Lime-green shoots have appeared against the backdrop of charred tree trunks and ash-covered ground in Sam’s Point Preserve, promising new life after a wildfire wiped out 2,028 acres in April.
Park staff and ecologists have researched fire behavior in pitch pine barrens for years. But this wildfire, the first major one to hit Sam’s Point in decades, has presented an opportunity to see firsthand how the fire-adapted ecosystem on top of the Shawangunk Ridge actually recovers.
Sam’s Point director Hank Alicandri said it’s already been an eye-opening experience in the six weeks since the fire.
“I’m really excited to be here after this big fire; I’m excited to see what the ecosystem does,” Alicandri said. “It could go a bunch of different ways.”
The wildfire, which began April 23 about a mile down the popular Verkeederkill Falls hiking trail, wiped out about half of the preserve’s famous dwarf pitch pines before it was fully contained about five days after it started.
The week of the fire, Nature Conservancy fire ecologist Gabriel Chapin said the amount of time that had passed since the last fire at Sam’s Point would have a significant effect on the ecosystem’s recovery.
The dwarf pitch pines have pine cones that open and drop seeds after a fire strikes, but the Sam’s Point wildfire moved so quickly that it did not have time to burn all the way through the decades of natural debris on the ground.
Hiking through the area on Tuesday, Chapin pointed out the lack of pine shoots on the ground, where the now-open pine cones would have dropped seeds.
Instead, the pitch pines are showing sprouts up and down their charred trunks, which is also a natural form of regeneration.
The ashy debris is not slowing down other plants from re-sprouting — ferns have already covered some badly burned areas, and the huckleberry, blueberry and mountain laurel are steadily popping up.
But Chapin said he was surprised there hasn’t been more regrowth since the fire.
As the park moves forward, Alicandri said they are focused on mitigating the damage caused by bulldozed and hand-cut fire breaks.
Verkeederkill Falls Trail, High Point Trail, High Point Carriage Road, Blueberry Pickers Trail and Indian Rock Trail remain closed.
But Alicandri said visitors are welcome to explore the Loop Road, Ice Cave Road and Ice Caves Trail, and on the weekends, park rangers are available to talk to visitors about fire management and recovery.