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Ridge Interpretive Trail

Welcome to the Ridge Conservation Area Interpretive Nature Trail!

The Ridge Conservation Area has three marked trails starting at the southwest corner of Randall Pond by the kiosks. The trails vary in length and can lead you through a number of habitats including pond, woodland, field and marsh. A trail map is available for download on the right side of this page.

Trails are marked by red, blue and yellow circles. The red trail is a 1.4 mile loop which ends on the south side of the parking lot. The blue trail is an additional 1.1 mile loop that can be found 0.5 miles from Post 1 in the parking lot off of the red trail. The yellow trail markers indicate the current ADA trail along Randall Pond.

Trail markers are placed at eye level or higher wherever possible. If you lose the trail, return to the last point you saw a marker, and look for the next one.

As you walk along the red and blue trails, you will find numbered wooden posts. Below is an interpretive trail to enhance your hiking experience. As you walk the trail, stop at each marker and read the corresponding text to learn about Long Island's unique ecosystems.

Post 1: Welcome

Ringneck pheasants

The Ridge Conservation Area is a 184-acre parcel managed by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The land was acquired by DEC in 1914 and was originally called Middle Island State Game Farm. The property was used for agricultural purposes and to raise bobwhite quail and ringneck pheasants. The site is now used mainly for maintenance and storage of DEC equipment. As you hike the trail, you will see DEC's current use of the property as well as clues of the game farm past.

The trail is dedicated to Windor Gow, the longtime manager of Middle Island State Game Farm. Mr. Gow began his service with the then New York State Conservation Department in 1923. In 1949 he became manager of the game farm and remained in this position until his retirement in 1971. Just as his commitment to the management of these lands is evident throughout the trail, his legacy of excellence in conservation is recognized by the DEC to this day.

The area is open to the public from 8 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. for hiking and recreation. There is no horseback riding or biking permitted on the property.

Post 2: Randall Pond

Randall Pond is a groundwater-fed freshwater pond. Water levels fluctuate throughout the year due to changes in the water table. This helps create a dynamic aquatic community in and around the pond.

Changes in water levels can make it difficult for many common pond plant species to survive, so the plants you see in Randall Pond are limited to plants that manage to be successful here. Some of the plants you commonly find on a pond's shore include rushes with rounded stems, or triangular stemmed sedges. Here we see joined or knobby stems of semi-aquatic grasses. The combination of these three plant groups is unusual, and this habitat has a special designation; the Coastal Plain Pondshore.

These and other plants both above and below the pond surface act as a natural filter to clean stormwater runoff before it enters the pond. Fish and tadpoles find shelter among the leaves, and feed on aquatic insects in the shallow edges.

Post 3. Pond Life

Belted Kingfisher
Belted Kingfisher

Freshwater ponds such as Randall Pond support a wide variety of life well beyond the water's edge. Flying insects lay their eggs in the warm pond water. As they develop, amphibians, reptiles, birds and fish feed on them. As the surviving insects fly out into the surrounding forest, they provide an important food source for birds and bats. Life in this pond helps support wildlife in the surrounding forests and fields.

Take a detour down the fishing and observation dock. A closer look at the waters of the pond may reveal fish, frogs or turtles. Look for the large bullfrog, the smaller spring peeper and turtles such as very large snapping turtles and invasive red-eared sliders. Red-eared sliders can be identified by the red band by their eye and are usually abandoned pets placed in ponds illegally.

Look for wading birds hunting along the shoreline, or a belted kingfisher, a bluish, stocky, medium-sized bird with a large head and shaggy crest, diving for small fish or tadpoles.

Post 4. Forest Trail

This trail leads you away from the pond edge. As you make your way into the forest, the habitat changes as the sandy soils begin to dry. This area is typical of the Central Pine Barrens. Most of the trees you are viewing are pitch pine and oak trees. The shrub layer is mostly made up of huckleberry, blueberry and scrub oak. Mosses and ground-hugging plants carpet patches on the forest floor.

This upland forest environment is not as consistent as you might expect. Like all forests, it changes over time. It is gradually responding to human influence, environmental changes, and sudden events, such as a major storm or forest fire.

This ongoing process of change over time is called forest succession. As this forest ages, the largest pitch pines will die out, making room for new growth. You will see many different snapshots of succession on your hike, from young open fields, to developing thickets, to older mature stands of trees. Look for changes in which plants dominate each area. Watch for signs of former human uses as you hike.

Post 5. Interior Species

Wild Turkey
Male wild turkey

This forest is host to numerous different animal species. Some use the canopy for nest sites, others burrow beneath fallen limbs for a den. The greatest concentration of wildlife can be found at the ground level. Look for evidence of amphibians, reptiles and ground birds thriving where the soil is teeming with insects and microorganisms.

Take a moment to stand still and listen silently. Can you detect evidence of wildlife making homes nearby? Look closely at dead tree trunks for holes, pinecones chewed by squirrels, or listen for the high pitched calls of songbirds alerting others to your presence here. Stopping frequently and staying quiet will reveal the most wildlife on your hike.

You may still be able to hear the call of the spring peeper from Randall Pond in late spring and early summer, with their high-pitched call that sounds similar to a loud young chicken.

Keep your eyes open for white-tailed deer and wild turkey that traverse the area throughout the year.

Post 6. Fire Dependence

The long straight channel you just crossed is evidence of a long history of agriculture on of the property though the forest has begun to reclaim it.

This intersection marks the beginning of the Blue Trail, to your right. The Red Trail continues to you left. From this point, the remaining portion of the Red Trail is approximately 0.9 miles. The Blue Trail will add one mile to that distance. If you continue on the Red Trail, skip to Post 11.

Fire is a natural occurrence in the Pine Barrens and grasslands of Long Island. It helps reset the process of succession so that the area supports greater biodiversity. The lands around you now have not burned in decades, and relatively few species of plants can survive the thick underbrush. Pitch pine, from which the Pine Barrens gets its name, is well adapted to forest fires. Look for long green needles in groups of three, prickly pyramidal cones, and thick, chunky bark. The bark protects the trunk from the worst of the fire. Some of the cones stay sealed tight with resin, only opening and dropping seeds when exposed to the heat of fire. Fire also clears the underbrush, reducing competition with other plants and allowing the seeds to germinate and grow. Other species may burn, but roots survive to sprout in the now open forest, and eventually the competition for sunlight begins all over again.

Post 7. Oaks

Oak Leaf Comparison

Long Island has many different native species of oaks. This group of trees can be generally divided into two main groups; red oaks and white oaks. The red oaks on this property, including the scarlet oak and the black oak, are distinguished by their dark grey bark and leaves with pointed

lobes. White oaks typically have light grey bark and leaves with rounded lobes. White oak species found here include scrub, post, chestnut and Eastern white oak.

Acorns, the nut of all oak species, are produced each year on a mature tree. This large fruit/seed is an important fall food source for chipmunks, deer and turkey. The amount of acorns produced by an oak tree can vary greatly from year to year. Every two to five years, oak trees produce of huge number of acorns. During these boom years, otherwise known as a 'mast' years, there is not enough wildlife to eat all the acorns due to the sheer volume produced, increasing the possibility for acorns to germinate.

Post 8. Decomposers and Lichen

Lichen growing on a dead tree

Dead standing trees, known as 'snags,' fallen logs and branches are actually full of life and a critical part of returning nutrients into the food web. Snags provide food for woodpeckers searching for burrowing insects in the wood and under bark. Holes provide sites for cavity nesting birds and small mammals. Fallen logs grant cover to snakes, salamanders, mammals and invertebrates. As logs decay, fungi, bacteria and insects accelerate the decomposition process, returning nutrients to the soil and fueling the growth of the next generation of plants.

The flat, encrusting growth on tree trunks, logs and rocks are usually lichens. Lichens are an organism that consists of a 'symbiotic,' or mutually beneficial, relationship between an alga and a fungus. The fungus provides the structure and the moisture for the organism, and the alga is photosynthetic, providing the food. Lichens are sensitive to air pollution. Their presence is considered an indication of healthy air quality.

Post 9. Glacial Stones

These large rocks might seem out of place in the forests you've been exploring. How did they get here?

These boulders are called 'glacial erratics,' deposited on the property over 25,000 years ago during the Wisconsin Glaciation. This 'ice age' covered Long Island under thousands of feet of ice for 40,000 years. During its retreat, the glacier deposited the accumulated debris it bulldozed off of New England, leaving behind the sand of our south shore beaches and the boulders and rocks of Long Island's North Shore.

Thousands of years later, farmers working the land would plow into these stones beneath the surface. Often they would drag them off to the property edges and build stone walls or piles such as you see here. These are a good indication that you're on the edge of what was once farmland.

Post 10. Habitat and Shelter

White-tailed deer

The white pines here were planted by DEC to act as a shelter area for wildlife. They form heavy cover and create a mat of needles on the forest floor. This thick growth provides excellent roosting sites for long-eared owls and cover for deer and turkey during bad weather.

Deer congregate in larger family groups during the harshest weeks of winter. The trees block out the wind and protect the ground from snow. When the weather permits, the deer will move into nearby fields to seek food.

Post 11. Invasives

This intersection is where the Blue Trail merges back into the Red Trail. From here, it is 0.7 miles to the parking area.

This west side of the property has a much more recent history of farming and land management by DEC. It also has a richer soil than the upland forest, and this creates a different diversity of plants. When this property was used primarily as a game farm, many shrubs and trees were planted to provide shelter and food for wildlife. As these introduced plants have established in this fertile soil, they have begun to out-compete the native plants. When non-native plants or animals cause a decline in native species, it is termed 'invasive.'

Some species considered invasive that you can see here include bamboo, multiflora rose and autumn olive. The imbalance in the habitat can cause problems for wildlife and diversity if it is not managed. To learn more about invasive and introduced species of plants and animals, visit DEC's website.

Post 12. Life on the Edge

Yellow Warbler

Much of the open habitat you are passing through provides unique benefits to wildlife. These fields are reverting from years of farming into fallow farm fields. Through mechanical treatment such as mowing and controlled burning, DEC is working toward establishing a native grassland. The open field offers diverse food sources and sites for nests, dens and cover. The gradual change of the habitat from forest to field, its many layers, and plentiful seeds and berries attract a wide variety of wildlife. The increase in diversity and abundance of wildlife along these habitat borders is termed the 'edge effect,' and can provide excellent wildlife viewing opportunities.

See if you hear different bird songs? Can you catch a glimpse of a colorful warbler?

Post 13. Flying South

Eastern Box Turtle

'Birds fly south for the winter' is a phrase we hear as children, and may be our first introduction to the migration patterns of many animals. Insect-eating birds migrate to habitats where insects can be found. Places like these fields and surface waters like Randall Pond can also be an important 'refueling' stop for migrants heading further north or south. There are plenty of birds, however, that stick around all year. Seed-eaters eke out a living on grasses, dried fruits and other sources in varied habitats.

In the area you are walking through now, listen for the calls, songs and movements of many different birds. How many different species can you identify? Look for signs of digging, droppings from deer, or a scatter of feathers from a hawk's meal. A field can show evidence of wildlife even if you don't spot the animals in action.

Post 14. Closing

Once you pass through this last edge you'll be re-entering the active maintenance center of DEC. Follow the forest edge north, back to the parking and picnic area. Remember to check your clothing for ticks. Please dispose of your garbage in the cans provided. We would also like to remind you that the collecting of plants and animals is not permitted- please do not carry out any souvenirs beyond pictures.

This trail is maintained with the help of various offices within the Long Island region of DEC, with the hope of providing a place to explore one of Long Island's unique environments. We hope you've enjoyed your hike. We encourage you to return at different points throughout the year to observe different wildlife and the changes in the seasons. To learn more about the wildlife in your area or around the state, visit the DEC's Watchable Wildlife website. Your observations can help DEC gain a better understanding of wildlife populations in the area.

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