I am embarrassed when I realize how many remarkable nature spots in the Niagara Region I have not visited. Many of them I have passed and thought, "Some day I should find out more about that area," but, like so many of us, I don't find the time.
Finally, at the invitation of my old friend Susan Diachun, I visited one of those spots: DeVeaux Woods, a small enclave that is part of the 52-acre DeVeaux Woods State Park. The park is just across the Robert Moses Parkway from Whirlpool State Park. It is the property of the former DeVeaux School. Some of the old buildings remain, most forlornly boarded up.
The woods comprise a mere 10 acres of this park, the section bounded by the parkway on one side, the open lawns of the park on the other. The woods are, however, very important to the park. They are the site of a remarkable number of old-growth trees. But the woods are also important to the very existence of the park. When the DeVeaux School closed, the property was sold to Niagara University. Finding that it would not serve their purposes, university administrators planned to sell it to commercial developers.
Enter the late Bruce Kershner, that remarkable conservationist whose political skills matched his deep commitment to the environment. He publicized a plan to contact every NU alumnus to make his case against this sale. In at least partial response to this threat, administrators changed their plans and deeded the property to the state, thus creating this small addition to the state park system.
A few words about old growth are in order. This description of trees differs by region, but in the United States it has come to mean trees at least 150 years old and usually more than 36 inches in diameter. That means the trees predate the Civil War.
Although some general tree features suggest their age -- their height and the quality of their bark, for example -- the age of a tree is more accurately fixed by counting the rings in its cross-section. The basis for these counts is a small cylindrical core from the tree obtained with a special drill. (I once watched as Kershner drilled a tree in Allegany State Park.) By this means, many of the trees in DeVeaux Woods have been accurately aged.
As they guided me through the woods, Diachun and her colleague Tina Hoover were able to identify and tell me the ages of some of the old-growth tree varieties: beech, basswood, ash, black cherry and three kinds of oaks: white, red and black.
The age of these trees varies, but the most ancient is 315 years old. Just think of what that means: that red oak was here for more than a century before the Iroquois ceded this region to the Holland Land Co.
In addition to these remarkable old trees, this small woodlot is quite different from so many in this region. There is much undergrowth; wildflowers and tree saplings abound. The reason is clear: its location and size keep the woods largely free of deer.
Ours was a delightful walk, and you can replicate it. Diachun and Hoover are members of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. This office sponsors programs and tours through this and other parks of Erie and Niagara counties.
The timing of my visit was perfect because Diachun was able to share with me a newly printed schedule. There are summer camps for children, festivals at Evangola State Park, a midsummer canoe paddle at Beaver Island and a visit to Artpark. Interpretive centers are open at Beaver Island, the Four-Mile Creek campground, Golden Hills and Whirlpool and Niagara parks.
Ten special programs involving everything from fishing to a bluebird bonanza are scheduled, and groups can arrange visits to DeVeaux Woods or a dozen other special locations. To obtain a brochure in Niagara County call 282-5154, in Erie County, 549-1050, or write NYS OPRHP, P.O. Box 1132, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14303.