Saratoga County

Parks prepare after ticks test positive for deadly virus

Three Powassan cases in Saratoga County
Coen Puckett, 12, and his father Todd Puckett, both of North Carolina, stop at the Saratoga National Historical Park in 2013.
Coen Puckett, 12, and his father Todd Puckett, both of North Carolina, stop at the Saratoga National Historical Park in 2013.

SARATOGA SPRINGS & STILLWATER — Area parks are looking to expand their disease-prevention efforts after ticks carrying a rare, often-deadly virus were found in Saratoga County.

“This is our last big weekend of the season,” said Lisa Dittman, a park ranger at Saratoga National Historical Park in Stillwater. “We will be making a concerted effort to let people know about the ticks.”

Twenty-two ticks collected at that park, Saratoga Spa State Park in Saratoga Springs, 100 Acre Woods Trail in Malta and an undisclosed home this summer tested positive for the Powassan virus, whose symptoms range from flu-like but mild to life-threatening encephalitis, the state Health Department announced earlier this week. The department collected about 2,700 ticks from 30 different locations after three cases of the virus were confirmed in Saratoga County, one of which resulted in the death of Charles Smith, 74, of Gansevoort.

In spite of the three Powassan cases locally, the Health Department said the virus is rare, pointing to only 26 confirmed cases statewide since 2000.

Dittman, who serves as chief interpreter at the national park, said the news has not slowed attendance at the park, which had about 150,000 visitors in 2016. She said most people come prepared to fend off ticks, bringing bug spray with them.

“Nobody is really, at this point, any more concerned than they have been in the past,” she said. “We may see an increase in concern over the next couple of months if more information gets out and people start doing their own research.”

The park, which is home to the Saratoga Battlefield, has had signs up all summer warning of the dangers of tick-borne illnesses following a spike in ticks and Lyme disease cases across the Northeast. Signs are posted along entrance roads, in the parking lot and on trails, and brochures are available in the visitors center. 

Since the Health Department’s announcement about Powassan earlier this week, the national park has posted warnings on Facebook, Twitter and its official website.

“We are going to be getting some additional sign from the state of New York that are brighter in color that we will be able to put out in the park at some various locations as well,” she added.

While all of the information shared to date has warned about more common tick-borne illnesses, like Lyme disease, Dittman said the park will be sharing information on the warning signs of Powassan in the future, on social media and in pamphlets. 

At Spa State Park, workers “provide and routinely restock” educational brochures on Lyme disease in the administration and Creekside Classroom buildings, said Randy Simons, a state parks spokesman. Warning signs are also posted in high-trafficked areas like entry booths, restrooms, warming huts, trailheads and more, he said.

Park staff also discuss tick awareness during programs and guided tours and regularly trim overhanging vegetation on the trails, he said. They encourage all park and trail users to stay on the trail and out of tall grass.

Dittman said the national park, while focused on telling the story of the site’s role in the Revolutionary War, is frequented by bikers, runners and walkers. Cyclists take advantage of the 10-mile trail, while others walk the Wilkinson trail and even train at the park for marathons and triathlons. With this in mind, she said, spreading the word about environmental dangers, like disease-carrying ticks, is nothing new to park staff.

“A lot of recreationalists want to get out on the trail and walk where those soldiers fought and died 200 years ago,” she said. “There’s always been a connection between the natural environment we’re in and how it affected the battle itself.”

For more information on protecting against tick-borne illnesses, visit

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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