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She's a natural for a job in the parks

Naturalist Carol Rogers spent much of her childhood outdoors hiking in Watkins Glen State Park on her birthdays and attending summer camps as a Girl Scout.

At age 53, she may now have her perfect job -- working as a naturalist in the New York State Regional Park Interpretive Programs Office. Her office in DeVeaux Woods State Park in Niagara Falls is surrounded by an old-growth ecosystem of towering deciduous trees.

Rogers and her colleagues will greet the New Year today with two First Day Hikes -- one planned from 10 a.m. to noon at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island, and another from 2 to 4 p.m. at Niagara Falls State Park.

>People Talk: Is snow mandatory for the First Day Hikes?

Carol Rogers: If we have snow we have snowshoes, but if we don't we'll make the best of it. I know the tundra swans are in from up north at Beaver Island. They're absolutely beautiful. The other birds are coming in, too, the canvasbacks and goldeneye ducks.

We see these waterfowl every year. There's a lot of bird life at Beaver Island. I think that's why it's one of my favorite parks. Our canvasback numbers are one of the highest in the country because we are on a major migration flyway, the Mississippi flyway.

>PT: What's an ice volcano?

CR: They form along Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. When the ice is up, the winds and those howling storms create a peaked ice form that looks like a volcano.

>PT: DeVeaux Woods is the newest park on the block?

CR: It became a park about 2000, so for the Niagara Region, which has 13 parks, this is the newest. Judge Samuel DeVeaux was a local politician and farmer who started a military school here in the 1850s. In the early 1800s, his farm was where Niagara University is today. He owned hundreds of acres of land here.

>PT: Tell me a little-known fact about DeVeaux Woods.

CR: There's a tree that was traced back to being planted about the time of LaSalle's Expedition in the 1600s. Also, there is a grave of a young girl who's buried in a group of trees on the hill.

>PT: What has been your best park experience?

CR: There was one winter it was bitter cold. It was 1998-99; the Festival of Lights was running and we were doing hay rides in Niagara Falls park. It was so cold that when you walked outside, it hurt your nose.

I walked all the way down to the overlook of the American Falls. Not a soul was in sight. It was me and the falls -- just the two of us -- and I forgot about how cold it was.

>PT: Why should I walk through the woods on a snowy evening?

CR: It's relaxing -- even better when there's a full moon. It just gives you a good feeling. It's a good stress reliever.

>PT: What park are you an expert on?

CR: Beaver Island, that's where I started -- at the Nature Center.

>PT: Are there beavers at Beaver Island?

CR: I've never seen one there, but supposedly they were there years ago. I have seen beavers in Buckhorn.

>PT: Which park of the 13 in the Niagara Region has grown the most?

CR: Niagara Falls has had a lot of changes since I've been there. One of my jobs there was a park ranger. I mean, it is the biggest draw in the region. I've met someone there from Bangladesh, and celebrity dogs even. They were Bouvier des Flandres, identical siblings. They were in [the 1999 movie] "A Dog of Flanders."

>PT: What makes a hiking trail good?

CR: The purpose of a trail is so you don't damage the woods. You can get lost in the woods very easily, but you can follow a good trail. It marks itself. The gorge here is beautiful and full of trails. I know them now, but the first time I went down there it was a little spooky.

>PT: What's your favorite trail?

CR: I like our Whirlpool Flats trail down in the gorge. It's very challenging. It takes us about an hour to get down there. You go down 300 uneven steps. We climb over boulders to get down to the whirlpool sandstone, and you're standing on the rocks next to this raging whirlpool. If you go too far, you'll be in the water.

>PT: Who is your conservation hero?

CR: Theodore Roosevelt, mainly because he lived the life of a conservationist. Talk about going green -- he lived it. He respected nature. I visited his home on Long Island, and you could see he embraced nature. We can't forget what nature does for us.