STARK'S KNOB: DRAFT SITE MANAGEMENT PLAN
Stark's Knob consists of about 6 acres of land on the west side of Route 4/32 north of the Village of Schuylerville. It was established in 1916 by donation to the University of the State of New York (Board of Regents/State Education Department) as a Scientific Reservation, to be managed by the New York State Museum.
Until 1999, the property was managed through a system that can best be described as "passive availability", which permitted people to visit and explore the property, but which included virtually no maintenance, improvements or interpretative materials at the site.
In 1999, an effort was started by the State Museum to clarify the legal boundaries of the site, which were in need of re-establishment, and to improve access and interpretation.The formation of a "Friends of Stark's Knob" group in 2000, and the direct involvement of the Town of Northumberland, provided a community-based forum for shared ideas about how best to advance the project of site rehabilitation and improvement as well as sources for support, funding and field work projects.
The overarching state commitment to this property is summarized in the deed of 1916, by which the parcel was entrusted to public management:
"...that the lands and premises, including the rock thereon, shall forever and at all times be kept and used solely for the protection and preservation thereof, including the rock thereon, and shall be always available to the people of the State of New York for the purpose of examination and study and shall never be subjected to any other use, or used in any other manner or for any other purpose."
This statement was made at a time when the property had already seen massive destructive impacts from rock mining, and the risk of further destructive uses appeared high if the property were not put in the public trust. The language of the deed clearly was designed to prevent destruction of the resource, but did not envision a static or passive approach to site management. The deed concludes:
"Nothing herein contained shall be construed as preventing the construction of roads of walks on, or the beautifying of, said lands."
The intent of the original donation, as expressed in this deed, clearly included the enhancement of the public's access to, and appreciation of, this site. And while the primary intent of this donation was to preserve the volcanic rock formation known as "Stark's Knob", the deed simply refers to the property as "said lands", leaving open a multi-use approach to the stewardship created by this donation.
The specific short-term goals by which stewardship of this property can best be achieved were first stated in a letter from Saratoga County Historian Violet Dunn to Museum Director John Broughton in December of 1973. In imagining a multi-use area dedicated to natural, cultural and recreational pursuits, she set forth six objectives:
For the most part, these goals still represent the primary objectives today:
1.Until the boundaries of the State Reservation are re-established, no project can effectively take place. The definition of public property is at the core of the entire rehabilitation effort.
(Status: From July of 2000 through July of 2001, an initiative through the State Attorney General's Office to gain agreement from the adjacent landowner as to the established boundary of the property has been underway. This needs to be brought to conclusion and some field indicators of boundaries need to be installed.)
2. Access has always been problematic, both in terms of parking and in terms of entry. Both of these obstructions to easy public use of the site need to be addressed.
(Status: Entry points and paths have been established, through the cooperation of the Friends Group and volunteers, and signage has been installed directing visitors to the proper trails. Parking is being developed at the Route 4/32 pocket park project location as well as envisioned at the trailhead to Stark's Knob.)
3. Persons using the site need to know when they have reached the limits of the public property, and owners of adjacent private lands need to have a clear indication of their own areas of usage.
(Status: See goal #1 above.)
4. Brush and weeds have been a perpetual problem, both limiting safe access and obscuring the features people come to see. Routine maintenance of paths and view areas is necessary.
(Status: Paths and view areas have been cleared of weeds and brush, thanks to the intervention of the Friends Group and volunteers, and annually, volunteers have maintained these cleared areas.)
5. Stark's Knob has always suffered from a lack of sufficient and accurate directional signage. Route 32 is becoming a heritage tourism corridor, and visitors need to be directed to the site and to appropriate use areas within it.
(Status: A "State Marker" type directional sign has been created and will be erected on Route 4/32 as soon as the pocket park curb line on Stark's Knob Road is established and protected by DOT.)
6. Many first time visitors may be unaware of the rich natural and cultural history represented here. Informational panels and small field exhibits would help to interpret in more detail the features present, and provide an experience of more depth and interest.
(Status: A series of interpretive signs which detail natural and cultural features of the site have been created and installed by the State Museum with the help of the Town of Northumberland.)
While the achievement of these short-term objectives will move this property forward from decades of "passive availability" to a future of improved public access, interpretation and enjoyment, there is value in examining some long-term expectations for the property, beyond the levels of maintenance suggested in support of the goals above.
During the past two years of increased activity and public involvement, many ideas and many suggestions have been put forward for discussion. At least one formal public hearing was held by the Friends of Stark's Knob group to make sure everyone had an opportunity to express their interest in, and ideas for, this property.
This section reflects these discussions.
To a large extent, the ideas for long-term management of the property flow along lines similar to the ideas for short-term development. It is understood that annually, there will be maintenance and support work needed to keep the present status of the property from slipping back into its former state.
Suggestions along these lines included:
Recommendation for Planning: Do not expand existing cleared areas in order to preserve the natural environment of the site and the diversity of plants and animals, but arrange for continued maintenance of presently cleared areas to enhance visitor access, visibility and enjoyment.
It has been recognized that the trail to the summit, which is a popular destination, is steep and very hard to negotiate, even in good weather and by persons used to hiking in the woods.
Discussions centered on improvements to that trail, including:
Recommendation for planning: Examine a more level route to the summit and develop a new trail at that location, closing the existing summit trail to reduce chance of accidents and prevent erosion from over-use.
It has been always recognized that parking for visiting this site is a problem. No adequate parking spot at the trailhead exists, except in very dry weather, and parking at the intersection was haphazard and also difficult in wet weather.
Recommendation for planning: While adequate parking for most purposes will be available at the pocket park, which is scheduled to be completed in 2002, a small space for one or two cars at the trailhead is also recommended, once the boundary issues with the landowner are resolved. Although this small space is not critical, it does provide enhanced access for disabled persons and those for whom the 200-foot walk up the dirt road from the pocket park could be problematic.
The goal of public interpretation, which was integral to the site development as early as the 1920s, has only recently been re-established at the site. With the installation of several interpretive and descriptive signs within the property, and the proposed erection of the"State Marker" directional sign at the intersection, most of the needs for basic explanation will have been met.
Suggested for additional signage were:
Recommendation for planning: Plans for additional heritage signage are included in the pocket park project the intersection. This park will serve as the primary entry point for Stark's Knob, when it is completed. DOT directional signs at other places should be considered as part of an overall regional heritage site development plan.
It has always been suggested, from the 1960s to present, that this property presented an opportunity in the area for generalized recreation, such as hiking, bird watching, picnicking and photography. It is clear the original deed did not envision this only as a site at which to view the rock outcrops and then leave.
Recommendations for planning: With the development of the pocket park at the intersection, which includes picnicking facilities, it is felt the pressure for another local picnicking spot, within the property, is significantly lessened. Because of the secluded nature of the pit trail, it is felt that vandalism and noxious activities would be promoted within the property by construction of a gazebo or other recreational structures, which would also detract from the primarily natural environment of the property. While a constructed platform at the summit would enhance safety by providing a protective railing and stable footing for visitors, it is felt that any formal construction within the property will attract vandalism and graffiti, and will detract from what is essentially a natural feature.
Since its creation as a public property in 1916, the general intent of this place has been variously interpreted. For some, it is essentially a geological exposure, which should be available for scientific study. For others, it is a historic site linked to the 1777 campaigns of General Burgoyne. And for others, it is a recreational resource in the area, to be developed for general uses such as sight-seeing, picnicking and hiking.
The State Museum intends that this entire property be maintained as a natural area, in which diverse resources will be preserved, from geological features millions of years old, through historical features hundreds of years old, to a modern natural landscape continuing to evolve in the 21st century.
But the stewardship role bestowed on the State Museum by the donation of this property in 1916 implies more than preservation. It implies public access. So efforts will continue to make this natural and cultural property accessible to the public.
And public access without interpretation fails the educational mission of the State Museum. So the signage already in place and related educational materials yet to be developed will continue to be a priority for the property; enhancing the visitor experience and insuring the continued interest in, and preservation of the Stark's Knob State Scientific Reservation for all time to come.
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