Updated 04/11/2013 03:49 PM
Your Hometown: Green Lakes State Park
They were created 14,000 years ago, and still today, scientists come from all over the world to two lakes in Onondaga County. Both Green and Round lakes are among the rarest type in the world, nearly 200 feet deep but without oxygen below 60 feet. Still, there is life thriving in those depths. In this week’s edition of your hometown, our Katie Gibas explores Green Lakes State Park.
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FAYETTEVILLE, N.Y. -- Green Lakes State Park is a gem tucked away in the Central New York village of Fayetteville. For the outdoor enthusiast, it has plenty of great trails, picnic areas and swimming. For this history buffs, it's the park's unique formation that tells the greatest story, one that dates back to the Ice Age.
"There was actually a very large glacier. And there was a waterfall that was much larger than Niagara Falls. And the water came down and scoured out the deep basin," said Mark Teece, a chemistry professor at SUNY-ESF. "Green Lakes has very steep sides, and so it's very hard for wind to actually come through and start to move the water. The top layer and its bottom layer never mix. And so the bottom layer has aboslutely no oxygen and because it has no oxygen, very few things live there."
Green Lake and its sister, Round Lake, are two of the approximately 100 meromictic lakes in the world. It took eight years for Teece and his crew to get permits to scuba dive in Green lake. Once in the water, they discovered a delicate ecosystem, similar to a coral reef, made up of zooplankton, algae, mosses and sponges.
"The layer where oxygen stops is actually pink, and when you dive there, you can taste the sulfur. It's a very strange experience. The sediment actually is a beautiful record of what's happened in this area over the last 12,000 years," explains Teece. "One of the big things people were able to tell from this area was when Native Americans came in, and when agriculture began to take hold, because corn was used when agriculture started. There are still remnants of corn at the bottom of the lake."
Eventually the glaciers melted away, and the park started to become what it is today. In the 1800s, it was called Tremain Park, and even then, people knew how rare the lake was. That is why New York State purchased the land and started construction in 1929.
As governor, Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Temporary Emergency Relief Agency that provided the manpower for construction of the park. After he became president, his New Deal program funded the Civilian Conservation Corps, which took over the Green Lakes project in 1933.
One of their first tasks was hauling sand from Sylvan Beach to create the bathing area at Green Lake.
"There were crews and crews. At one point, there were two CCC camps," remembers Richard Almquist, who lived at Green Lakes State Park.
Almquist's father was the park's surveyor and first superintendent. Almquist lived on the grounds from his birth in 1934 until 1951.
"After everything was quiet, 9:00 or 9:30 at night, I walk out there and take a canoe out and go boating on the lake by myself. The lake was quiet. If there wasn't any wind, it was just like a mirror. I was disrupting it was the paddle and canoe," said Almquist. "There was just no noise, no radio, no nothing, just quietly going along through the outdoors that everyone should enjoy."
Once the CCC crews moved out, their quarters were used to house both migrant farm workers and prisoners of war. In 1945, about 200 young German prisoners were held at Green Lakes.
"There'd be a truck that would probably have 15-20 on it when they brought a bunch down. And there was always guards with them. It was always safe. They weren't harmful. They were lonely. They were away from home," said Norma Jenner, Minoa historian.
In 1975, Round Lake and the surrounding forest were placed on the National Registry of Natural Landmarks. Today, Green Lake is still one of the most studied lakes in the world.
"There are some purple sulfa bacteria that grow and they use sunlight, just like plants, but they don't use any oxygen and they can grow, photosynthesize there. And scientists come from all over the world to look at this lake because it's an analogue for the beginnings of life when there was no oxygen," said Teece.
Ever since its creation, people have recognized how special Green Lakes is and made sure to take steps, like restricting swimming areas, to keep the fragile ecosystem alive for generations to come.
I Love My Park Day is a new statewide effort to celebrate and enhance the state’s parks and historic sites. It’s sponsored in part by YNN and Time Warner Cable Sports Channel and will take place on Saturday, May 4th.
Volunteers from across the state will be participating in cleanup and improvement events at parks throughout the region. If you would like to take part or donate to the cause, visit www.ptny.org.