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Explore the Outdoors - In Person or Virtually

Many of our parks invite you to visit, whether it be on location or online
Allegany State Park is a great destination for bird watching
photo courtesy Allegany State Park

Memorial Day weekend is the unofficial start of summer in western New York, and while many traditional destinations like amusement parks, campgrounds, and zoos are closed right now, that hardly means the end of summer fun.  In fact, with all kinds of local outdoor and even virtual adventures available - many of which are free - this year promises to be the ultimate summer stay-cation!



With this week’s temperatures soaring into the 80s, many are eager to get outside and enjoy the sun and heat. It’s a great time to take a drive to Salamanca and visit Allegany State Park to explore “the wilderness playground of Western New York.”

The park is known for its many campsites, but if camping isn’t an available option, there are plenty of other reasons to visit.  The Quaker Area’s two lakes offer two fishing piers, a canoeing or kayaking access point, and the Friend’s Boat Launch into the Allegany Reservoir. The beaches and hiking trails are open, too, though visitors are encouraged to maintain social distancing or wear masks on busy days when closer encounters are likely.

The park is a great destination for bird watchers; the Bird Conservation Area (BCA) is 95% forested and inhabited by several songbird species, as well as osprey, cerulean warblers, bald eagles, and several endangered hawk species. In fact, of the 75 neotropical migratory songbird species that breed in New York, 64 have been seen in Allegany State Park!

Now in its 62nd year, the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage is held in the Red House Area and is the area’s most beloved outdoor learning experience. This last weekend in May celebrates natural history through hikes, activities, and dozens of small-group programs on everything from flora and fauna to geology, ecology, photography and more. Although this event is not being held in person this year, today kicks off the Virtual Allegany Nature Pilgrimage!

Friday through Sunday, May 28th-31st, a full daily schedule of virtual programs is available at alleganynaturepilgrimage.com. Classes include virtual tours of the night sky, beginning birding, fossils of western New York, geology of Allegany State Park, a live fungi walk, nature-themed children’s yoga, and so much more! The first 100 people who register for each program can participate via Zoom. Participation is unlimited on Facebook Live, and all programs will be recorded and made available on the Allegany Nature Pilgrimage.



The Audubon Community Nature Center (ACNC) located at 1600 Riverside Road in Jamestown, NY is a 600-acre wetland preserve that includes over five miles of trails, a native tree arboretum, picnic areas, a natural play space, educational gardens and more. The trails are open daily from dawn until dusk, though the ACNC reminds all to take social distancing precautions. While the Nature Center building is currently closed to the public, visitors can view Liberty, the non-releasable bald eagle, who is visible from the trails.

The ACNC has shifted many of its programs to an online format due to restrictions on social gatherings. Next Friday, June 5th from 11 :00 AM to noon, instructor Stephanie Zwyghuizen is leading the First Friday Treasure Hunt, which teaches participants how to use photography as a means of exploration, nature therapy and citizen science. The session will be recorded, so even those who can’t join in live can view the video through June 30th.

While the treasure hunt is geared towards adults, there are children’s virtual programs, too, including the Little Explorers series for children ages 3 to 8. On Saturday, June 13th, the Little Explorers Decomposition Detectives program from 10:00 AM to 11:30 AM will include a short online lesson about nature’s decomposers and encourages children to get outside and use their new “powers of deduction” to find worms, insects, fungi and more. Kits are available for pick-up at the Audubon prior to the program. To learn more about the Audubon and register for its online programs, visit auduboncnc.org.



Just eight miles outside of Ellicottville, Griffis Sculpture Park is home to more than 250 large-scale sculptures installed through miles of hiking trails. The steel sculptures of Larry Griffis, Jr. and many other international artists continue to inspire hikers and artists alike, and inspiration is needed now more than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In accordance with New York State’s parks policy, Griffis Sculpture Park remains open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. Social distancing is recommended, as hikers are encouraged to leave six feet or more of distance between themselves and others. Visitors can enter through the main entrance at 6902 Mill Valley Road in East Otto or on Rhor Hill Road off of Route 219. To learn more, visit griffispark.org.



The Pfeiffer Nature Center in Portville, NY has two beautiful properties to explore. The Lillibridge Property at 1974 Lillibridge Road has 188 acres and six miles of hiking trails. Visitors can see one of the largest privately-held tracts of old-growth forest in the area and a New York state champion Tupelo tree, which is over 500 years old!

The Eshelman property at 1420 Yubadam Road has 488 acres and four miles of trails through wetlands and secondary growth forest. Trails at both properties are open from dawn to dusk, and the Eshelman property is also hosting several self-led activities. The current self-led activity is “Bird Search Bliss.” Beginning at the kiosk, visitors can read instructions and embark on a stroll to find 24 photos of native and commonly-seen birds on the property. Email your name and the number of birds you were able to identify to naturalist@pfeiffernaturecenter.org or call the office at 716-933-0187 to be entered into a drawing for a free ice cream cone. The winners will be drawn and notified by Friday, June 5th.



Since May 1st, Rock City Park at Route 16 South in Olean has been open for hiking! The grounds are open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM daily, and visitors can enjoy a 45-minute hiking trail through the ancient glacier-carved rock formations, which include the largest exposure of quartz conglomerate in the world. Outdoor restrooms and picnic trails are available, too. Admission is just $5 for adults, $3 for children and free for children under the age of five. For more information, visit rockcitypark.com.