At the boardwalk: Knox conservation council teams up with nature group

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

These wetlands, on the far reaches of the Knox Town Park, off of Street Road, are home to a dilapidated boardwalk that the Knox Conservation Advisory Council hopes to renovate. 

KNOX — As part of its early efforts to reconstitute the town’s wetland boardwalk, the Knox Conservation Advisory has sought help from a collective that knows a thing or two about constitutionals. 

The Thursday Naturalists are a group of nature enthusiasts who, as the name suggests, take nature walks each Thursday of the year, and boast a well-educated membership that has passion to match. As such, the group became a useful tool for the advisory council, which was looking to compile a species list for the wetlands behind the Knox Town Hall. 

The council’s chairman, Eric Marczak, told The Enterprise in June that he was interested in rehabilitating a run-down boardwalk in the wetlands at the back of the town park, near Street Road. The boardwalk was built more than 20 years ago using funds from the Tennessee Pipeline. 

The collaboration took seed when Marczak approached ecologist and former Department of Environmental Conservation herpetologist Alvin Breisch after a Heldeberg Workshop program, Breisch, who’s a member of the Naturalists, told The Enterprise this week. 

“He asked if I could do an inventory of the Knox wetland and I suggested we get the Thursday Naturalists involved since they had broader expertise than I did alone and always enjoyed finding new places to explore,” Breisch said. 

For 26 years, until his retirement in 2009, Breisch was New York State’s amphibian and reptile specialist. He studied, cataloged, and worked to preserve the state’s herpetofauna — its amphibians and reptiles, known as “herps.”

“All have an interest in the outdoors,” Breisch said of the group’s make-up. “Many have various college degrees that range through all the sciences, engineering, library science, education, etc., but many are just avid naturalists.”

While taking in the outdoors on their trips throughout the Capital Region, Breisch said, they take note of what they observe.

“Identification of plant species including flowering plants, mosses, ferns, and fungi are generally the main focus of our trips but we also have folks who specialize in birds or invertebrates and sometimes get detailed explanations of geological or historical features of the areas we explore,” he said. 

Breisch noted that one of the Naturalists had already made a record of her own observations at the Knox wetlands, which she had visited a number of times, providing a foundation for the group. 

A copy of the final list was not received by The Enterprise in time for publication. 

“If needed, this list will satisfy some of the permit process, putting us months ahead,” Marczak told The Enterprise last month. “We had another field trip with several environmental engineers from the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy. They’ve been extremely helpful with design and safe material choices [for the boardwalk].”

 Despite the advances, Marczak said that everything done so far is strictly preliminary, and that “the devil will be in the details.”

“A lot of ideas and concerns are in the air,” he said. “Everything depends on what region 4 NYSDEC comes up with. They are looking over some very preliminary plans to determine what work can be done with and/or without a permit.”

“Historically, wetlands were viewed as waste areas since you couldn’t build a house in them or farm them,” Breisch told The Enterprise. “So many were drained to be used for what humans called a ‘higher and better use’ when really the highest and best use is to keep them as functioning wetlands.”

“There are many, many species of plants and animals that rely on wetlands for all or most of their lives,” he also said. “For species such as amphibians and many migratory birds, wetlands are crucial for nesting and reproduction. Wetlands play a significant role in alleviating damage caused by floods and can also serve as recharge areas for groundwater or discharge areas for streams.”

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