The state historic site's first prescribed burn will help native grass species grow and thrive

VICTOR — A portion of the 20 or so acres of scorched earth at the corner of Boughton Hill Road and School Street is as black as night.

But the intent of burning the vegetation on this stretch of land at the Ganondagan State Historic Site is not to destroy, but to give new life, according to Whitney Carleton, a stewardship specialist, Finger Lakes region, with the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The prescribed burn — the first done as a project solely by the state agency — had been in the works for several years. And in less time than it takes for a single “Game of Thrones” episode to air, the task was completed last Tuesday morning — without incident, Carleton said.

“This is a big milestone for us,” Carleton said. “Everything went perfectly. The entire area was burned within 45 minutes.”

Back in 2009, this burn site, as well as another at Boughton Hill and Murray Roads, was designated a Grassland Management Area. Native warm-season species of grass were planted such as Indian grass, big bluestem and little bluestem and native wildflowers, such as New England aster.

The prescribed burn is an attempt is to restore the biodiversity of plant and wildlife species to what it once was, to restore grassland communities and remove layers of thatch to improve habitat. And doing it in such a way as to not use chemicals or tear up the ground in the process.

“We do have ecological purposes for doing this,” Carleton said.

But there is a history aspect to the project as well.

The burn is believed to have been a tool used by the Seneca way back in the 1700s, when they settled in Ganondagan, which is one of the reasons for using it as a tool today, Carleton said.

According to Carleton, the landscape was designed based on journal entries of visiting Europeans during that time.

Earlier this year a six-week time frame for having the burn was established — and last week was right in the middle of it. And it all hinged on the area’s topsy-turvy spring weather.

But earlier this week, all systems were go.

The fire was set in several areas by design, so that lines of fire came together and smoke billowed straight up. So while the smoke could be seen miles away, visibility was fine on Boughton Hill Road, for example.

“We definitely had some rubber-neckers,” Carleton said.

Victor Fire Chief Sean McAdoo said any time he hears about fire, he is concerned. But the years of planning and the coordination among the town, fire, county and state agencies was a comfort to him.

“The fire stayed where it had to stay,” McAdoo said. “The planning paid off and we had people in the right places.”

If not by sight, visitors could tell there was a fire by the odor. Daily checks of the prescribed burn site were scheduled to place to monitor for smoke and other issues until the site receives at least 0.2 inches of rain, Carleton said.

State Troopers, Ontario County sheriff’s deputies, Park Police and Fishers and Victor Fire Departments were highly involved in planning and helped out on site the day of the prescribed burn. The Victor Department of Public Works and state Department of Transportation, as well as other local partners, played a large role in planning and implementing the project, Carleton said.

“It was very much a community-wide effort,” Carleton said.

And, perhaps the fire for another prescribed burn will be lit again for next year, based on the success of this event.

“It was good to see this can happen,” McAdoo said.

Editor's note

Have you ever seen or heard of something around here that made you stop and wonder, "What's up with that?" We have, too — and now we're hoping to provide some answers to these long-lingering questions with this column, which appears Sundays. If you have questions you need answered, either email or call Local Editor Mike Murphy at mmurphy@messengerpostmedia.com or 585-337-4229.