How do traditions get started? Probably because something was meaningful and brought joy so people did them again and again at the same time every year. At least that’s what I’m guessing. I only took a handful of sociology classes and one cultural anthropology class, both seemingly about a million years ago. But that sounds about right.
So after two years I decided to call First Day Hikes a father-daughter tradition for me and my pops. For all the castigation heaped upon social media, that’s how I originally learned about First Day Hikes, a national program encouraging people to go out to state parks on Jan. 1. My dad and I went last year on a brutally cold and windy day taking a guided walk around Goat Island and over to the remodeled state park at Niagara Falls. This year I searched out the events held by New York State Parks and found several in Western New York. One seemed particularly interesting — a walk through old growth forest at De Veaux Woods continuing on to overlook the Whirlpool.
What was particularly interesting is that despite being lifelong Western New Yorkers, neither my dad nor myself had heard of De Veaux Woods before. Well, technically I had heard about it in that I had noticed a small sign on Route 104 that said “De Veaux Woods State Park” but that was the extent of my knowledge. Both our curiosities were piqued. So after depositing my mother at the Seneca Niagara Casino (another New Year’s Day tradition apparently)we headed off to explore this new-to-us park in a familiar environment.
As our walk began here’s what we learned:
- Judge Samuel De Veaux deeded his land to start a school for orphaned and destitute children, operating with a military theme through the 1950s.
- In the 1970s the land was purchased by Niagara University, housing the school’s art studio.
- In 2000 the State of New York took ownership, converted it to a state park which is now the home of the Niagara Frontier Region offices.
The old growth forest is small and the path is maybe a quarter mile, but it holds a beauty and a tranquility, the later particularly noticeable as it sits so close to such a powerful natural force. There are several trees estimated to be 300 years old, left untouched by the luck of the draw. This is where we learned some basics of forest growth. Pioneer species — ash, birch, popular — require lots of light to thrive. They’re called “pioneer” because they are the first on the scene particularly after a natural disturbance (think damaging windstorm or fire). Once these trees grow tall they provide the shade necessary for other species, like oaks, to grow. Which brings us to the old growth in the forest.
Signs of an old growth tree which were most noticeable to me were the roots. Commonly called “dinosaur toes” they are buttress roots and form when the roots can go no further down into the ground. The roots then start to grow out to support the tree trunk. Old growth trees also typically do not have any branches for about 70 feet. They were huge, amazing and beautiful and worth the chilly temps and wind.
We continued our walk across the Robert Moses Parkway over to Whirlpool State Park. This, too, was part of the De Veaux campus at one time but was sold to the state in the 1920s. This park I’m particularly familiar with. The upper trail from Devils Hole to past Whirlpool is a favorite running spot of mine. But no matter how many times I’ve seen the whirlpool, the rapids or Niagara Falls I am in awe each time. Each time is different. Each time fills me with wonder. If I ever become jaded about going to the Niagara Gorge region, please have me checked out by several well-trained medical professionals as that would be a sign something is truly wrong.
We walked south, taking in a view of the river and the rapids. Niagara Falls originally was at Lewiston but erosion has brought it back to its current location. The rapids are a key to understanding the movement of the falls. Since the river is shallow in this area (40 feet) and the gorge is narrow, it tells that the falls were unstable while in this area, meaning they didn’t set up shop here for very long or else the river would be deeper and the gorge wider from the repeated force of the water. The combination of narrow and shallow combined with the width and depth and force of the falls south of it creates the forces for the rapids which then creates the whirlpool to its north.
I tell ya, the more you know.
We walked along an unpaved path along the river, much to the delight of my father who was seeing a few areas he didn’t know existed previously. Our return was less than exciting, walking on the concrete Robert Moses recreational trail then back to the De Veaux trail and into the woods.
The walk was easy and relatively short. The information was fascinating. Some women asked our guide about birds in the area and he had a ton of great information, none of which I retained but that will make it all the more interesting when I hear it at another time.
First Day Hikes combine nearly everything I love — a walk in the woods, history and learning something new about the environment I live in.Oh, and the swag. I like the swag as well. But most of all, I enjoy the time with my dad — being outside, learning new things. I can’t think of a better way to set the tone for a new year.
Date: Jan. 1, 2016
Location: De Veaux Woods
Total distance: approx. 1.5 miles
Duration: 1 hour 20 minutes
Weather: 31 degrees, windy, mostly clouds with sunny breaks
Hiked with: Dad and NYS Parks First Day Hike
“First Day Hike with New York State Parks from De Veaux Woods (who knew?) to Whirlpool.”
Generated by Facebook Photo Fetcher 2