Clark Reservation: Paradise Lost?

Today, after a three mile hike through Clark Reservation in Jamesville just outside of Syracuse, my boyfriend Ben and I settled onto the sofa with chips and fresh guacamole (my specialty) for channel surfing. We stopped at the Ken Burns documentary, National Parks: America’s Best Idea, on PBS and both looked at each other in amazement at the coincidence: We had just spent much of our hike discussing Governor Paterson’s plan to close 41 of the 178 State Parks in New York this year. I fear Burns’ next flick may be Closing State Parks: New York’s Worst Idea.

Clark Reservation Limestone Cliffs

Clark Reservation's Glacier Lake sits about 200 feet below ground level.

While Clark Reservation is one of the State Parks on the chopping block, Ben and I didn’t hike there to say goodbye (maybe we’re in the denial stage of the grieving process?). We hike Clark often as it’s one of Ben’s favorite parks; he’s been going there since age five. However, knowing that closure is a possibility emphasized just how much we stand to lose. At the risk of being overly dramatic, which I am accused of from time to time, it was like one of those moments in life where you fully contemplate it will end someday. In that instant your focus sharpens onto what’s really important: You vow to live more fully, appreciate the little things, and more frequently proclaim your affection for friends and family. You want to cling to every moment; you’ll never take life for granted again!

On today’s walk through Clark, I had one of those “everything ends someday” moments and realized that State Parks are no longer the pieces of protected paradise I’d always assumed they were. They aren’t forever; they have a life span. My moment came while walking behind Ben and my dog, Rufus, through a stand of giant cedar trees (local legend hypes them up to being a thousand years old). Instead of enjoying the old-growth forest, I pictured a private home in their place (I remembered seeing a sign for a new development across the street from Clark), or worse, a limestone quarry that would destroy its unique geological features.
Clark Reservation Limestone Cave

A small limestone cave.

At that realization of loss, those features came into sharp focus: I looked down almost 200 feet to the circular Glacier Lake, one of just a handful of meromictic lakes in America – including the two at nearby Green Lakes State Park. Meromictic lakes are unique in that unlike regular lakes, the water levels do not mix. This means that deeper water levels contain sediment and water from thousands of years ago: resources for uncovering natural history. Glacier Lake is the remaining plunge basin of an ancient waterfall estimated to have had a greater water volume than Niagara Falls.

Clark Reservation Fern

A tough fern survives winter.

In addition to the rare lake, you can peer into vertical caves on the limestone cliffs – some descending a hundred feet. If you stick your hand into one of the cracks on a summer day, you’ll feel a blast of cold air. Besides its geological significance, Clark is a favorite among plant lovers as it features 19 species of fern – one only found there. And perhaps most importantly – and most simply – Clark is a great place to walk. I remember hiking there this summer through velvety green prehistoric ferns and mysterious limestone formations and feeling grateful to have found a little piece of paradise in Central New York.

So here we are, listening to the Ken Burns documentary and hearing narrators boast that National Parks are “something more stable than you are, something more enduring than you are” and another state that National Parks are “designed by God and destined to be protected forever.” It doesn’t seem fair that this philosophy applies to National Parks but not State Parks.

Ok, I get it: Life’s not forever. But I assumed that State Parks were. Or, that at least they’d be around for a long, long time. I also figured State Parks best resided in the hands of the government, where they’d be safe from private interests and preserved for the public – yet another everything-ends-someday moment.

Please Patterson and crew, think of America’s Best Idea before you go and make a really bad idea – reality. The problem with paradise is that once it’s lost, it’s rarely found again.

Clark Reservation Sign Across from Development Sign

A sign for a development (right) across the road from Clark Reservation (left).

Visit Clark Reservation

Give Yourself: Any amount of time. There are ten trails ranging in length from a half mile to over two – many are linked. Check out a map here.
Highlights: Shaggy bark hickory trees, woodpeckers (and pecked-out trees), and unique limestone formations.
Other Info: Don’t walk along the limestone cliffs in the winter as you can’t see the deep, vertical caves!

Some Hard, Cold Facts

Yes, I know New York State has a $8.2 billion deficit and cutbacks are inevitable. However, closing NY State Parks does not make economic sense: New York State’s tourism industry generates annual revenues of $7 billion (visitor spending, taxes, and fees). And over 53 million people visited NY State Parks last year. It seems that closing parks would actually result in a loss to a major revenue stream, no? Source for Statistics: NYSTVA

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8 comments to Clark Reservation: Paradise Lost

  • Leslie

    I have to agree with you Linds – closing State Parks is something I never EVER thought could happen. It’s a shame.

  • mott

    Great insight into the importance of keeping our state parks open. I know in Michigan, many of the state parks bring back family memories – each summer we would camp overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan. Great memories!

  • Ben

    If only every organization and group that receives funds from the state or is part of the state would give in a little and take a few concessions we wouldn’t have to lose such amazing natural resources. It is pathetic that as a state we are in such turmoil that we have to close parks to try to save a small amount of money that only accounts for .3% of the projected 8.2 billion 2010 budget deficit. Bring back the fat tax and MP3 music tax please

  • Ben

    Proof a fat tax can save us and our parks

  • Joel Schaeffer

    Hi, Lindsay. Great article. National Parks are not forever either. You will never guess what the nation’s second national park was. I’ll give you a hint; it was established in 1875 only four years after the nation’s first park, but it is no longer a national park. The good news, you can still visit it today as it is still public land. Yup, here in Michigan.

    We here in Michigan have seen many ouf our state forest campgrounds closed over the past few years. They are a step below our state parks usually more remote, with fewer amenities, and less well visited, but the state still owns the property. Our state parks remain a favorite among our citizens and the politicians haven’t dared touch them-yet. In fact we are trying something new here. When renewing our auto license one can pay a small extra fee and get a special license that allow the owner free entrance into all our parks. The fee is much less than our current annual park pass. The hope here is that many many more people will say “$10, that ain’t bad, I’ll do it”. And this will translate into more $$ and hopefully more visitors.

    Good chatting with you.

  • Lindsay

    Hi Joel – Mackinac Island State Park, right?!? (I had just a little help from Google…) What’s annoying here in NYS is that some parks charge around $7 per visit, while others charge nothing. There’s no consistency. We have the “Empire Pass” – an annual pass that gets you into all the parks for $65. Michigan has a good idea with their license plates, I’ll let Paterson know ;).

    I’m glad you checked out my blog and I hope to write more about Michigan this summer when I visit! (And if you ever feel inspired, perhaps you could do a guest blog post?)

  • Here is a new book CLARK RESERVATION pictures and nature appreciation quotes. Fully viewable, click “Full Screen” on upper right.

    Some pictures are from the 19th Century. In 1915, botanists and geologists joined together to advocate to Albany that Clark was a special place.

    Be sure to go down the stairs to the lake and also to find the trail to the adjacent Jamesville Quarry.

    Clark Reservation

  • […] Cliff Trail at Clark Reservation in Jamesville near Syracuse (read about an earlier winter stroll, here). I stayed back with the dogs (another Ringo and Rufus adventure) while he looked down at the deep, […]

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