Listen to the singing frogs, climb a fire tower or look for a great blue heron at the edge of a pond.
Even during the early days of spring, before the trees unfurl their leaves, visitors can find plenty of nature to explore and things to do outdoors, says Margo Bloom Olson, executive director of Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. today, the 60-foot-tall fire tower will be open to climbers. The 89-year-old tower, which once stood on Cornell Hill in Stillwater, will also be open on May 11-12 and June 8-9.
Want to give nature a helping hand? For Earth Day, Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park is inviting people to plant the seeds of the lupine, the wildflower that feeds the endangered Karner blue butterfly. On Monday, April 22, an Earth Day scavenger hunt is also scheduled.
This is Olson’s third spring as executive director; she was hired in the fall of 2010 to replace Sarah Clarkin, who left after 10 years in that post.
WHAT: 2,400 acres of protected lands in Wilton and Gansevoort owned by the town of Wilton, New York state, Saratoga County and the Nature Conservancy
WHERE: Parking and trailheads on Scout Road, Route 50 and Ruggles Road
HOW MUCH: Free
MORE INFO: 450-0321, www.wiltonpreserve.org
Olson, who grew up in Delmar, has worked in a variety of educator’s jobs in the Capital Region since she earned a bachelor’s degree in biology at Binghamton University and a master’s in science education from the University at Albany.
She began her career as an interpretive ranger for the U.S. National Park Service in the Grand Canyon and Sequoia/Kings Canyon national parks.
Olson worked as an environmental educator at Five Rivers Environmental Center in Delmar and as education director at the Junior Museum in Troy, now called the Children’s Museum of Science and Technology.
In Saratoga Springs, she was curator of education at the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.
Olson lives in Saratoga Springs and is married to Jeff Olson, an architect and planner of pedestrian and bicycle trails around the country. The couple have three children.
Q: What are the first signs of spring that you’ve been seeing at Wilton Wildlife?
A: The geese are back at the pond. And some of the migratory birds, in addition to the geese, have come back. Red-winged blackbirds appeared a few weeks ago. Great blue herons are coming back into the area. We’re starting to see some of the blush, the buds on the trees, starting to redden up in the marshy areas.
Q: Have you heard any peepers yet?
A: I haven’t. But I just got an email from Kenny Barnett [Saratoga County naturalist, naturalistguy.com]. He said that the last rainy night that we had, he saw lots of amphibians on the move: woodfrogs, peepers and salamanders.
Q: What will you see by the end of April?
A: By Earth Day, we’re hoping that some shoots of plants will be coming up. We’ll be starting to see some of the buds opening, some leaves starting. Some of the earliest wildflowers will just be getting started.
Q: And when do the blue Karners emerge?
A: Last year was like this year, with a light snow cover, but last year it was warm earlier. The lupines came up and flowered. They were up a little earlier than usual. And last year we did see the first Karner butterflies emerge on May 11, which was about a week early. I would say that by early to mid-May, we’ll be on the lookout for them.
Q: How is the center observing Earth Day?
A: A seed planting of lupine. We’re going to do it on Friday the 19th in the morning and the afternoon and then on Saturday morning the 20th. People will be going out and actually planting the seeds right in the ground.
Q: How do you plant lupine seeds?
A: Lupine is in the pea family. When the seed pods mature, they dry out and they almost pop open, which sends the seeds shooting away from the parent plant. So they would find a piece of bare ground and just worked into the ground a little bit. And then they would sprout from there. So when people are planting them, it’s not like digging bulbs or something. It’s just making a little indentation into the surface and getting them covered with soil.
Q: Where do the seeds come from?
A: The seeds that we will be planting were actually all gathered at the Preserve & Park. In the late summer, we go out and we have volunteers and interns and technicians who work for the Department of Environmental Conservation who actually go out and pick lupine seed pods and then they take them and clean them and they are stored at the Saratoga Tree Nursery.
Q: Where will volunteers be planting seeds?
A: The biologist from DEC, Kathy O’Brien, and the Nature Conservancy’s ecologist, Chris Zimmerman, are going to be overseeing that seed planting. It will be in the parcel that’s called the Old Gick Farm, which is owned by New York state. There’s a certain area where the lupine haven’t been growing that well, and they want to make sure that there’s more lupine to increase the habitat and make it better for the butterfly.
Q: What can a family with children do on their own at Wilton Wildlife?
A: At the Old Gick Farm, where there’s a parking area off Route 50, there are interpretive signs. If you walk the loop, it gives you information about the landscape, kinds of plants. It talks about the blue Karner butterfly, its dependence on the lupine. About the different kinds of snakes and other animals that you might find living in the Saratoga sand plains. If you do that loop, it takes you through the meadow, so you see the habitat for the butterfly but it also loops into the forest, so you see all of the different habitat areas.
Q: Spring can be wet. Do visitors need to wear boots?
A: That Route 50 trail, at the Old Gick, is almost never wet. Now if you go across the street, to the Fox trailhead, there are definitely some boggy spots and vernal pools. But those vernal pools are very fun in the spring. If you go early in the morning or late in the afternoon, you can hear the frogs calling. We have spring peepers and wood frogs and they will use those vernal pools for laying their eggs.
Q: What’s the view from the fire tower?
A: You can see over toward Vermont, looking to the east. And you can look north, toward Moreau. It’s not clear like a mountain top, so you don’t have an amazing 360 that you might get if you climbed up Hadley Mountain and the fire tower there. But, on the other hand, you don’t have to climb a mountain either.
Q: How did you become interested in nature and the outdoors?
A: Growing up in Delmar there were woods behind the house. We’d go back and play in the woods and build forts. And there was a creek. We’d splash around and try to catch things. My parents would take us up to the Helderbergs, to Thacher Park, and we would walk on the trails. I remember going to Cherry Plain State Park and Grafton Lakes State Park.
Q: You worked as an interpretive ranger in two national parks. What was that like?
A: You work doing public programs. Leading nature walks, being in the visitor center answering questions. Also evening programs at the campgrounds.
Q: What’s your favorite outdoor thing to do in the spring?
A: We go cross-country skiing and downhill skiing in the winter, so I don’t feel quite like I’ve been cooped up. But it is nice to get out and not have to get all suited up. To be able to just get out and go. Just getting out and seeing what’s growing, see what’s peeking out from the trails after things have been so quiet for such a long time. I’m excited to go and see.