Walking Paths at Middle Farms: Balancing Recreation and Conservation

The paths through the grassland at Middle Farms are the most consistently used of the more than twelve miles of trails we maintain. We have made a number of changes in the paths that we hope strike a good balance between human use and conservation goals.

Scientists of the New York Natural Heritage Program recommended that the number of paths be reduced to minimize fragmentation of this important habitat.

Fragmentation of natural environments is one of the most cited causes of loss of biological diversity. Fragmentation affects natural environments through the reduction in area of the remaining habitat as well as the isolation of the fragments. The changes resulting from habitat fragmentation can drive alterations in species richness, reductions in population sizes, loss of genetic diversity and changes in landscape structure. Reducing the number of trails will hopefully enhance the biological diversity of the grassland.

It should be noted that paths create “edges” along their sides, and that an “edge effect” can provide conservation benefits. However, “edges” can also cause negative effects, including increased risk of parasitism or disease, increased risk of predation, adverse microclimate conditions, and competition from invasive species.

Also, portions of the grassland are burned every three years to deter woody growth. In 2023, the Fire Department asked that we modify and enlarge fire breaks to facilitate this controlled burning and for safety reasons. The new fire breaks were a factor in developing a plan for our walking paths because it was desirable to incorporate existing trails in the fire breaks where possible.

For all these reasons we have both reconfigured the walking paths and reduced their number, and you will see “Trail Resting” signs in the area this season. The paths that will be maintained are shown in blue on the attached map, with the old (resting) paths marked in red. You will note that there will continue to be two paths traversing the center of the grassland, with connections to “Penni’s Path” on the west and parking area on the east, as well as perimeter paths, including the popular one along Beach Pond that connects to the trails in the Charles B. Ferguson Wildlife Sanctuary.

Excerpts taken from :
• Yezzi, A.; Nebbia, A.; Zalba,S. Grassland Fragmentation: Introduction to the Special Issue.Diversity 2023, 15, 489. https://doi.org/10.3390/d15040489
• https://www.fs.usda.gov/nac/buffers/docs/2/2.10ref.pdf
• Miller, B. 2023. “Land Trust Report, Spring 2023. The Henry L. Ferguson Museum Newsletter (38(1) : 3-4”

The Middle Farms trails that will be maintained are shown in blue and the old (resting) paths are marked in red.

Photos by Jack Schneider