Natural Bridge, New York
Sanctuary Steward: Diane Seufert Tait

white pine pond
White Pine Pond at Eden Hyll

My sanctuary is in a forest that covers thousands of acres, crossing roads and streams, and comprises state forest, private holdings, and towns. I am twenty miles from the green line of the Adirondack Park, the largest national park in the USA.

Over the last three centuries, a complex “woods culture” has developed based on mutually agreed practices. Life can be tough in the north country. Many hunt for food, and harvesting trees is often a necessary addition to income. Near my sanctuary the economy depends on Fort Drum, a large army base. I have experienced a huge learning curve, absorbing lessons from the locals and becoming uneasily tolerant of the military presence. I respect these tough, resilient north country people— so self-reliant and friendly. Being a resident anomaly, I will never harvest my trees. I allow my shoreline to remain lush with trees and plants. I don’t hunt or trap, and I don’t own a firearm. I try to let nature dictate her needs and preferences. She knows everything about this particular ecosystem so much better than I.

swamp milkweed
Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

Eden Hyll shares a ten-acre pond with nine other cabins. A couple of years ago, aquatic plants started to become a problem, primarily water shield (Brasenia schreberi), but also large-leaf pondweed (Potamogeton amplifolius), slender-leaved pondweed (Potamogeton pusillus), yellow pond lily or spatterdock (Nuphar luteum), bladderwort (Utricularia spp.), three-way sedge (Dulichium arundinaceum), and bur-reed (Sparganium spp.). Thankfully there are no invasives.

All of us on the pond shared the cost of hiring Steven LaMere of Adirondack Ecologists to do a full pond study. We learned that our pond water is clean for swimming and fishing, but the shoreline health needs improvement. Half of the cabin owners have removed the foliage from their shores, bringing in sand or planting grass, which they mow. One resident has installed a drain system that empties rain runoff directly into the pond. These practices add to the fertility of the water, fostering plant growth. Every small change has a profound effect.

Along my shore, two downed white pines have interfered with water flow, forming several tiny islands. These have become welcome habitat for Joe-Pye-weed (Eupatorium maculatum) and other shoreline plants. Another downed tree has become a favorite sunning log for painted turtles. Those who like to fish tell me this tree provides good fish habitat. These fishermen stock the pond with largemouth bass and minnows. The bass are a predator fish and have dramatically reduced our frog population. I do periodical frog counts by canoe.

A dammed creek formed our pond in the 1950s. We maintain water levels with culverts in our causeway and removable boards at the dam. In the past several years, rainfall has been seesawing from more to less than normal amounts. Periods of very low water have been one cause of the weed problem, as sun penetrates to the pond floor, aiding germination. A yearly beaver family living by the dam is also a problem. They plug up our outflow, add fertilizer to the pond by defecating, and down trees along the shoreline.

Each fall we employ a beaver trapper. About four years ago I spent hours wrapping over 100 feet of chicken wire around my shoreline trees, primarily maples and yellow birch. Every year I check the wire and let it out when needed. Luckily, large waterfowl taking up permanent residence have not been an issue.

Pond health is essential for the birds, resident minks, and shoreline plants, such as blue flag (Iris versicolor) and swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata). The recommendation of the study was to embark on an annual program of hand-harvesting the water shield in the areas where they were interfering with canoeing and swimming. Thankfully, the study put to rest the idea of chemical intervention. We are harvesting new water shield growth two to three times a season. I have found that one good harvest and a later “clean-up” is effective.

I have become adept at canoe harvesting. All pieces of the plant must be disposed of on shore. In two years we have seen good progress in plant reduction. More work needs to be done on the shoreline, although not much has been done as yet. To control the introduction of invasives, we are to inspect and wash all crafts that have been in other waters.

Communication with other pond residents is ongoing. I had to convince the resident who runs the brush hog along the edges of our shared road to go easy along my property, sparing some cedars and elderberry bushes. I was encouraging the growth of a three-foot cedar in my turn-off clearing until someone backed a large machine over it. I have talked to those with weed hogs, backhoes, and logging trucks and have a sign firmly planted in the middle of the clearing. Now St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and wild strawberries (Fragaria spp.) are flourishing.

dwarf ginseng
Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius)

New plants continue to show up in my 4.82 acres, some of the miniature variety: eyebright (Euphrasia americana), Canadian St. John’s wort (Hypericum canadense), and my favorite find, dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius)! My sanctuary has become a popular wildlife café with the deer enjoying newly arrived staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina), as well as elderberry and blackberry bushes.

Every summer brings change and more lessons to be learned as I strive to be a sensitive and aware steward of my sanctuary. Several pond residents have become interested in the work I am doing. One of them wants to be my “student” next summer. She’s getting better at identification every year. You are welcome to contact me for more information about property for sale in this area or to arrange a visit to my sanctuary.

Diane is a registered herbalist of the Ontario Herbalitsts Association. She teaches beginning herbalism in Pickering,Ontario, Canada.