It’s a tribute to those dedicated to protecting it from development.
In the late 1970s, the Pine Bush, the sprawling pine barrens that extend from the city of Albany to Schenectady County, was considered by some a vast wasteland ripe for development.
Its central location appealed to investors, who saw it as a prime building location, with easy access to major highways, including the Interstate 87 and 90 interchange. It was an ideal spot for retail, offices and residential use. Plans to plow through the craggy landscape abounded.
Fortunately, this effort to pave the Pine Bush was stopped, largely due to the efforts of “Save the Pine Bush,” the grass-roots environmental organization launched in 1978. It has been a sustained force dedicated to rescuing and protecting the unique environmentally sensitive land.
Historically, the Pine Bush’s had a footprint that covered nearly 60,000 acres. King’s Highway was the original stagecoach route connecting Albany with Schenectady. Today, commercial and residential development and Albany’s many landfill expansions have taken a toll. Only about 3,200 pristine acres survive, yet the preserve remains a globally rare ecosystem and one of the premier examples of an inland pine barrens, supporting rare species.
The best known of these is the revered Lycaeides melissa samuelis We know it as the Karner Blue butterfly, which is on the federal Endangered Species List. The tiny, winged creature depends on the availability of the blue lupine, which thrives in the dry, sandy soil of the Pine Bush.
Thanks to the community supporters and the state Legislature’s creation of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission in 1988, the preserve has become a valued community treasure — a year round place for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.
Its Discovery Center propels its mission to educate and protect the treasured land that is home to 300 species of vertebrate animals, more than 1,300 species of plants, and more than 10,000 species of insects and other invertebrates.
Those dedicated to ensuring the preserve’s future have another achievement to celebrate. The U.S. Department of Interior has designated the Pine Bush preserve a National Natural Landmark. The status is shared by 25 other environmentally sensitive sites in New York state, including the Bear Swamp Preserve in Westerlo, and 600 locations nationally. It represents a resounding affirmation to the efforts of those who have supported and worked to protect the Pine Bush for so many years, and it recognizes the outstanding geological and biological qualities of the land area. The designation came on the urging of U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand.
Much as the caterpillar emerges as the majestic Karner Blue, there has been a metamorphosis in the way we see this valued acreage.
The National Natural Landmark designation underscores how, through the efforts of many, the area once seen as wasteland is now recognized for its beauty.
Published in August/September, 2014 Save the Pine Bush Newsletter