EVALUATION OF THE GOAT ISLAND COMPLEX, NIAGARA FALLS, NEW YORK
8. The Eastern Meadow
Due to variation in soil depth, tree composition may have changed from west to east, perhaps with more Oaks and Hickories, or more White Pine or Ash toward the east - but it is likely that the Beech-Maple-Ironwood component would decrease in numbers in a easterly direction with decrease in soil depth.
Early "aerial" views of Goat Island, such as those depicted by George Catling in 1831 (Adamson, 1985), show the eastern end of Goat Island with the pale green of the surrounding cleared land on both mainlands, and a forest cover over the rest of the Island. This absence of vegetation is generally attributed to clearing by John Stedman with his famous goats.
When the Reservation was established in 1885, this area seems to have supported the secondary growth of an environment in the process of recovery and colonization. One might imagine here an autumn abundance of native Asters, Goldenrod and White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum). Certain of the weedy or pioneering species, such as the thistles, reported by Day in 1888, were probably abundant in the shrubby secondary growth.
Olmsted and Vaux (1887) noted the "artificially cleared ground" on Goat Island's east end, with the additional note that "a few small clearings have been made at other points, in some of which a thick young growth has sprung up."
In this relatively dry nutrient-poor area on the east or south-eastern side of Goat Island grew great colonies of Sumac (Rhus typhina), targeted by the first Superintendent for removal in the early years of the Reservation (see species catalogue). The "sumach, thistles, plantain and other undesirable weeds ... formerly held full sway there. Over six hundred cubic yards of stone were picked off the eight acres and piled up for future use on the roads" (28 Ann Rep Comm, 1912). Perhaps it is in the regrowth vegetation of this extensively disturbed area where Day's (1901) autumn flora was most spectacular, with its Goldenrods, Sunflowers (Helianthus, both species extirpated), Field or Downy Thistle (Cirsium discolor) and Asters or Star-flowers. "The Sumachs, which form a grove on the southeast of [Goat Island] that is striking at any season ... produce reds and yellows that are fairly flaming" (Chamberlin, 1892). A hint at this kind of habitat can be found today in autumn on the southeast margin of Goat Island facing the eastern end of the First Sister Island. Here there are a series of three little seeps where the mower cannot go, and a dense tangle of Goldenrod springs up here, mixed with Spotted Touch-me-not (Impatiens biflora) and somewhat earlier, the pale blue flowers of Water Speedwell (Veronica anagallis-aquatica).
The word "Meadow" at an early date in the Reservation's history, was perhaps a euphemism, suggesting that this area was a grassy, herbaceous habitat. On June 1, 1865, George Clinton collected on what he called "the naked pasture on the head of the Island" ... "an umbellifer, probably Carum carvi" (Clinton Journal).
Olmsted and Vaux (1887) recommended that in the eastern areas the "dense young growth" be treated "by thinning and planting ... that all these spaces shall be refurnished with trees ... but less closely, as the foliage is not intended as a screen, and some variety in its disposition ... will be pleasing."
In 1893 "one hundred and thirteen maples, seventy-six ash, fifty-five bass-woods, thirty-six larch and thirteen elms, in all 293 trees, have been taken from the nursery and planted in the meadow on Goat Island" (10 Ann Rep Comm, 1894). In 1894 "one hundred and thirteen maples, 76 ash, 55 basswoods, 36 larches and 13 elms have been taken from the nursery and planted in the meadow on Goat Island" (11 Ann Rep Comm, 1895).
As the eastern meadow was always considered one of the Reservation's problems to be solved, the caretakers of the Reservation, in addition to removing Sumac, decided more vigorous measures would be taken to deal with the east end of Goat Island. "A portion of the upper part of Goat Island was cleared of woods over a century ago. The Commissioners have directed the planting of forest trees in that section, thus restoring Goat Island to its primitive and natural condition so far as possible. For this we ask an appropriation of $1,500" (17 Ann Rep Comm, 1901).
In 1910 it was suggested than silt from one of the ponds in the Reservation on the mainland, "rich in organic matter," could be used on the "shallow soil on the upper end of Goat Island [which] might be replenished and turf and trees made to flourish, where now they can scarcely obtain a foothold" (27 Ann Rep Comm, 1911). The eastern meadow "presented a most barren and untidy aspect. It was overgrown with weeds and brush, and what little grass there was became sere and brown at the first summer drought ... over an area of large extent there being scarcely three inches of soil covering the bed rock ... the upper portion of the Island was neither forest nor meadow ...." Having formed this opinion "during a period of drought in early autumn the brush was cut out and the entire area burned over and plowed. It is intended to impart to this portion ... a rolling woodland-meadow treatment, entirely natural in character ..." (Superintendent Harries in 27 Ann Rep Comm, 1927). Natural in character is not the same as natural in reality. The next year all the meadow area was graded and seeded, several hundred trees planted "following out naturally the lines of the original growth" (28 Ann Rep Comm, 1912). No attempt appears to have been made to assess what that original growth could have been in an area with little or no topsoil.
Most of the vegetation of the eastern meadow today appears to be of recent introduction. The area is kept as an urban landscape, such as is seen in a city park, and native vegetation is not permitted to establish itself. Several species of Larch (Larix sp.) have been established, recently planted Ashes, the Rowan Tree (Sorbus aucuparia), the elongate form of White Poplar (Populus alba; see species catalogue), the reddish-leaved variant of the Norway Maple (Schwedler Maple), some flowering Hawthorn and Cherry. Several White Mulberry (Morus alba) trees of great maturity exist here, and are probably the source for the weedy establishment of these trees in surrounding areas with native or young vegetation, such as the Three Sisters, and on the ballast surrounding the meadow on the island's margin. A grove of White Pine (Pinus strobus) has been successfully established, and White Birch, horticultural Poplars, Red (Scarlet?) Oak on the margins, and White Spruce (Picea glauca), and Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra). Horticultural Chestnuts (Aesculus hybrids? - see species catalogue) are being planted, as are native Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum) which will contribute to the developing ballast forest, and Black Walnut (Juglans nigra) which appears to be a good choice both in terms of revegetating with native forest trees, in suitable habitat, with historic reports, if only on the adjacent mainland, and for the source of food for fauna. There is a great Black Willow at the eastern extremity, with Black Locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) and on the margins the horticultural willows: Weeping Willows (Salix babylonica), Crack Willow varieties or hybrids with White Willow (S. fragilis), and S. alba).
In addition to plantings, there are several seemingly relictual tree and shrub populations, for example, a series of Red Cedars (Juniperus virginiana), some perhaps quite old. Populations of this tree species, which is successional and does not tolerate shade well, probably were part of the regenerating vegetation present here in the 1880's. Perhaps in some way influenced by David Day's comments (1901) regarding the disappearing populations of Red Cedar on the island, allowance has been made for several trees to flourish here. No rejuvenation was detected elsewhere on the island, although young individuals readily establish themselves in woodlands along the crest of the Niagara River Gorge nearby (especially on the Canadian side).
Here and there are small islands of "spontaneous" kinds of vegetation, heavily infested with alien weeds. One of these is a tiny thicket of what appears to be Panicled Dogwood (Cornus racemosa), a species which can form dense thickets (Gleason & Cronquist, 1963). It is probable that this is very old and hence very interesting in terms of being able to find examples of early vegetation and its character on the island. This little patch is very dense, and may give some idea of what the word "thicket" meant when this word was used by Commissioner Thomas Welch in the early Reservation years.
Other thicket-forming species which may have inhabited this area are Wahoo (Euonymus atropurpureus), which prefers moister conditions, Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), which likes dry or rocky soil, Ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius), which will grow in rock talus by the river, presently forming a terrific patch in the Niagara Gorge just below the Whirlpool.
In 1959-60 land was created on the eastern end, extending the area of the island upstream (American Falls International Board, 1971). This area is ringed with ballast in the form of dolomite boulders which forms a separate habitat treated below (see ballast section). A parking lot was established over this made land, and a helicopter pad and concession stand, a shed and roadway for the viewmobile. Residents and other visitors are encouraged to use this end as a picnic area, much as in an urban park, and events, such as antique automobile displays and sales are staged here in summer on the grassy lawn. The eastern roadway may mark the limits of the old shore-line.
At one point during the summer, when an automobile exhibit and sale was taking place, the air at the eastern end was filled with the sound of the helicopter's landing and departure, cars were parked on the grass and in the parking lot (thus resembling a used car dealership), more cars were navigating the ring-road, the viewmobile was stopping to load and unload passengers, and bicyclists were weaving in and out of pedestrian traffic. Overall, a metallic, industrial and mechanical aspect dominated the environment rivaling in noise and business that of any of the major business streets in the nearby city.
Some alien species of the lawns include:
* Bellis perennis ENGLISH DAISY.
* Malva neglecta CHEESES.
* Polygonum pensylvanica PENNSYLVANIA SMARTWEED. Garden soil beneath tree.
* Potentilla argentea SILVERY CINQUEFOIL.
* Rumex crispus CURLED DOCK. Weedy area below young tree.
* Taraxacum officinale DANDELION.
* Trifolium repens WHITE CLOVER.