsters of New Jersey, and his is newest book -- Monsters of New York -- looks into the existence of creatures such as Champ, the Adirondack Bigfoot, the Kinderhook Creature and other creatures he believes are walking, crawling, and swimming around the Empire State. The book is the basis for an exhibit on display this month at the New York State Library.

Hallenbeck took some time out to talk with AOA about his search for these real world monsters, why he finds them so fascinating, and his own encounter with The Kinderhook Creature.

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Troy Turkey Trot 2013 registration

troy turkey trot 2012 start Just a heads up that registration for this year's Troy Turkey Trot is now open. The Thanksgiving morning event includes a 10k, 5k, walk, and kids mile. Also this year: a costume contest.

The registration fee for the 10k and 5k is $25 until October 31, increases to $30 until November 23, and $35 up until registration closes on November 25. The walk and grade school mile have a $10 entry fee. There's no day-of registration.

Last year's event included 8,167 participants. And organizers are expecting more than 8,000 people again this year.

photo: Chris Shields / Troy Turkey Trot

How to run 196.2 miles in a day

ragnar adk 2013 composite

By Stephanie Wien

Runners have strange ideas about what constitutes fun. Getting up early on a day off to run long distances. Going out even in rain and snow.

Running 196.2 miles with 11 other people over the course of roughly 24 hours.

The latter describes the Ragnar Relay Adirondacks, in which more than 200 teams of 12 runners each recently made their way from Saratoga Springs to Lake Placid on a non-stop relay. For fun.

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A constantly changing situation

nys foliage map 2013-10-03Noted: This part of the state is approaching peak foliage season. From I Love NY's extensive weekly foliage report, updated Wednesday:

In the Capital-Saratoga region, Fulton County observers in Northville and Benson expect 75-90 percent color change by the weekend with near peak to peak conditions and average to bright fall colors of red, orange and yellow. In Rensselaer County, expect 40-50 percent color change with even more color showing in the eastern and northern parts of the county (50-65 percent). Look for various shades of bright orange, yellow, and red. Saratoga County foliage spotters based in Saratoga Springs expect midpoint of change with 40 percent color transition and bright, vibrant yellows, oranges and reds visible throughout much of the area, along with subtle shades of gold mixed in. In Albany County, it will be midpoint of change in the Thacher Park area of the Helderbergs. Bright shades of yellow and red predominate.

And the Adirondacks and Catskills are at peak or soon past it.

image: I Love NY

Stalked by bears

You know that story about the woman who stabbed a bear while hiking in the Adirondacks recently? The Times Union's Leigh Hornbeck talked with the woman about the encounter. A clip:

They were three grown bears about 25 yards away. [Amy] Stafford wasn't scared. An experienced hiker and outdoors woman, she was glad for a chance to see a wild animal. She also knew what to do. She waved her hands, made noise, jumped around and yelled at the bears. The guidebooks say not to run from a bear, and she didn't. They ran off. Stafford started down the trail again, pleased with herself that she handled the situation well, and even managed to snap a few photographs. But then the bears came back. Stafford turned around again, yelling and smashing rocks. She played music on her phone as loud as it would go. Each time she yelled, the bears dropped back, only to creep up again. One seemed more curious than the other two. When they lost sight of her because she went down a hill or around a bend, Stafford could hear the bears running to catch up, sometimes behind her on the trail, sometimes alongside her in the woods.

Stafford told Hornbeck this went on for a mile on the trail, before it all came to a pointed conclusion. Yikes.

Earlier: Report: Woman stabbed bear in the Adirondacks

Um, where are my antlers?

nys dec halfmoon moose

Kind of like waking up to find out that someone cut your hair.

Today's moment of moose: The Department of Environmental Conservation posted a photoset from today's moose re-location in Halfmoon. After tranquilizing the moose and getting him loaded into the trailer for transport to the Adirondacks, the moose apparently decided to pose for a portrait. (And then he stared into our soul.)

What happened to the antlers? The DEC says it removed the moose's antlers to minimize injury during transport. (Meese* drop their antlers around the start of winter and regrow them in the winter spring, anyway.)

* Yes, we know that's not the plural. But it should be.

photo: NYS Department of Environmental Conservation

Report: Woman stabbed bear in the Adirondacks

a black bearThis is intense. From an article in the Adirondack Daily Enterprise by Mike Lynch (map link added):

The DEC has heard of several incidents of nuisance bears between Wakely Dam and Stephens Pond in the town of Indian Lake.
In one encounter, which took place Wednesday, Sept. 18, three bears followed a woman hiking alone, according to the DEC. The woman made several attempts to scare the animals away, but they continued to follow her. One bear, in particular, got very close to the woman near Stephens Pond.
"Feeling threatened she stabbed the bear with a knife," according to a DEC statement.
The bears then fled, and the woman safely hiked to the state-run Lake Durant Campground.

Bears usually run off when humans attempt to scare them. In this case, the DEC tells the Daily Enterprise it might be a case of the bears getting food from hikers in the past.

As we've mentioned before: Don't feed the bears. Really. Not only is illegal, it also usually ends up hurting the bear.

Here's a DEC info page on how to avoid bears and what to do if you encounter one.

[via AP/Post-Star]

Some history: The last person in New York State to be killed by a bear was in 2002 in an odd incident in which a young bear dragged a 5-month-old human into the woods in Sullivan County. Before that, the last human death by the paw of a bear was in 1933 when an 11-year-old on Long Island was killed by a bear tied up in front of an inn. Of course there have been other non-fatal encounters, including a 2011 incident in which a woman in Greene County was knocked down by a bear. And in recent years bears have been wandering into more urban areas of the Capital Region. [CBS News] [Wikipedia] [TU]

In other wildlife news: The DEC captured a moose in Halfmoon today. DEC says he's being transported to the Adirondacks. [TU] [NYS DEC]

photo of a black bear -- NOT the black bear: Flickr user peupleloup (cc)

Gillibrand requests federal designation for the Pine Bush

pine bush trail cropped

Kirsten Gillibrand's office announced today that the Senator is asking the US Secretary of the Interior to designate the Albany Pine Bush Preserve as a National Natural Landmark. From the letter KG's office released:

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve is a unique ecosystem located on a 3,200-acre site in Albany County, New York. The preserve is one of the best-remaining examples of an inland pine barren habitat. The open areas and well-drained sandy soils of the preserve support a globally-rare pitch pine-scrub oak community and is home to more than 1,300 species of plants, 156 species of birds, 20 species of amphibians and reptiles, and 30 species of mammals, as well as rare species of butterflies and moths. Among its diverse flora and fauna, the Albany Pine Bush supports the federally-listed endangered Karner blue butterfly, as well as the rare inland barrens buckmoth. The Albany Pine Bush is the site of one of thirteen Federal Recovery Units working to rebuild adult populations and restore suitable habitat for the Karner blue butterfly across the range of the endangered species.

The term "National Natural Landmark" sounds kind of impressive -- and the National Park Service website says "NNLs are the best remaining examples of a type of feature in the country and sometimes in the world." But we get the impression it's a largely symbolic. The designation doesn't change ownership of the landmark, nor does it impose any land use restrictions, according to an FAQ about the program posted by the National Park Service. It's largely a voluntary commitment by the landowner to preserve the landmark. (The Albany Pine Bush Preserve is a state preserve.)

If anything, the National Natural Landmark designation is another sign that people's perception of the place continues to evolve, to the ecosystem's benefit. The last couple of hundred years haven't been kind to the Pine Bush. It suffered from a rather poor reputation in the 19th century. The Thruway and Washington Ave Extension were plowed through it. A mall was built. A landfill sited in it. It's only in the last four decades or so that momentum has shifted in the direction of preservation.

The Pine Bush once covered an area of about 40 square miles -- it's now about 1/8 that size.

There are 596 National Natural Landmarks in the US and its territories -- and 27 sites designated as National Natural Landmarks located at least partially within New York State, according to the National Park Service. The list includes two in the immediate Capital Region: Bear Swamp in Albany County, and Petrified Gardens in Saratoga County.

Earlier on AOA:
+ The Karner Blue and Nabokov
+ Why the Albany Pine Bush is sandy
+ The Rapp Road Community Historic District

More Lyme disease -- a lot more

cdc national lyme disease map animation 2001-2011

Reported cases, year by year, from 2001-2011. Maps: CDC.

This is sobering: The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had reported that the national number of Lyme disease cases had been about 30,000 per year over the last few years. But this week it reported that preliminary estimates based on new research indicate the number is around 300,000.

So... that's a lot more.

From the CDC press release:

This early estimate is based on findings from three ongoing CDC studies that use different methods, but all aim to define the approximate number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease each year. The first project analyzes medical claims information for approximately 22 million insured people annually for six years, the second project is based on a survey of clinical laboratories and the third project analyzes self-reported Lyme disease cases from a survey of the general public.
Each year, more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease are reported to CDC, making it the most commonly reported tick-borne illness in the United States. The new estimate suggests that the total number of people diagnosed with Lyme disease is roughly 10 times higher than the yearly reported number. This new estimate supports studies published in the 1990s indicating that the true number of cases is between 3- and 12-fold higher than the number of reported cases.

CDC says the three studies are still ongoing and it continues to analyze the data to "refine the estimates and better understand the overall burden of Lyme disease in the United States."

In 2011, the latest year for which the numbers are online, New York State had 3118 confirmed cases of Lyme (and 1372 more "probable" cases), according to the CDC. That amounted to 16 confirmed cases per 100,000 people -- the 12th highest rate in the nation. If the actual number of cases is something like 10x that reported count, New York is looking at a rate of 160 cases per 100,000 people.*

(there's more)

You won't regret bringing toilet paper

campfire at a lake

One of the joys of camping.

By Casey Normile

One of the good things about the Capital Region is how close it is to spots for hiking and camping -- whether it's a state park or preserve close to the region's core or, a little farther out, the many opportunities in a place like the Adirondacks.

You get out of town, among the trees, and bask in the joys of a tent, a quiet lake, a can of beans, and a little bit of dirt under your fingernails.

There's still plenty of time to venture out to the woods this summer. And if you want to be one with nature, but you're not too experienced with roughing it, here are a few things to keep in mind -- they'll make camping a little more enjoyable.

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Urban Raid Albany

urban raid albany course map

The Albany course.

You know those race/obstacle courses in which people traverse challenges like climbing over walls, mud pits, and flames? Well, one of those is coming to Albany -- to downtown Albany.

The Urban Raid race series will be in Albany October 19. The 5k course will start in Lincoln Park, wind its way around the ESP, head down by the TU Center, past the Governor's Mansion, and bck into the park. Obstacles listed include: monkey bars, a cargo net climb, a "chainlink crawl," sandbag carry, and rope climb.

Blurbage: "Our immense constructed obstacles are designed to test your strength, agility and fortitude, while keeping you safe and injury free. We want you to cross that finish line exhausted and ecstatic, with your friends and family cheering you on."

Here are photos from a recent Urban Raid in Boston (and from the Boston Globe). And here are renderings of various obstacles.

Registration is already open. The entry fee is $50 until September 4. After that, the price escalates until the race date.

Planning for the future of Thacher and Thompson's Lake State Parks

Indian Ladder trail view at Thacher State Park

As the draft plan notes: Thacher Park's "magnificent panorama has no parallel in the capital district."

The state Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation is currently in the process of planning a bunch of upgrades for John Boyd Thacher and Thompson's Lake State Parks.

The draft plan is wide ranging, from relatively straightforward and much-needed stuff (like new bathrooms) to a redesign of the some of the park's most-used areas. Also part of the proposed plan: officially combining Thacher and Thompson's Lake into one park. A lot of the changes wouldn't happen overnight -- the plan's timeline could extend as long as 15 years. And, of course, everything is subject to the availability of funding.

There's a public hearing on the proposed master plan for the parks this Thursday (August 1) at the New Scotland town hall at 7 pm.

The planning docs are posted online. We read them through them this afternoon and pulled a few quick-scan highlights.

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With a name like giant hogweed, really, what else would you expect

giant hogweed nys decAfter reading about giant hogweed, we were starting to think we might have to add it to our list of dangers in nature that we will overly obsess about. From the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation info page about the invasive plant, which is native to the Caucus region of central Asia:

Giant hogweed is a biennial or perennial herb in the carrot family (Apiaceae) which can grow to 14 feet or more. Its hollow, ridged stems grow 2-4 inches in diameter and have dark reddish-purple blotches. Its large compound leaves can grow up to 5 feet wide. Its white flower heads can grow up to 2 1/2 feet in diameter. ...
Giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is a Federally listed noxious weed. Its sap, in combination with moisture and sunlight, can cause severe skin and eye irritation, painful blistering, permanent scarring and blindness. Contact between the skin and the sap of this plant occurs either through brushing against the bristles on the stem or breaking the stem or leaves.

The DEC has helpfully post a page with a bunch of photos of the plant, which is apparently flowering right now -- as well as some graphic photos of skin burned by the plant's sap. It recommends that if people suspect they have hogweed on their property, to take photos from a safe distance and send them in for ID, after which DEC will follow up.

So... yikes.

But then we saw the map of reported active plant sites around the state. The plant has only been spotted in a few spots around the Capital Region. (In related news: Oof, that really sucks for you, western New York.)

Now, at least for the time being, we can keep giant hogweed on our ok-good-to-know list and go back to obsessing over ticks carrying Lyme disease, rabid foxes, and the snapping turtle in Buckingham Pond that ate a Golden Retriever. (OK, one of those things might be a myth.)

photo: NYS DEC

Capital Region Swimming Pools 2013

victoria pool large

The Victoria Pool at Saratoga Spa State Park.

It's summer. Hooray!

And as if on cue, pool weather has arrived.

After the jump, a list of swimming pools around the Capital Region with info about when they open, hours, and cost.

Spoiler alert: Most are already open!

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Hiking in the footsteps of Teddy Roosevelt

trail Teddry Roosevelt hiked to Mt Marcy

By Casey Normile

At the end of a long and winding road in the Adirondacks there is a trail to Mt. Marcy that includes a bit of history along the way. It was on this path that Teddy Roosevelt hiked during his last day as Vice President of the United States.

Today, you can take the same trail the Rough Rider/cowboy/future president walked over a century ago. Climbing the tallest peak in the state is enough of an accomplishment, but doing it in the footsteps of a president who once rode a moose like a horse? Well, that's just about as cool as you can get.

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Opening early: Victoria Pool

victoria pool large

We mentioned this in STDTW, but it's worth highlighting: The Victoria Pool at Saratoga Spa State Park is opening for the season early this weekend.

The Victoria Pool is an excellent place to lounge while having a drink. There's a sort of casual opulence about it. Also: it has a pool. With water. That you can swim in.

The schedule for this weekend, and the next, and the next: 10 am-6 pm Saturday and Sunday. It's $8 for adults, $4 for kids and seniors, and free for kids under 5. The pool will be open daily starting June 22.

Spots for an outdoor party?

aoa cookout wideWendy emails:

A question for the AOA crowd: My husband and I are celebrating our 25th anniversary this summer, and are planning an outdoor party/picnic for early August. Saratoga State Park was our first choice location, but nothing suitable is available (our bad for waiting.) We are going to check out Grafton Lakes and Thatcher -- but what are some other options? It doesn't have to be a state park. We'd prefer within 30-45 minutes of Troy, with a pool (or swimming) and a field for other outdoor activities.

It sounds like Wendy is already focused on state parks or similar places -- and if you have a suggestion for one, great. But, as she said, it doesn't have to be one -- and we're also curious if there are maybe some alternatives. The pool might be a complicating factor.

Got a suggestion? Please share!

Swim lessons for adults?

indoor pool bw flickr Thomas R StegelmannSays Jona on Twitter:

it's official, I need to learn how to swim #swim. ... I know how to swim to save my life, but not compete. thanks!

There are two types of answers for a "swimming lessons for adults" question:
+ Lessons for basic swimming.
+ Lessons for people who already know how to swim a bit, but want to get better/faster for exercise or so they can compete in events like triathlons. (Sounds like what Jona's looking for.)

Either type of lesson can be hard to find if you're an adult. (Swimming lessons often seem to be geared toward kids.)

So... have a suggestion on either account? Please share!

Swimming season will be here soon.

photo: Flickr user Thomas R. Stegelmann (cc)

Weekend trips in the Adirondacks?

high peaks Mt. Marcy summitAndrea asks via Twitter:

Thinking of a weekend in the Adirondacks for some relaxation and day hikes with the dog. Recs for trails or places to stay?

She's looking to stay overnight, but not outside. And she's also open to the Catskills.

Got a suggestion? Please share!

Earlier on AOA:
+ How to hike the High Peaks and not be That Guy
+ The Wild Center
+ "The birthplace of the American vacation"

Bike rental in Albany, Schenectady

bike pedal mediumThis topic has come up a few times, so... you might be interested to hear that Plaine and Son in Schenectady and Broadway Bicycle in Albany are now offering bike rentals. From a recent email newsletter:

Plaine and Son and Broadway Bicycle Co. has teamed up with Specialized to bring bicycle rental to the Capital Region. You can choose from a selection of Specialized Road and Fitness bikes.
Road bikes - $20 for up to 4 hours, $40 for the whole day, $30 for each additional day, or $150 for a whole week.
Fitness bikes - $20 for up to 4 hours, $30 day, $20 for each additional day

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Woman bitten by potentially rabid fox in Cohoes

Thumbnail image for gray fox us fwsThe Albany County Department of Health reported today that a woman in Cohoes was bitten by a potentially rabid grey fox this morning (area map). The fox got away, and officials are urging people to keep an eye out for wild or stray animals that are acting strangely -- and call 911 if one is sighted.

Update: A fox -- maybe the fox -- was shot by Cohoes police later in the day. Update update: The fox that was shot tested positive for rabies, Cohoes police say. [TU] [@CBS6Jennifer]

Rabid foxes turn up now and then in this area. Three foxes tested positive for rabies between January and October of 2012 -- one each in Albany, Rensselaer, and Saratoga counties -- according to the most recent data posted by the state DEC. There were also three positives in 2011 -- two in Saratoga County, and one in Schenectady County. Statewide that year there were 26 positive tests for rabies in foxes, 21 of those in grey foxes.

Back in 2010 a man was bitten by a rabid fox in Greenwich, in a scene that sounds like something from a B movie. From the Daily Gazette:

Richard Leddy, 40, said he was lying on the town beach reading when he heard someone in the water say, "Oh look, there's a fox."
"I thought they meant on the other bank, but then I heard a snarl and looked over to see the fox in mid-leap," Leddy said. "Next think I knew he'd sunk his teeth into my arm."


The animals that most often turn up with positive rabies tests in the state, at least over the last few years, are raccoons and bats. In 2011, there were 162 raccoons that tested positive, and 64 bats. (That's just a raw count of positive tests by the state lab, not a measure of prevalence within the population of those animals compared to other animals.)

In fact, the last two people to die of rabies in New York State -- in 1995 and 1993 -- got it from a bat, according to the state's Wadsworth Center.

Earlier on AOA:
+ "Pet" gray fox on the loose in Troy
+ Fox stalking

photo of a grey fox (*not* the grey fox in Cohoes): US Fish and Wildlife Service via Wikipedia

The Winter 46ers

a snowy slide on the way to Dix Mt

A snowy slide on the way to Dix Mountain.

By Casey Normile

Winter is usually the season where people try to stay indoors as much as possible. The cold, wind, and snow usually drive us into our sweaters and onto our couches.

But not the Winter 46ers. This elite group of fewer than 600 people have climbed all 46 Adirondack High Peaks during winter (December 21 through March 21).

They are, in a word, hardcore.

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Ice skating spots

ice skaters on Buckingham Pond

Skaters on the frozen pond (in this case, Buckingham, in Albany).

One of our favorite things to do during the winter is ice skate. So we've put together a listing/map of ice skating spots around the Capital Region.

The listing includes outdoor spots -- in the event we ever have a real winter again -- as well as indoor facilities, so you have a place to lace the skates no matter the condition of the outdoor ice. There are 20 places on the list -- all around the Capital Region -- so you're probably not far from at least one of them.

Know of a spot not on the list that we should include? Please share. We'll add it to the list.

It's fall -- take a hike

sleeping beauty trail in autumn

Everything's a little more beautiful in autumn.

By Casey Normile

Autumn in upstate makes almost everything more beautiful. The leaves change colors and all of the sudden you notice that the exit you take on the Thruway isn't just a dingy road, it's a gorgeous sun-soaked landscape.

But while you can enjoy the fall colors all over, the best views are, indisputably, in the woods. So if you really want to enjoy the autumn landscapes, take a hike.

Fall hiking isn't always like looking through an L.L. Bean catalog. You have to be prepared for almost any weather. Hiking in the fall means you can park at your trailhead in the warm sun, find yourself trudging through mud halfway through, and then find ice and snow on the summit. So prepare for sun, rain, mud and snow. Especially after this month's rainfall, be ready for some wet trails.

But there are some great perks to fall hiking. Hiking in the summer usually means black flies, mosquitoes and walking through spider webs for most of the day. But in the fall, you're insect free! It's also great because the temperature is very hike-friendly. It's right between summer's 80-degree-sun-burnt-dehydrated weather and winter's biting-cold-can't-feel-my-toes weather.

Here are a few good options for fall hikes...

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Where to go sailing?

small sailboatGreg emails:

I'm fighting the good fight here, raging against the end of summer... I'm not a country club / yacht club member locally, but I'm wondering where a recovering small boat sailor might be able to rent a Sunfish or a Laser to get an end of summer sailing fix? Bonus points given for smaller lakes.

Got a suggestion for Greg? Please share!

Earlier on AOA:
+ Where to go kayaking?
+ Where to go paddleboarding?

photo: Flickr user sailorbill (cc)

World Soccer Project league starting in Albany

world soccer project nyc game

From a WSP league game in NYC.

We get questions frequently about adult sports leagues. Here's a new one that might be worth a look.

The NYC-based World Soccer Project is staring a league in Albany. The games are co-ed, 7-on-7, at Bleecker Stadium (played the across the width of the field). The season includes a minimum of 9 games, plus a four-team playoff at the end.

The World Soccer Project has a bit of an usual background. It was started not only as way to organize games, but also to raise money for charities. In NYC proceeds have gone to support public schools. (Here's the project's founder talking about the origins on NY1.) The league's website says in Albany the project will be "working with the Parks Department to bring free soccer programs to Albany's under-served youth population."

The Albany season starts September 10 (all games are on Mondays). The registration fee is $124 per player. The league is looking for both teams and individual players (it will assign free agents to teams).

Earlier on AOA:
+ One of the people involved with the World Soccer Project is Elizabeth Gray, who lives in Albany. AOA wrote about her a few years ago -- she's the head of a charity called the Wishi Project, which helps fund an education program in Ecuador. The World Soccer Project has been supporting the Wishi Project.
+ Ask AOA: Adult soccer leagues or games?

photo: World Soccer Project

Color Me Rad 5k

color me rad 5kIf the 5k races you've been running haven't been colorful enough -- or just not enough like a rave -- you're in luck: the "Color Me Rad" 5k will be at the Altamont Fairgrounds September 22.

The race is part of a national series, in which racers "wind up looking like a pack of skittles." From the FAQ:

Start out as clean as a newborn babe, and throughout the run, you'll coat your chaffing thighs with blue, green, pink, purple, and yellow until your face, shirt, and body come out silkscreened like a tie-dyed hippy on the other side. ...
Each section of the run adds a new explosion of color to your clean, painter's palate until you cross the finish line into a final blitzkrieg of color.

And then there's apparently more coloring at the end of the race, with food and music. The color is "non-toxic, non-rash-inducing, Kroger branded, colored corn-starch." Here are a bunch of photos from previous races.

The entrance fee is $50 until September 19. For what it's worth, the website says many of the previous races this year have sold out (one of the start times in Altamont is already sold out).

photo: Color Me Rad 5k

Warrior Dash 2012 deadline

warrior dash 2011 sebastien fire jumpThe annual Warrior Dash at Windham Mountain is this Saturday and Sunday. The 3.2 "hellish" miles include 12 obstacles -- among them, fire, bridges, and mud (a lot of mud). Some people wear costumes. It's a little (or a lot) crazy.

Registration is still open -- but it closes Tuesday at midnight. The entry fee is now $90 for Saturday and $80 for Sunday.

Here's a photoset by Sebastien from last year's race. And here are race recaps from Jen, Silvia, and Diana.

Earlier on AOA: Ask AOA: Where to train for the Warrior Dash?

photo: Sebastien Barre

How to hike the High Peaks and not be That Guy

high peaks Mt. Marcy summit

From the summit of Mt. Marcy, the highest of the High Peaks. (No, don't start here.)

By Casey Normile

So you've decided to you want to hike up one of the 46 Adirondack High Peaks. That's great -- the High Peaks are one of the best parts about upstate New York (if not THE best part, though I'm biased).

But when you climb your first Adirondack High Peak, you don't want to be THAT guy. You know him -- the guy with only one water bottle, jean shorts, Converse sneakers, and a camera. Not only will you look silly when the fully geared-up 46ers pass by you on the trail, you'll also feel ridiculous when you're thirsty, hungry, tired, and blistered halfway up the mountain.

After hiking 21 of the 46 High Peaks, you can now learn from the many mistakes I've made...

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Berkshire Botanical Garden

berkshire botanical garden composite

The Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Summer is a great time for a drive to Western Mass. Between Tanglewood concerts, Berkshire Theatre Festival, Williamstown Theatre Festival, museums, and shows in Great Barrington, there are plenty of excuses for a road trip -- and it's all just about an hour from the Capital Region.

Here's a fun way to get a little more out of your road trip that direction -- go a little early and build in a stop at the Berkshire Botanical Garden.

The BBG is 15 acres in Stockbridge divided into 23 separate gardens, with trees, flowers, herbs, sculpture, trails and greenhouses. It's pretty, peaceful, educational and just a nice place to hang out for a while. You don't need a whole day to visit -- it's an easy couple of hours. But if you choose to linger, there's plenty of opportunity.

Here's a little of what you'll see...

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Camping with kids: Katie Beltramo

Katie B Kayaking .jpg

Camping with Katie

By Katie Beltramo

AOA is taking a little R & R this week. While we're enjoying a little summer, we've rounded up a few experts to share their tips for making summer fun simpler. Enjoy!

Today, Katie has some ideas on how to make camping with kids easier and more fun. (Many of these tips could apply to first-time campers of all ages -- because you know you want your own flashlight.)

Every year I ask my kids what they want to do over the summer, and the overwhelming, number one, far-ahead-of-everything-else choice is camping.

I was not "raised" a camper. I camped once, as a Brownie, in someone's backyard. Still, come to think of it, I remember that camp-out vividly. So I guess I loved it, too.

These days, no doubt because I'm a far kinder and more indulgent parent than my own parents were, I do quite a bit of camping. And it's pretty fun, actually.

So wanna make some memories with the kiddos? I'll help you get started.

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Where to go paddleboarding?

paddleboardingElisabeth emails:

I want to paddleboard! Where can i do it in the capital region?

Here's a little more about paddleboarding -- as the name implies, it basically involves standing on something like a surfboard and paddling. We get impression it's become more popular over the last few years.

Got a suggestion for Elisabeth? Please share!

photo: Flickr user free4lance2 (cc)

Adult soccer leagues or games?

soccer ball grassSean emails:

With Euro 2012 going on now and the Olympics just around the corner, there's plenty of great soccer (football?) in our midst. All of the excitement has made me want to get outside and join up with a semi-competitive league or even just play some pick-up soccer. However, I can't seem to find ANY information about either. A reader asked a similar question back in 2009, but I'm sure a lot has changed and there's more updated info out there. Any tips? I'd prefer to play outdoors (i.e. not @ Afrim's) somewhere near Albany.

Know of an adult soccer league for Sean (or anyone) to play the beautiful game? Please share!

photo: Flickr user Katie@! (cc)

Where to hunt for fossils?

New York State fossil sea scorpion fossil

The official New York State fossil: Eurypterus remipes (sea scorpion)

Terence asks via Twitter:

Any reader suggestions for a local destination to look for (not buy) fossils? My son is dying to find a fossil this weekend.

Old quarries, road cuts, and natural cliffs are often good places to find fossils (you'll need to get permission in some cases). [State Museum]

Got a suggestion for Terence and his son? Please share!

photo: H. Zell via Wikipedia (cc)

Capital Region swimming pools 2012

victoria pool large

The Victoria Pool at Spa State Park.

Summer officially starts this week -- the summer solstice is Wednesday -- and it's also going to be 90something degrees. That's pool weather.

After the jump, a list of swimming pools around the Capital Region with info about when they open, hours, and cost. Many of them open this coming weekend.

Stay cool!

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The spread of Lyme disease

cdc national lyme disease map animation 2001-2010

Reported cases, year by year, from 2001-2010.

Mappage: We came across this CDC map of reported Lyme disease cases over the last decade (ending in 2010). The CDC site allows you to switch from year-to-year -- we piled all those years into the animation above.

The thing that struck us about the map is the way it illustrates how Lyme has spread from the coast and the very central part of the Hudson Valley to the entire Northeast (as well as Wisconsin and Minnesota).

As it happens, the number of reported cases in New York was down noticeably in 2010, the last year for which the data's posted by the CDC. The state's incidence rate that year -- confirmed cases per 100,000 people -- was 12.3 that year (12th highest in the country). It was 21.2 in 2009, and 29.5 in 2008.

Delaware led the nation in 2010 with a rate of 73.1. Vermont's rate was 43.3 that year, and Massachusetts' 36.3.

Earlier this spring a research org in the Hudson Valley -- the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies -- reported the "northeastern U.S. should prepare for a surge in Lyme disease this spring." And the reason wasn't the mild winter. Rather, researchers based their projections on mice and acorns:

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Barberville Falls closed for summer

Barberville Falls

Beautiful. And for this summer, closed to the public.

The Nature Conservancy is closing public access to the Barberville Falls in Rensselaer County this summer because it says people aren't following the rules there. From the org's press release:

Despite effort to prohibit swimming and other activities not allowed at the preserve, misuse of the preserve and disrespect for the preserve neighbors continues to be a problem.
"The decision to close the preserve, especially during the summer months, is a difficult one," said Rick Werwaiss, executive director, The Nature Conservancy Eastern New York Chapter. "In past years, the Conservancy has hired a security force, utilized volunteers, and had staff on site to patrol the preserve. Despite our efforts to discourage and control the misuse of the property, the problem has persisted and we feel closure is the only option currently available to us."
Closing the preserve will give the police the ability to strictly and consistently enforce the recurring issues of trespass, disturbing the peace, littering, swimming and climbing on the falls, and alcohol consumption.

The Nature Conservancy owns one side of the falls -- the other side is owned by a private homeowner. And as we found out when writing about the falls a few summers back, the homeowner is very serious about people not cutting across their property to reach the falls. That's understandable -- we wouldn't want hordes of people walking through our backyard all summer, either.

The conservancy says access to the falls will be closed from Memorial Day until Labor Day.

The whole situation is unfortunate. It really is a beautiful spot.

Earlier on AOA: Capital Region waterfall walks

photo: Sebastien Barre

Where to go skydiving?

two people skydivingVeronica emails:

My birthday is coming up at the end of the month and what better way to celebrate than to skydive on my birthday?! Know of any good places around here that offer skydiving at a reasonable price?

Know of a good place for Veronica to take the leap? Please share!

photo: Flickr user flawedartist

Bear captured in south Albany

albany bear 2012-05-01 DEC

This guy had a tough night -- he was tranquilized and fell out of a tree.

Updated Wednesday 4 pm

Albany police say they got a call about a bear in Albany's south end last night. From the press release:

Police were called to the 200 block of Mount Hope Drive, after a resident called stating a black bear was seen eating out of a bird feeder. Police arrived and observed a 175 pound black bear wandering through the yards. Police followed the bear and set up a perimeter in the rear of 156 Mount Hope Drive after the bear had climbed a tree.
The New York State Environmental Conservation Police responded and was able to get the bear out of the tree safely using a specialized tranquilizer. The bear was taken to the Environmental Conservation Building in Schenectady where it was evaluated by their medical staff. The bear is currently healthy and is expected to be released into the wild sometime later this afternoon.

Mount Hope Drive is near the end of 787, not too far from the Bethlehem line (map).

An update from state Department of Environmental Conservation's Rick Georgeson:

A 175-pound, two-year-old male bear was tranquilized in the city of Albany by DEC Environmental Conservation Officers last night around 9 p.m. The bear fell approximately 50 feet out of a tree in the vicinity of South Pearl St. and Interstate 787.
The bear is being evaluated at the Stamford DEC office to determine if it sustained any injuries from its fall. If the bear is healthy, it will be released in the Catskills. If it sustained serious injuries, it will have to be euthanized.
We do not know where the bear came from.

Update: Georgeson says the bear appears to be in good condition and will be released in the Catskill Forest Preserve on Thursday.

That's a photo of the bear above, via the DEC.

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Public comments for Thacher Park, Thompson's Lake

thacher park indian ladder trail lowerThe state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is looking for public comment as it develops a new master plan John Boyd Thacher and Thompson's Lake State Parks:

Park master plans are used by the agency to analyze and improve park facilities and provide park patrons with a satisfying experience of the park's recreation and natural resources. The plan will review the current conditions at the park and make recommendations for improvement to existing facilities as well as new facilities to meet patron needs.

There's an open house at the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center on Saturday, April 28 from 9 am - 5 pm -- park and agency staff will be there to discuss park issues and gather public input.

When Thacher Park was closed temporarily a few years ago because of cuts, there was a huge outpouring of public support for the park.

Hey, maybe this it the chance to push for getting the old pool there (of which many people apparently have fond memories) fixed re-built and re-opened.

(Thanks, Mary Beth!)

Earlier on AOA:
+ Thacher Park's namesake
+ The mystery at Hang Glider Cliff
+ Camping at Thompson's Lake State Park
+ Hiking the Indian Ladder Trail

photo: Kathie Dello

New York State's 2011 bear "harvest"

Thumbnail image for black bearThe state Department of Environmental Conservation reports there were 1258 bears killed by hunters in New York in 2011. That's up about 18 percent from 2010 -- and higher than the five-year average (1,152) -- but short of the record on the books (1864 bears in 2003).

Last year's total did include a record number for the sub area that covers part of the Capital Region. The DEC attributes the record to bear hunting being opened in counties stretching from Rockland and Westchester counties north to Washington County. The cover of the DEC report includes a photo of a hunter with a bear killed in Columbia County, which the agency says might have been the first bear taken in the county since the 1800s.

Capital Region
There were 26 bears killed in the Capital Region's core counties last year: Albany (4), Rensselaer (11), Saratoga (11).

Counties in the greater Capital Region: Columbia (10), Greene (68), Schoharie (19), Washington (20), Warren (27).

In recent years DEC has said that bear populations in the state are "thriving."

By the way: the word used by the DEC to describe a year's take of bears (and deer) is "harvest" -- which makes sense. But it always makes us think of a field of bears growing in rows. And we suspect the bears have a different word for it.

Earlier on AOA: Don't feed the bears

photo: Flickr user peupleloup

Running in the cold

winter running jen is green

Jen during one of her winter races.

By Jen Masa

We're always inspired when we read about the races Jen is running. And as self-described "winter runner," she runs all year round. So we thought we'd ask her for a few ideas about how to make running outside more comfortable and fun during the cold weather months.

Yes, winter is here! But that doesn't mean we have to stay indoors and on our couches. I like to stay active throughout the whole year, especially during the winter. Even when my couch seems more inviting, sometimes exercising outside in the cold can be invigorating! And there's nothing better than feeling the sunshine on your face! When exercising, I'll take cold weather over humidity any day. Within the past few years, I've made a habit of running outside in the winter and I really enjoy it.

Here are a few suggestions to help make your winter running experience more tolerable!

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Where to get ice skates sharpened?

ice skate blade heelNancy emails:

Now that the ESP rink is open, where can I get my figure skates sharpened?

If you can't remember the last time you had your skates sharpened -- and you've been skating on them -- it might be time.

Got a suggestion for Nancy? Please share!

Ice skating at the Empire State Plaza

empire state plaza ice skating 2012


The ice skating rink at the ESP re-opened this past Saturday for the first time since 2008. So, of course, we had to take a few turns.

Here are a few details if you decide to go. (And you totally should.)

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Capital Hills is open (for dogs)

otto at capital hills

Otto enjoys the wide open space.

A few people have asked about this recently, so we figured it's worth a mention: Capital Hills, the Albany municipal golf course, is now closed for golf -- which means it's open for dogs, walkers, cross country skiers, snowshoers, and tiny humans who like to sled.

Capital Hills might just be the best place in the Capital Region to walk your dog. During the winter, the course is like a giant (dog) park, where pups can run off leash. On the weekends there are usually a bunch of other dogs, so there's a lot of opportunity for playing. And the place itself can be beautiful, which makes for good (human) walking/snowshoeing/skiing.

Of course, there area a few rules/guidelines you should follow while there:

+ Please pick up the poop. We've been over this before, but it deserves repeating.

+ Somewhere around 95 percent of the dogs at the golf course play nicely with others and are well behaved. If your dog is in that other 5 percent, please take the necessary steps to keep him in line.

+ Watch out for the small humans who are there to sled. They are not always happy that your dog wants to meet them.

+ Please drive slowly through the parking lot. There are lots of dogs and kids about.

Ice skating rink returning to ESP

ice skaing rink ESP


Update Jan 3, 2012: Here are details about skating at the ESP rink.

Update Dec 14, 2011: OGS says it's aiming to open the rink the first week of January -- and skates will be available for renting (it will be free to skate).

The state Office of General Services announced over the weekend that the ice skating rink will be returning to the Empire State Plaza this winter. The ESP has been rinkless since the winter of 2007-08 because of budget cuts. (Full press release pasted after jump.)

OGS says it's aiming for an early January opening. The rink will be open afternoon and evenings, 7 days a week. Skating will be free. The exact date and operation times are still being worked out. (Also: some colder weather might speed things along.)

The rink's comeback is being funded in part by a $100,000 contribution Lake Placid Regional Winter Sports Committee, which is a "non-profit focused on supporting and developing Upstate New York as a sport destination for international and national winter sport events."

In the grand scheme of things, the skating rink isn't a big thing. But the news a few years back that it wasn't coming back because of budget cuts was a bit of a "gulp" moment about the economy and state budget. And there's just something beautiful about the scene created by people skating on the ESP. It's great the rink will be back.

If you've never seen the ESP rink -- or just want to remember what it looks like -- a few more photos from early 2008 are after the jump.

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Dyken Pond

dyken pond composite

By Bennett Campbell

My hiking partner saw the Pileated Woodpecker through the naked beech and maple trees just before I heard it. Alternately calling in a kek-kek that starts slow but speeds up into a laugh, and drilling into trunks like a jackhammer with its three inch bill, the crow-sized bird flitted from tree to tree as we tried to get closer. Crashing through the brush a startled buck cut our chase short, dashing across the path behind us and trotting to a safer spot deep in the woods.

This is late fall in the Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center -- 600 acres of public land in Rensselaer County where you can witness an abundance of nature.

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Where to pick apples

apples in tree

They're waiting for you.

We're right in the middle of prime apple picking season in upstate New York. So we've pulled together a map/listing of places in the Capital Region where you can pick your own.

Of course, apple picking isn't just about apples -- it's also about cider donuts (of course). So we've also noted which orchards are selling those, plus a few other bits of helpful information.

Is there a place you like to go that's not listed? Please share in the comments on this post. We'll add it.

photo: Flickr user Random Tree

Capital Region bike paths

colonie bike path

The Colonie section of the Hudson-Mohawk bike trail

By Danielle Furfaro

The Capital Region might not be the best place in the country for bicycle commuting, even though plenty of brave souls do bike to work via our car-dominated streets daily. But when it comes to biking recreationally through natural, scenic landscapes, our area is hard to beat.

When I was a teenager growing up in Latham, I'd regularly leave the house in the morning and head to the bike path along the Mohawk River, then ride to Rotterdam and then all the way to Rensselaer and return home in the evening. There's nothing like the feeling of taking off aimlessly on a bike for a couple of hours, or even for an entire day. If you have a properly functioning bicycle, proper clothing and plenty of time, adventures will practically make themselves.

Here are a handful of bike trails around the Capital Region...

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A good spot for star gazing?

night sky adirondacks lakeVia Twitter, @KTdilello asks:

Any suggestions on places to stargaze (away from city lights)....

The moon will be waning over the next few weeks (good for seeing stars), and the forecast is calling for warm nights and somewhat clear skies, so there could be some good stargazing. Also: the Perseid meteor shower is coming up in August.

So, got a suggestion? Please share!

photo: Flickr user stillwellmike (it's a beautiful photo)

Where to go kayaking?

kayaking adirondack pondCap2Cap asks via Twitter:

Where can I kayak and/or swim within an hour's drive? Need to rent the boat.

Got a suggestions for Cap2Cap? Please share!

photo: Flickr user dwstucke

Wild edibles in urban Albany

roasted chicken with purslane and lambs quarters

Roasted chicken with Purslane and Lamb's Quarters. Only two of those things grow free in the city of Albany.

By Noah Sheetz

Ever wonder exactly "what" you are taking out of your garden when you set your mind to the mundane task of weed pulling?

Over the years I've befriended several master gardeners, farmers and herbalists, and it turns out that most of the weeds growing around us are in some way edible or medicinal in nature.

There are hundreds if not thousands of wild edibles in our region, including morel mushrooms, ramps, and fiddlehead ferns, all of which are foraged in the wild and fetch premium prices. In the Albany area there are several edible weeds that sprout up indiscriminately year after year in gardens, lawns, the concrete medians of 787, the cracks of sidewalks, and even on the soil-absent roof tops of buildings.

Here are a few of them -- and recipes on how to prepare them...

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Tour de Habitat 2011

tour de habitat 2010Here's something to look ahead to: the 2011 Tour de Habitat.

The annual cycling ride is a fundraiser for Capital District Habitat for Humanity. It gives riders the option of traveling a 100, 50, 25 or 10 mile route. The ride is September 18.

The entry fee is $100 -- and the hope is that riders will get sponsors to help cover the fee (and then some). The fee includes a fully-supported route, t-shirt, and -- because Evans Ale is a sponsor -- a pre- and post-race meal at the Pump Station, as well as two post-race pints of beer.

We saw today that Jen is interested in riding this year, so we decided to sponsor her. AOA is matching $50 of the money she's able to raise toward the entry fee -- so head on over and hit her a few bucks.

Recycled: Pretty. Stinky.

pear tree blossomsWhile out walking Otto today we noticed the pear trees -- with their white blossoms and, uh, distinctive odor -- are back in bloom. As Ryan wrote for AOA last year (almost a year to the day):

Which brings us finally to this: why does this tree smell so horrible? As far as I can tell, there isn't any research on why exactly the trees stink. However, I did come up with this: all of the approximately 30 species of pear contain the aroma compound pentyl butanoate. I will spare you the biochemistry -- this is the compound that makes pears and apricots smell as they do. One the precursors of pentyl butanoate is butyric acid, which is present in butter, parmesan cheese and... vomit.

Ryan's post also gets into the history of the trees and why they're everywhere (despite the stink).

Sheep eat the baaaaad

Sheep Dog

Sheep -- and dogs -- will be working to clear invasive plants from the Normanskill Farm.

By Liz Clancy Lerner

There's a new (old) way to combat invasive plant species in upstate New York: small flocks of sheep.

Gary Kleppel, a professor of biological sciences at UAlbany and director of the Biodiversity Conservation and Policy Program there, is in the process of setting up a "targeted grazing" project using sheep at Albany's city-owned Normanskill Farm.

His sheep start arriving in a few weeks and then, with the help of students, dogs, and a fancy fence, the sheep get to work -- eating and gnawing at the plants that cause problems for our ecosystem.

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The mystery at Hang Glider Cliff

Hang Glider Cliff Plaque
By Liz Clancy Lerner

Hang Glider Cliff at Thacher State Park is a pretty amazing spot. It's where many local hang gliders and paragliders take off from, and was once the starting point for a 71-mile flight all the way to Walton, New York (a record for the cliff).

There's a bit of a mystery atop Hang Glider Cliff, a plaque that reads "Fly Forever Dad" with the initials "ECS Jr" and the dates 1919-1992. It's embedded in the cement of the small runway. So who is ECS, and who laid that plaque?

Was it the site of a hang glider takeoff gone wrong? Is it a memorial for a man who loved flying, but died of other causes?

No one seemed to know, so I started asking around...

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Lock 7 Park

Lock 7 Composite

By Liz Clancy Lerner

There's a lot you can do at the Erie Canal's Lock 7 Park in Niskayuna: watch the water rush over the dam, picnic, walk the bike-hike trail, spot birds, fish. And, of course, come May 1 -- watch the boats go through the locks.

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Schenectady County Horticulture Education Center

Horticulture Center Seedling

By Liz Clancy Lerner

Good things come from the Schenectady County Horticulture Education Center.

Good in the form of thousands of flowering plants that go back into the community, job training for adults who need assistance, and horticultural classes for the general public.

It's tucked away in Schenectady's Central Park, but its impact on the community is everywhere. And you can be involved too.

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Day hikes near Albany?

ask aoa hiking art Theresa asks via Twitter:

What is your favorite place to go for a scenic day hike around Albany?

A few places immediately came to mind: Peebles Island, the Papscanee Preserve, the Plotter Kill. But one of the great things about the Capital Region is that there are plenty of ways to get hip-deep in nature without having to drive too far.

We all have a favorite place; what's yours?

Photo: Flickr user dvs

A good place to camp?

camping tentsDan from Albany emails:

Hey, I was wondering if you guys could put up a post that could help me find camping spots in the area (adirondacks, catskills, western mass and vt) for a group of adults without kids. It seems like every place caters to families.

Got a suggestion for Dan? Please share!

photo: Flickr user Mike Burns

Why the Albany Pine Bush is sandy

Pine Bush Sand

By Liz Clancy Lerner

The Albany Pine Bush has, at times, perhaps been underappreciated. "Not even a diseased dog ought to be allowed to die and be buried on its premises, out of the respect for the dog," wrote a 19th century historian of the sandy landscape. Ouch. Later, the Thruway would plow through the area. And, of course, it's also the site of the Albany landfill.

But the Pine Bush is a bit of a rarity -- an inland pine barren (sandy, but not near the coast). In fact, only twenty places like it exist in the world.

So, how did all that sand end up in the Pine Bush?

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It's race season

Race Season Wide Schenectady 5k

It was a cold Schenectady Firefighter's Run for Your Life 5k this past Saturday.

By Liz Clancy Lerner

Spring's technically here which means race season is too. In the Capital Region there are lots of runs, walks, rides and triathlons to take part in.

Whether you do it for the competition, for the t-shirt, or for the charity there's likely a race around here that'll interest you...

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Bears. In the bag.

black bearThe DEC reports that 1,064 bears were "harvested" in New York State last year. That's down about 400 from 2009 (the second-highest total year on record), but it's just about the average number during the past 10 years.

There were eight reported bear kills in the core Capital Region last year. Five in Saratoga County -- four in Hadley, one in Edinburg. And the other three were in Albany County -- one each in Berne, Rensselaerville and Westerlo. There were 21 in the Capital Region in 2009, and 17 in 2008.

A little farther out in 2010: Greene County (49), Schoharie (14), Warren (34), Washington (1).

The DEC says black bears are "thriving" in the state and "represent a great resource for all New Yorkers." No word on how the bears feel about that, but sources within the ursa administration report they'd feel a lot better about it if they were also allowed to have guns.

Oh, deer: The DEC also reported today that more than 230,000 deer were killed by hunters in the state last year.

Earlier on AOA: Don't feed the bears

photo: Flickr user peupleloup

A Super Moon walk

Moon Walk Big Moon

It's only 221,567 miles away.

By Liz Clancy Lerner

Once a month a group meets at Moreau State Park in Saratoga County for a full moon walk around the lake. This month, though, the walk was super.

This past Saturday was a "super full moon" -- the moon was at its closest point to Earth on its elliptical orbit, and appeared about 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than usual. The last time a full moon was so close was 18 years ago.

But, that's all details. The bottom line is that it looked pretty cool...

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An icy walk at dusk

Ice Walk Dusk

By Liz Clancy Lerner

I may have cursed the frozen rain as it fell Sunday night, and the snow as it covered the ground yesterday morning, but once the sun came out I was praising the beauty of what was left behind.

I took a walk along the Mohawk-Hudson Bike-Hike trail and the Mohawk River State Park in Niskayuna to photograph the remnants of our recent wintry mix.

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Once snow, now melt

This clip is from the Cohoes Falls Sunday morning. The volume of water going over the falls has been up quite a bit over the last few days as all that snow melted (or, was melting). Impressive, but it's not the torrent from last March.

Still, it makes for a quality whooooshhh.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Capital Region waterfall walks
+ An even better look at the Cohoes Falls

Fox stalking

Fox Stalk

One of these days I'll get a good photo.

By Liz Clancy Lerner

I've become a bit obsessed with staring at my backyard.

It all started when I noticed paw prints in the snow a few months ago. They were about the size of a dog's, but in an area of the yard where Henry, our 50-pound-mutt doesn't go.

Then a few weeks later I saw movement on the top of a brush-laiden hill near the house. I couldn't quite figure out what was moving until I caught a glimpse of its burnt orange fur.

It was a pair of red fox.

Since then I do my work near the window, plan my schedule so I'm home around noon (when the two fox are usually out) and keep my camera by me at all times.

I keep looking out the window wondering if they'll frolic with my dog, a la The Fox and The Hound.

As it turns out, they're no fisher but they're pretty fantastic, those fox. And while they probably won't play with my dog -- they're not likely to hurt him either.

Here are a few quick fox facts...

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Do-it-yourself skiing at Ski Venture in Glenville

Ski Venture Grooming

By Liz Clancy Lerner

There's a ski area in Glenville that's reminiscent of days past: no chair lifts, no snow-making, and no high-priced lift tickets (season-long family memberships cost $60 -- really).

It's run by a ski club that's been around since 1937, but there's a good chance you haven't heard of it. It's called Ski Venture -- and according to its president, Frank Winters, "Up until this year it's been too well kept of a secret."

It's understandable why its members might have wanted to keep it hush. The prices are low, it's family friendly, and once you're a member and trained hill master, you can ski there anytime, day or night.

But, there's one catch: only a limited number of people are allowed to belong each season.

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An eagle-eyed walk on Peebles Island

peebles island winter cohoes

The view toward Cohoes. That's Harmony Mills in the distance.

By Akum Norder

I'm going to tell you a story about something that didn't happen. But that doesn't mean the story is a sad one.

Peebles Island State Park is one of my favorite Underappreciated Places of the Capital Region. The island, which sits where the Mohawk and Hudson rivers meet, is easy to get to and has a nice little trail. But what makes Peebles so interesting is the views: From the cliffside trail you can see waterfalls, other islands, the waterfronts of the surrounding cities, and factories and other industrial sites, some empty, some humming. And then there's the forest and fauna of Peebles Island itself. Not entirely natural or entirely urban, it's a compelling combination.

Its primary draw, at least this time: The eagles.

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Places to try cross country skiing

cross country skis look down

Look down. Look up. You're on skis.

By Katie Beltramo

The snow just keeps coming, and it's still only January.

We've got a lot of winter ahead of us, which means there's plenty of time to learn a new hobby. Maybe you'd like to try a little cross country (aka Nordic) skiing?

If you recently read the post on Lapland Lake, you're probably tempted to go. I have several friends who insist that it's their absolute favorite cross country skiing destination. But if you're a complete novice who'd like to test the snow drifts a little closer to home, you have options...

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How to properly dress in cold weather

Goldstocks How to Keep Warm Composite

Layers. Lots of layers.

By Liz Clancy Lerner

Ahhhh, winter in the Northeast: feet of fluffy snow one week, inches of painful, crusty sleet and freezing rain the next. You have to be prepared for anything in these parts, which is why I visited the folks at Goldstock's Sporting Goods in Scotia. They've been outfitting the Capital Region with cold weather gear since 1896.

Owner Ladon Roylance and retail employee Lisa Clock took time out of their day to explain to me the art of keeping warm. (Apparently, the soccer socks and NKOTB shirts I used to wear skiing weren't helping me much.)

Technology has come a long way since I was a kid: Goldstock's has vests that heat up, gloves with their own warming finger inserts and a machine that will form fit a ski boot to your foot.

But you don't have to go to such lengths to stay warm. Five principles will keep you properly bundled in the cold...

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Lapland Lake: a bit of Finland in the Adirondacks

Lapland Lake Composite Food

By Liz Clancy Lerner

The skeptic in me wanted to immediately dismiss the authenticity of Lapland Lake's "Finnish" theme. But after taking in the picturesque setting, sampling the Lohilaatlkko (salmon casserole) and hearing cheesy Finnish versions of American pop music playing outside the lodge - I was sold, er myyty.

Not only does Lapland Lake have world-class cross country skiing, but it makes you feel like you've been transported to the Lapland -- just 60 miles from Albany.

The resort is run by former U.S. Olympic cross country skier Olavi Hirvonen and his wife Ann. Olavi's parents are from Finland and he spent quite a few years living there. His passion for skiing and all things Finnish pour out of this place.

If you're thinking about planning a trip, there are a few things to keep in mind (like where to find the reindeer)...

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Rare Old Growth: Lisha Kill Natural Area

Lisha Kill Composite

By Liz Clancy Lerner

Though the Capital Region has a good amount of green space, you usually have to travel a bit to enjoy an area that feels fully wild. Fortunately, we've got something close.

The Lisha Kill Natural Area in Niskayuna is 108 acres of flowing streams, deep ravines and high-reaching trees covered with moss and fungi. It's beautiful, untouched and just a little bit eerie. (It immediately reminded me of the woodland setting in M. Night Shyamalan's The Village.)

It's a great place for a short hike -- especially during the winter.

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Snowshoeing in the Capital Region

katie's daughter snow shoeing in the woods

Get outside and take it all in.

By Katie Beltramo

Let's face it: we live in Upstate New York, and we're likely to see plenty of snow in the next two or three months. This time of year it takes considerable willpower for me to resist snuggling under the covers with a book and hibernating until spring.

But that's no way to live! Okay, honestly, it's pretty good for a morning once in a while.

However, since I don't want to creep out of bed on March 20 looking pasty and pudgy and blinking at the unfamiliar sunshine, I try to do winter-only activities for a little outdoor fun. And snowshoeing is great way to start.

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Box elder bugs

box elder bug

Boisea trivittata

We always notice a few of these bugs in the house each fall. It was only a few years ago that we found out they're box elder bugs (named after the tree). Apparently they're essentially harmless.

Fun fact about box elder bugs: they're from an order known as "true bugs."

Anyway, the Gazette reports there's been a bumper crop of box elder bugs this fall in the Capital Region.

The change of season at Capital Hills

otto at capital hills

Otto takes in the open space.

The City of Albany's golf course, Capital Hills, has closed for golf for the year. That's sad for golfers... but happy for dog walkers, sledders and cross-country skiers.

After the golf course closes for the season, it basically becomes a giant park. It's one of the best places to walk dogs -- they're allowed to go off-leash, and there's plenty of room to run. On the weekends, there are always a bunch dogs ready to play, but it's not cramped like a dog park.

The course is Otto's favorite place -- maybe out of everywhere.

The course is a beautiful piece of land, rolling hills alongside the Normanskill. Right now, the grass is a deep green and the last few autumn leaves are hanging on the trees. After a snow, it's absolutely peaceful.

12 hours in Columbia County

columbia county composite

Enough for more than a day.

Columbia County is so close that... you might already be there. And if you're not, you should go -- unless you don't like food, art, shopping and beautiful scenery.

No, those things all sound pretty good? Well, here are some ideas on how to spend a day in Columbia County...

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The fall carpet

foliage on sidewalk

In season.

For no other reason than the fact that Tuesday included some gorgeous fall weather. (Mike had the right idea.)

It looks like Wednesday's going to be rainy, but Thursday and Friday look OK (though cooler). Here are some nice autumn walks. And waterfalls aren't so bad in the fall, either.

Earlier on AOA: Leaving a mark

Moose country

moose at saratoga track

A moose sighted at the Saratoga Race Course in June 2009.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation reports that the number of moose in New York is "rapidly" increasing. The DEC estimates there are now about 800 moose on the loose in the North Country -- up from 500 three years ago, and as few as 50 in the 1990s.

From the press release:

As their population has grown in New England and Canada, Alces Alces, or the North American Moose, began migrating to New York in the last decade, establishing a base in the North Country. That trend has continued with increases in young and adult moose populations and increased sightings by hunters and the public at large. DEC biologists stress that the population numbers are estimated but that the growth is clear.

Apparently, this time of year is the peak season for moose activity, as amorous moose wander the landscape looking to hook up (common moose pickup line: "nice rack").

All that moose activity means you're more likely to see one this time of year -- and you're also more likely to hit one with your car. Moose are as tall as six feet at the shoulder and weigh as much as 1200 pounds, so they can do quite a bit of damage.

DEC says most of New York's moose (we really want to call them meese) are located in the Adirondacks, but there are some in the Taconics along the border with Vermont and Massachusetts.

Incidentally, the press release didn't include details about whether there's been a coincidental increase in the flying squirrel population.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Earlier this year, the DEC reported the state's bear and bald eagle populations were both growing
+ Foxes and fishers and bears, oh my!
+ Your new neighbors, the fishers

photo: Lynn Drew/NYRA Photo

Capital Region waterfall walks

rensselaerville falls

The top of the Rensselaerville Falls at the Huyck Preserve.

We've been a little waterfall-crazy lately. There's just something about walking through the woods and coming upon that whoosh of water as it falls over rocks. And with the leaves just starting to turn, now is a great time to check out a few.

After the jump, a handful of local waterfalls that are worth a look.

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Good local fishing spots?

fishing pole reelBill emails, fishing pole in hand (OK, we're assuming that part):

I have lived in the area for almost 15 years, and my fishing gear has been in the area for 12 (after leaving SUNY Albany). I don't have a boat here, but I love fishing for bass, walleye, northern pike, etc.
Can anyone recommend any good local spots to fish from shore, or any local lakes/rivers that have inexpensive canoe/boat rentals? I would love to take my 4 year old out for a day, or grab a couple of friends and a 12 pack. Suggestions are needed!

Anyone have tips for Bill? Please share!

photo: Trevor Manternach

The Huyck Preserve

huyck preserve rensselaerville falls

The Rensselaerville Falls at the Huyck Preserve.

Looking to stretch our legs and get some fresh air this weekend, we headed out for the Huyck Preserve in the far southwest corner of Albany County.

We had a great time. Have a look...

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The Scoop

Ever wish you had a smart, savvy friend with the inside line on what's happening around the Capital Region? You know, the kind of stuff that makes your life just a little bit better? Yeah, we do, too. That's why we created All Over Albany. Find out more.

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