Science Walk Stations

Discovery Stations Welcome to the Ashley-Schiff preserve. As you walk the nature trail, you will come upon fifteen discovery points that are numbered. Please take a moment to read the descriptions provided below. They will aid in the identification of the preserve’s more prominent plant species and in understanding the interworkings of its ecological processes.

1. Exposed Till As the glaciers that once covered Long Island receded, many of the sediments they left behind were unsorted sediments, which consists of rock of different sizes called till. Observe the shape of the cobbles exposed here. What caused them to be shaped this way? Did the rock fragments all come from the same rock?

2. Forest Environment Stop, look, and listen. Practice your observation skills. You are standing in a deciduous forest, in which most of the trees will lose their leaves after the growing season. Identify the different sounds that you hear at this station. Which are natural and which are not?

3. Garnet Bearing Rock Look down on the path. You will see a rock type called a schist. This is a rock formed by subjecting clay and feldspar to intense heat and pressure. A close look at the rock reveals larger crystals on its surface. These are garnets, a semi-precious stone. You may also see some mica in this rock along with the other minerals. How did this rock get to the surface of the earth after being formed far below the surface?

4. How Large is This Rock? The rock exposed here is pegmatite. It mainly consists of large crystals of quartz and feldspar. Look closely for visible crystal shapes on the rock’s surface. Describe what you see. Since most of this rock is buried, how could one determine its true size? How large could this rock be? What forces in nature could move a rock of this size?

5. Kettle Hole You are now standing in a kettle hole. This was a place where a large block of glacial ice was incorporated in the glacial sediments. As the ice melted, it left this depression. Would you expect all kettle holes to be the same size or shape? Once the ice melted, where did the water go?

6. Fallen Trees Look around and you will see many trees that have fallen and are now resting on the ground. Do you see a pattern in the direction that they fell? What forces of nature are strong enough to topple trees? Does weather play an important role in the forest environment?

7. Where Do Leaves Go? Every year, these trees in this deciduous forest lose their leaves. One would expect that the pile of leaves on the forest floor would grow thicker each year. If this is actually happened, would you be able to walk the forest easily? Dig down through some of the litter you see around you. Notice how the character of the litter changes with depth. So what is happening to the forest leaves? What are the processes involved? Finally, who are the major players of these processes?

8. Topography Note that the topography in this part of the Ashley Schiff Preserve is very irregular with many small ridges and valleys. These small ridges and valleys were formed by the glacier that pushed from the north to the south. Note that the small ridges and valleys generally have an east-west trend. As you go over a ridge the underlying sediment is exposed. Is this sediment the same as you saw at stop 1?

9. Wood Decomposition Like all living things, trees eventually die. When this happens, the properties of the wood are transformed. Take a look at the rotting wood at this station. Use your sense of touch to compare this wood with that of a living tree. What role do you think insects and microorganisms have in changing the wood’s properties? Do you think that all wood decomposes at a similar rate?

10. Succession: The Evolution of a Forest Here we look at how a forest evolves over time. The forest that you have been walking in has not always looked this way. Changes in climate and the effects of fire have naturally changed its appearance many times. Look at the open field ahead of you. This is the beginning of a forest. Are the plants in the field similar to the ones in the forest? Why or why not? Compare the growing conditions of an early forest to a mature forest. How long do you think that this “young” forest will take to look like the forest you have been walking through?

11. Sassafras A common plant in this forest is sassafras. The leaves can be used for making tea. Break off ONE sassafras leaf, crush it between your fingers and smell it. Does its smell remind you of anything familiar? See if you can locate any black birch trees using your identification chart. Take a leaf from that and smell it — you’ll be pleasantly surprised! Humans have used plants for many purposes. Name some useful plants and their uses.

12. Ferns A fern is a plant that does not produce any seeds. New ferns are produced through the production of spores, which are located on the underside of the leaves. Look at the undersides of the fern’s leaves. Are there any spores present? If present, they would look like small brown dots. If they are not present, can you explain why they are not there? How might nature transport these spores? How are other types of seeds transported? (Hint: Think of the fruits you eat.)

13. Roots As you walk the trail, look down and you will see many roots that cross your path. When a seed germinates, the roots are usually the first structure established. What do roots provide the plant? Notice the roots at this location (specifically, the largest root at this station). How large do you think this root is? Can you find the tree to which this root belongs? How far down into the earth and away from the tree do roots extend?

14. Leaf and Bark Comparison At this spot, there are many types of trees in one area. Look at the leaves and compare them to the identification chart. Can you match the leaves here to the tree name? Some clues to a tree’s identity can be found by looking at its bark. The bark serves a protective function for the tree, like armor; but unlike armor, the bark must be able to grow as the tree grow wider. Compare the different barks here. Some may be smooth while others are deeply grooved or even flake off. Why would nature produce different types of bark? For what purposes have humans used bark?

15. The Great Kettle As you cross over the road when exiting the preserve, you will encounter a very large kettle. Notice how the steepness of the sides compares to other kettles that you have seen earlier on the trail. Why is this kettle larger than the others? How thick do you think the glacier was that covered this area?

This guide to the Ashley Schiff Preserve Science Walk was written by Walter Gurzynski and Reid Solomon for the Earth Science Research Project of the Department of Geosciences, SUNY at Stony Brook