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Rome Sand Plains Resource Management Area

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Rome Sand Plains locator map

Rome Sand Plains is one of only a handful of inland pine barrens in the nation, encompassing approximately 16,000 acres within the City of Rome, New York. This natural resource treasure consists of high sand dunes and low peat bogs, along with pine barrens and hardwood forests, meadows and wetlands.

The sand plains are a favorite visiting location for nature lovers from all over. The unique bird life, butterflies and plants make it a field trip stop for high school and college classes, birdwatching groups and other outdoor enthusiasts.

DEC began purchasing lands in at the Sand Plains in the 1980's, working with The Nature Conservancy (TNC) to acquire and protect critical parcels. In addition to individual parcels owned by DEC and TNC, the Izaak Walton League, Oneida County and the City of Rome also own property in the Sand Plains. These five organizations own approximately 4000 acres within the Sand Plains.

Trails in the Sand Plains

Wood Creek Trail

Wood Creek TrailFollow this gentle one-half mile trail along the crest of a towering dune to the banks of historic Wood Creek. The trail begins off a small parking lot on Hogsback Road. Visitors here are greeted by two informational signs which describe the geological formation of the sand dunes and the history of the east-west navigation on Wood Creek. Be sure to sign in at the trail register.

The first part of the trail cuts through an open sandy area with scattered pitch pines and barren openings of moss and lichens. One of the projects the Management Team and local colleges have undertaken in this area is the reestablishment of blue lupines. A lucky May visitor can see these beautiful flowers which are essential to the survival of the endangered frosted elfin butterfly.

Then the trail winds through a variety of forest cover types. There are tall white pine, hemlock and oak on the trail where it cuts along the side of this outstanding example of a ancient sand dune. The trail then drops down to the shrubby flood plain of Wood Creek.

Sand Dune Trail

This trail starts at a former sand mining pit. Note what a sand dune looks like in cross-section - gently sloping windward side and steeply sloping leeward side. Follow the trail along old wood roads and logging paths for a walk on the dune. The pitch pines and other vegetation keep the sand dune stable against prevailing westerly winds. On the back side of the dune it drops sharply off into forested wetlands.

The Resource Management Team

The Rome Sand Plains Resource Management Area was formally dedicated in October 1997. The site is cooperatively managed by the Rome Sand Plains Resource Management Team, which includes representatives from DEC, The Nature Conservancy, the City of Rome, Oneida County, the Izaak Walton League, the State Department of Transportation, the New York State Canals Corporation, the State Museum, the Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission, New York Rivers United, the Adirondack Mountain Club, the Rome Area Chamber of Commerce, the Oneida Nation, the Rome Historical Society, and the West Rome Riders, Inc.

Trail register The management team has prepared a unit management plan for the area in order to protect, maintain and enhance the geological, ecological and historical values of the Sand Plains, while also promoting recreational opportunities. The active partnership between the State and the local community is instrumental in protecting the Rome Sand Plains, and enhancing it's value as a community and environmental resource. The area is a priority project in the Open Space Conservation Plan for Region 6 and this project will expand the opportunities to explore historical, geological and ecological wonders of the Sand Plains.

Here are short narratives on each of the landowner partners in the Sand Plains.

Department of Environmental Conservation

The DEC owns approximately 1765 acres in the RSP. All of the DEC's lands are classified as a Unique Natural Area which has certain management implications. The DEC's holdings in the RSP are concentrated in the south center of the unit around Hogsback and Oswego Roads. DEC lands currently support two of the major developed trails, the Dunes Trail and the Wood Creek Trail.

Hunting and trapping are allowed on DEC's and the County's holdings and follow the statewide regulations. Trails can not be used by motorized vehicles. Forestry management is practiced on parts of the DEC held properties while other areas are reserved to preserve their ecological significance, especially the bog and other wetlands. Areas identified as habitat for rare or endangered plants or animals are also protected from influences that would alter the habitat.

The Nature Conservancy

The Nature Conservancy is part of the partnership that has developed to conserve the unique Rome Sand Plains and make it an asset to the City of Rome. The Conservancy's work there has included acquiring more than 1,000 acres of valuable wetlands, pine barrens and forests; assisting New York State in acquiring nearly 2,000 acres of ecologically important forests and pine barrens; raising money to develop trails and educational signage; and helping to manage important natural habitats. Together with scientists, volunteers, and agency partners, the Conservancy has used its science-based approach to conservation management to help plan for pine barrens restoration and undertake restoration of wild blue lupine in order to support and expand the rare frosted elfin butterfly and eventually to reintroduce Federally Endangered Karner blue butterfly.

On TNC properties within the Sand Plains public access by foot is allowed. White-tailed deer may be hunted by permit. Proof of liability insurance is required and hunters are asked to volunteer for 1-2 days of work on the property during the non-hunting season. Trapping and small game hunting are not allowed.

TNC is a private, non-profit conservation organization. Its mission is to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. Active in New York since its inception in 1951, The Conservancy has been working with communities, businesses, agencies, and local people to protect more than 117 million acres around the world.

Izaak Walton League

The Izaak Walton League owns 440 acres on the eastern boundary of the Rome Sand Plains which is protected for the public interest. Their property encompasses the Pitch Pine Bog and is developed with approximately 3.5 miles nature trails in several loops. The trails pass through a mixture of bog, pitch pine and upland forest habitats. The property contains one of the largest beaver ponds in New York State.

The Izaak Walton League manages its property for recreation and outdoor education use. Cross country skiing, hiking and biking are allowed on the property. During open seasons, hunting and trapping are allowed under a special permit the individuals first obtain from the chapter president. There are no fires, motorized vehicles or camping allowed.

The parking lot for access to the trails is located on West Thomas Street. Get there by turning from the combined routes 46, 49 and 69 onto Gifford Road, just east of where route 69 splits off. Travel on Gifford Road to the stop sign. Turn left onto West Thomas Street. The parking lot is one-half mile on the left.

Oneida County

The Oneida County's holdings encompass approximately 770 acres in the western end of the RSP. The County's lands are managed for timber production by the county forester and include substantial wetlands. The County's property includes a fire training tower as well as a former roadway to Teelins Pond. The County allows public use of its property, including hunting and trapping. Its policy is to suppress all fires.

Geology

The Sand Plains' geologic origins date to the end of the last ice age when this area stood on the shores of ancient Lake Iroquois. This glacial lake encompassed much of what is now Central New York, including Lake Ontario. The prevailing westerly winds blew fine grain sands to the area which accumulated in the shallow areas of the eastern shore of the lake. Wide swaths of sand were exposed at Rome when the glaciers receded and the lake water began draining out through the St. Lawrence River. The west winds then blew the sands into high dunes in the sparsely vegetated area.

The remnants of some of the remaining sand dunes are best seen around the Hogsback Road, where the high dunes have low areas between them. The low areas have become the peat bogs of today. The dunes now support a pine barren ecology normally found only in coastal areas. Interspersed are northern hardwoods and transitional open meadows. The mosaic of habitats created by the unique geology of the area make the Sand Plains a rich ecological, as well as geologic, resource.

History

Picture of Wood CreekWood Creek, which flows through the southern portion of the Sand Plains, figured prominently in the history of the Iroquois Nation and that of the settlement and building of the United States. This meandering creek was a transportation route for the indigenous Iroquois people and later became a major conduit for American settlers traveling westward. Its route was the template for the Erie Canal with carried the raw materials that fueled the industrial revolution. Even before the construction of the Erie Canal, the winding creek was "improved" by cutting across the necks of several oxbow loops. Evidence of these cuts still exists today. Interpretive signs at Rome Sand Plains A web page about the historic use of Wood Creek and the mini-canals can be seen on the Wood Creek website (See links at right).

The two signs are: "Rome Sand Plains," which describes how the area was formed 10,000 years ago and the unique features of the site; and "Wood Creek," which includes maps and narratives on the use of this creek 200 years ago as a link in a network of inland waterways from Albany to Oswego.

The signs were funded through a $3,600 US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Sustainable Development Program grant awarded to The Nature Conservancy on behalf of the Rome Sand Plains Resource Management Team. The Mohawk Valley Heritage Corridor Commission had a critical role in developing the signs and following through on the final design, fabrication and shipping.

Other funding initiatives to enhance this unique environmental area include:

  • Overall, EPA has provided two grants (totaling $98,000) for use in the area. $48,000 to TNC from the sustainable development program (1998) for planning for compatible development opportunities and developing signs and brochures and
  • $50,000 to Oneida County from the wetlands planning program (2001) for development of a unit management plan.
  • $65,000 came from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, provided through a grant to NY Rivers United for habitat restoration and management.
  • $7,000 came from National Wildlife Foundation, provided through a grant to Hamilton College for lupine restoration

For more information about the Rome Sand Plains, call the DEC's Herkimer Lands and Forests office at 315-866-6330.