Great Lakes Bluff at Chimney Bluffs State Park Jesse W. Jaycox

Great Lakes Bluff at Chimney Bluffs State Park
Jesse W. Jaycox

System
Terrestrial
Subsystem
Open Uplands
State Protection
Not Listed
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
S2S3
Global Conservation Status Rank
G4

Summary

Did you know?

You can see 150 foot tall "chimneys" made of small stone, gravel, sand, and clay at Chimney Bluffs State Park. These eroding drumlins have existed for thousands of years and are constantly changing from exposure to Great Lakes erosional forces, such as water, ice, or wind.

State Ranking Justification

There are an estimated 5 to 30 extant occurrences statewide. Three currently documented occurrences are mostly protected on state park land. Great Lakes bluffs appear to be restricted to the drumlin region of the Great Lakes Plain Ecozone. The bluffs form in areas where drumlins are positioned along the south shore of Lake Ontario. The overall trend for the community is suspected to be slightly declining due to recreational overuse, erosion prevention activities, and other development.

Short-term Trends

The number and size of Great Lakes bluffs in New York appear to be stable, or perhaps declining slightly, in recent years.

Long-term Trends

It is likely that Great Lakes bluffs were never widespread and common in New York given their physiogeographic setting (i.e., drumlins on the Lake Ontario shoreline). The number of Great Lakes bluffs in New York may have declined slightly from historical numbers and their aerial extent and viability are suspected to have declined over the long-term. These declines are likely correlated with coastal development and associated changes in connectivity, hydrological alteration, and natural erosion processes.

Conservation and Management

Threats

The threats to Great Lakes bluffs in New York include invasive plants (mostly non-tative, successional old field weeds), recreational overuse; specifically, off-trail hiking. Additional threats include fragmentation of bluffs for beach access. Broad threats to Great Lakes shoreline include artificial lake level manipulation, shoreline fragmentation, and management practices like shoreline hardening/erosion prevention.

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Maintain the dominant ecological processes responsible for keeping this dynamic community in disclimax. Natural disturbances, including wave erosion and strong offshore winds, should be expected to lead to slumping, gully forming, and bluff retreat. Prevent recreational overuse and encourage the public to stay on marked trails. Because the face of the bluffs can be expected to migrate inland, it is important to protect adequate open space to accommodate such change. Prevent the spread of invasive exotic species into the bluffs through appropriate direct management and by minimizing potential dispersal corridors, such as beach access trails and stairways.

Development and Mitigation Considerations

Development should avoid fragmentation ofth bluffs to allow for seed dispersal and seasonal animal migrations. Bisecting trails, roads, and developments can also allow exotic plant and animal species to invade. Connectivity to the lake and to should be maintained to maintain Great Lakes processes, such offshore winds and lake effect precipitation. Natural community buffers should be maintained or restored landward behind the bluffs to allow for bluff retreat in the future.

Inventory Needs

Releve plots are needed from known occurrences and searches for new occurrencs are needed.

Research Needs

A study could investigate the effects of lake level (artificial vs. historic natural) on the dynamic erosive processes of this community.

Rare Species

  • Corydalis aurea (Golden Corydalis) (guide)
  • Ptelea trifoliata ssp. trifoliata (Wafer-ash) (guide)

Range

New York State Distribution

In New York, Great Lakes bluffs are known from the drumlin region of the Great Lakes Plain ecozone. Currently documented occurrences are known from Chimney Bluffs State Park in Wayne County, Fair Haven Beach State Park in Cayuga County, and Hamlin Beach State Park in Monroe County.

Global Distribution

The distribution of Great Lakes bluffs similar to those in New York is uncertain. Cliff communties comprised of various consolidated bedrock are known from across the Great Lakes region. However, more research and inventory is needed to confirm the distribution of bluffs comprised of unconsolidated material of drumlins beyond New York.

Best Places to See

  • Hamlin Beach State Park (Monroe County)
  • Chimney Bluffs State Park (Wayne County)
  • Fair Haven Beach State Park

Identification Comments

General Description

A sparsely vegetated community that occurs on vertical exposures of unconsolidated material, such as small stone, gravel, sand, and clay, that is exposed to Great Lakes erosional forces, such as water, ice, or wind. There are very few woody species present because of the unstable substrate. Most abundant species are usually annual and early succesional herbs.

Characters Most Useful for Identification

Great Lakes bluffs are adjacent to one of the Great Lakes and are exposed to their erosional forces. The most abundant species are usually annual and early succesional herbs.

Elevation Range

Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 245 feet and 400 feet.

Best Time to See

Great Lakes bluffs are an impressive site to see year round.

Great Lakes Bluff Images

Classification

Characteristic Species

Trees > 5m

Acer rubrum

Acer saccharum (sugar maple)

Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch)

Betula papyrifera (paper birch)

Fraxinus americana (white ash)

Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam, ironwood)

Populus deltoides

Populus tremuloides (trembling aspen, quaking aspen)

Shrubs 2 - 5m

Acer negundo

Acer saccharum (sugar maple)

Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch)

Betula papyrifera (paper birch)

Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam, ironwood)

Populus deltoides

Populus tremuloides (trembling aspen, quaking aspen)

Quercus rubra (northern red oak)

Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust)

Tilia americana

Shrubs < 2m

Acer saccharum (sugar maple)

Betula alleghaniensis (yellow birch)

Betula papyrifera (paper birch)

Cornus sericea (red-osier dogwood)

Elaeagnus umbellata (autumn-olive)

Fraxinus americana (white ash)

Lonicera morrowii (Morrow's honeysuckle)

Populus deltoides

Populus tremuloides (trembling aspen, quaking aspen)

Robinia pseudoacacia (black locust)

Rubus allegheniensis (common blackberry)

Rubus idaeus

Rubus odoratus (purple-flowering raspberry)

Salix sp.

Vines

Toxicodendron radicans

Vitis riparia (river grape, frost grape)

Herbs

Achillea millefolium (yarrow)

Agrostis gigantea (red-top)

Anthoxanthum odoratum (sweet vernal grass)

Arisaema triphyllum

Artemisia vulgaris (mugwort)

Aster divaricatus

Carex pedunculata

Centaurea stoebe ssp. micranthos (spotted knapweed)

Cichorium intybus (chicory)

Daucus carota (wild carrot)

Elymus canadensis

Equisetum arvense (field horsetail, common horsetail)

Erigeron annuus (annual daisy fleabane)

Festuca subverticillata (nodding fescue)

Fragaria virginiana

Hepatica nobilis

Hypericum perforatum

Juncus tenuis (path rush)

Leucanthemum vulgare (ox-eye daisy)

Maianthemum racemosum

Melilotus alba

Oenothera biennis (common evening-primrose)

Osmorhiza claytonii (bland sweet-cicely)

Poa compressa (flat-stemmed blue grass, Canada blue grass)

Prunella vulgaris

Solidago canadensis

Trifolium sp.

Tussilago farfara (colts-foot)

Similar Ecological Communities

Vegetation

Trees > 5m
25%
Shrubs 2 - 5m
8%
Shrubs < 2m
6%
Vines
2%
Herbs
48%
Nonvascular plants
8%

Percent cover

This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Great Lakes Bluff. Each bar represents the amount of "coverage" for all the species growing at that height. Because layers overlap (shrubs may grow under trees, for example), the shaded regions can add up to more than 100%.

Additional Resources

References

Edinger, G. J., D. J. Evans, S. Gebauer, T. G. Howard, D. M. Hunt, and A. M. Olivero (editors). 2014. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke’s Ecological Communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY. http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/wildlife_pdf/ecocomm2014.pdf

Edinger, Gregory J., D.J. Evans, Shane Gebauer, Timothy G. Howard, David M. Hunt, and Adele M. Olivero (editors). 2002. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke's Ecological Communities of New York State. (Draft for review). New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 136 pp.

Larson, D.W., U. Matthes, and P.E. Kelly. 2000. Cliff Ecology: Pattern and Process in Cliff Ecosystems. Cambridge University Press, New York, New York.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Van Diver, Bradford B. 1985. Roadside Geology of New York. Mountain Press Publishing Company, Missoula, MT.

Links

About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Gregory J. Edinger

Information for this guide was last updated on: March 17, 2017

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2019. Online Conservation Guide for Great Lakes bluff. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/great-lakes-bluff/. Accessed March 19, 2019.

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