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Pushing and Pulling West:

Pending Extensions of the Boundaries of the Pine Bush Preserve

By John Wolcott

A Little Background

When I first started mulling over the notion of a Pine Bush Preserve in 1971, it was with the thought of the opportunity to set aside a large, more or less, continuous bi-city forest for the benefit of car-free city dwellers, stretching between Schenectady and Albany. One of the most unique facets of the Pine bush, even at that late a date, was that it was a fair sized forest adjacent to urban areas, with other unique things besides. Except for Route 155 and the Albany City Dump, the Pine Bush was more or less contiguous green space between Rensselaer lake and McDonald Ave. in Schenectady. This was north of the Thruway. South of the Thruway, there was a good band of Pine Bush green space stretching with some zig-zagging and squeezing between I-87 and Carman Road (Route 146).

There were only some small, preliminary efforts to urge a Pine Bush Preserve until the Spring and Summer of 1973, except for Nature Conservancy's "Operation Pine Bush" publication which was released in 1972. In 1973, SUNY Albany's PYE Club established a Pine Bush Committee, which in turn called a general area meeting from which a coalition ensued called "People for the Pine Bush." Then Don Rittner started "The Pine Bush Preservation Project" seen after, in the same year. This was the result, directly, of sustained lobbying spearheaded by the PYE Club, under George Keloshian. It was secured at a meeting in 1973 between DEC and representatives of People for the Pine Bush, PYE, The League of Women Voters, SUNYA's Environmental Forum, and Peter Buttner. A promise and commitment was made to start assembling a preserve by using 1972 Environmental Bond money. The SUNYA PYE Club had very actively supported and lobbied for the 1972 Bond.

Competing Forces Pushing Toward the Hunger Kill

The part of the Pine Bush selected for the first Preserve component stretched almost to the eastern edge of the Hunger Kill Valley. It consisted of Great Lots 54 behind the Lynch-Corning Water Tower and took in successive Great Lots up to and including Great Lot 60 extending just past Siver Road. This was DEC "Project Q-UA Albany 16." It was called "The Pine Bush Unique Area", at that time. It was mapped and earmarked in 1975, and bought up over the next few years. Since then, a fair amount of additional land has been acquired for public preservation in the Pine Bush, especially through Nature Conservancy. Also, urged on by Don Rittner, Albany added the very important part west of the dump. On the other hand, a large amount of the Pine Bush was also being lost to development at the same time. This latter process was slowed down, but definitely not halted, after the appearance of Save the Pine Bush in 1978. Between 1975 and the end of last year there have been no public preservation additions to the West of Project Q-UA Albany 16. Within the same time period much open space in that part of the Pine Bush has been eradicated by ugly sprawl, between Carman Road (Route 146) and about four blocks east of Lone Pine Road. This is almost at the Western edge of Hunger Kill Valley. The same is true of varying sized areas along and off of both sides of Old State Road between Siver Road and Route 146.

Save the Pine Bush has been promoting preservation of the remaining undeveloped portion of the Hunger Kill and the tributaries which make up it's watershed, for several years. This has actually been with the assistance of the largest land owners in the Valley: The Ford and Feeney families. They have always, generously given us permission to conduct hikes through their property. It is to their great credit, that the Fords and Feeneys, after building Silver Acres sub-division in the mid sixties, never touched the rest of their land here. John Ford, in particular kept telling me that they would prefer to see their land put into conservation. Between 1994 and 1996 there was a sort of tug of war the Commission over the Hunger Kill acquisition priorities. First the west side of the Hunger Kill watershed was assigned secondary consideration, then it was given "Full Protection" classification provisionally, then when the Pine Bush Commission plan was finally finalized in 1996, the east half of the watershed was assigned full protection classification but the west half was demoted to partial protection. This doesn't make environmental or geographic sense, the more so in this case, since the West half has large beautiful sand dunes and the east half has virtually none. The West side has many more pitch pines as well. A few months after Bill Aylward became Town Supervisor of Guilderland, Jerry Mueller and I took him on a hike through the Hunger Kill Valley. He was immediately impressed and said: "this whole place should be preserved". Supervisor Aylward then suggested that a few members of Save the Pine Bush meet with him once a month at Town hall along with the Pine Bush Commissioner to pool ideas and information. At a meeting of June 10th, 1996, we recommended that, then, Save the Pine bush member Chuck Reiley, talk to the Mrozek heirs, whom he knew, about selling their parcel near the Hunger Kill on Lydius Street. This he did, with the approval and backing of Bill Aylward and Willie Janeway. The reply was positive, and as with the help of the Town, Lee Kiernan of DEC and Nature Conservancy, the Mrozek parcel was purchased, with a couple of roadside house lots excepted, on December 28th, 1998.

To, and Over the Kill, At Last

The Nature Conservancy had begun negotiating with the Feeney and Fords, even before this, but for some reason, unknown to us, their land hasn't been sold to the Conservancy yet. This means that the Mrozek parcel is detached from the rest of the preserve, and can only be connected to it by the acquisition of the Feeney and Ford parcel. The Feeneys and Fords have agreed to sell 115 acres out of the 130 acres between Siver Road and the Hunger Kill. They wish to keep 15 acres on which to build a couple of houses. The Town has approved of the house lots on the 15 acres conditioned upon the sale of the remaining 115 acres for conservation. Save the Pine Bush has always hoped that entirety of this tract would be acquired for conservation and dedicated to the Pine Bush Preserve. This became more true after Charles Rao destroyed the land between Old State Road and the Feeney and Ford tract, to build a development. This event narrowed the bottleneck even further. This soon to be expected acquisition together with the Mrozek lot, will add 163 new acres to the Pine Bush Preserve when they are dedicated. A magnificent addition will be made to the preserve, as anyone knows who has explored the Hunger Kill Valley. It has the deepest most extensive ravine system in the Pine Bush, with a rich variety of flora and fauna peculiar to the ravines. Back from the ravines are tall stands of mixed hardwood and white pine and tall full grown pitch pines, especially on the dunes above the ravines on the west side. This Kill (Dutch for river) was once known to be one of the most constant flowing streams with the coldest water even during the hottest summers. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who grew up by the Huger Kill indicated that it was a good stream for Brook Trout in the beginning of the nineteenth century. One of the best things about the Ford and Feeney pending purchase is that part of it crosses over onto the West bank of the Hunger Kill. However, contrary to what the Times Union announced, the tract does not "contain both sides of the Hunger Kill Ravine." The opposite is true. The West side of the Ravine contains some of the Feeney and Ford land as does the East side.

Onward Toward Schenectady

What about continuing the Preserve yet further West now that a portion of the Hunger Kill has been crossed? After 24 years of lobbying hiking, hollering, publicizing and negotiating - pushing and pulling West - this is not the time to step back and rest on our laurels. Now the Preserve is becoming better, although it is misshapen: checkered, zigged and zagged, squeezed and indented, compared to what some of us originally envisioned. Still the efforts to improve the Pine Bush Preserve need to be continued even more vigorously. The Preserve now, is actually beginning to reach more toward Schenectady across the Hunger Kill, and also along the North side of the King's Road.

Car-free Access to a Bi-City Forest

The acquisition of more land west of the Hunger Kill just north of and parallel to Spawn Road, as far as open space still exists here, will bring the Preserve very close to Schenectady in a way not often thought of enough. Such an additional acquisition can enable the establishment of a hiking trail leading to the Hunger Kill and deeper into the Pine Bush, starting just a short distance from the #63 CDTA bus which runs along Carman Road and Route 20 between Schenectady and Albany. With more effort, some version of a bi-city forest, with car-free access, can still materialize. The new Preserve acquisitions will make this more apparent and that much more possible.

Promoting more bus, pedestrian and bicycle access anywhere is a counter to the car culture which engenders sprawl, the sprawl that is eating away at the Pine Bush and other parts of our natural heritage. In this case, it will help more poor people to enjoy natural surroundings, and also accommodate those who simply do not wish to drive a car everywhere they go. So let us keep pushing the Preserve toward Schenectady. Let us start pulling and pushing bus access to the Pine Bush from Schenectady and Albany. The current and pending additions are an inspiration and an encouragement.

published October/November 1999 Newsletter
Last Updated 10/11/99


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