Dogs owners, beware. There are prickly porcupines on the premises at Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center in Cropseyville, Rensselaer County. Your furry friends are welcome to help you explore the woods here as long as they are on a leash.
Dyken Pond is part of the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, whose mission is to work with the community to promote the conservation of ecologically important areas of the Rensselaer Plateau region, one of the largest and most ecologically intact native habitats in New York State.
A steep escarpment identifies the Plateau region, which covers 118,000 acres and stretches from Hoosick in the north down to East Nassau. Its high elevations, from 1,000 feet to 1,800 feet, and cooler climate make it feel more similar to the Adirondack mountains than the surrounding areas.
Within the Plateau there are more state parks, community forests, state forests and conservation areas than you can explore in a summer. Whether you are a hiker, a hunter or just someone who likes to lie on a beach, there is something here for you within this beautiful forested region.
Dyken Pond is a great place to do some birdwatching, hiking or nature photography. You can even rent a canoe or kayak to take out onto Dyken Pond, which is actually a lake. There are six miles of easy-to-hike, well-marked trails, and leashed dogs are welcome. Just watch out for porcupines.
Part of the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance’s mission is to provide high-quality natural science education programs, and they offer outdoor recreation and youth-development opportunities. Students can participate in afterschool and youth group programs and summer nature camps where they can study wildlife, identify trees and birds, learn about flora and fauna life cycles, forestry and pond life.
In the summer nature camps, kids can learn about the forest and lake in fun ways at Dyken Pond. Their programs and activities are educational, useful, and also fun for kids while they get some fresh air. They can learn to snowshoe, canoe or kayak, even build a shelter. They can identify bird and trees, drag a net through a pond and observe the life cycles of plants and animals. Josh Pulito, a Natural Resource Educator, said the staff is going into schools for pre-visits to help students get more out of their trip, ultimately helping them learn to love being outdoors, and also, to promote future stewardship of the area.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called Grafton Lakes State Park “A jewel of the state park system.” With its miles of trails and beautiful ponds, it truly is a gem and it’s open to everyone, all year round. Located on the Plateau in the town of Cropseyville, Grafton Lakes Park covers 2,500 acres and includes six ponds, including Long Pond, whose sandy beach is a popular summer destination.
The park is open year-round, and you can rent a rowboat, kayak or canoe in the summer and then come back in the winter to rent snowshoes and take a hike with a park naturalist to see who’s been active in the woods. Climb the Dickenson Hill Fire Tower for views of the Massachusett’s Berkshires and Vermont’s Green Mountains and our own Adirondacks.
The park gives you a lot of reasons to get outdoors, which is good for everyone. And it’s available to everyone: there is a handicapaccessible trail and fishing dock, and picnic tables, pavilions and the beach at Long Lake are also accessible.
(Photo: The recently opened Welcome Center to Grafton Lakes Park.)
Their recently opened Welcome Center is a portal to the outdoors for kids and adults. Visit their owl, handle animal pelts, meet a turtle here. The park offers educational programs for kids from first grade through high school.
Nearby the plateau, and worth a visit, especially for bird watchers, is Schodack Island State Park in Schodack Landing, with seven miles of Hudson River and Schodack Creek shoreline. A portion of the park has been given over to a Bird Conservation Area that shelters bald eagles, who regularly use the area for roosting and nesting. A variety of habitats has attracted an abundance of birds, including osprey and the Cerulean Warbler, whose populations numbers are of special concern.
Schodack Island has eight miles of multi-use trails that give access to a number of different ecological communities, a boat launch, campsites and bike trails.
The Rensselaer Plateau Alliance is composed of 32 disparate member groups, ones you’d expect like the Rensselaer Land Trust and Audubon New York, and ones you wouldn’t, like the Northeastern Cave Conservancy and Saratoga Mountain Bike Association. All share the objective of preserving the geology, history and wildlife of the fifth largest forested region in New York State.
If you go:
Cherry Plain State Park – 10 State Park Road, Petersburg, NY. 518-733-5400.
Biking, boating, camping, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, hunting, ice fishing, picnic areas (accessible), playgrounds, recreational programs, snowmobiling, swimming beach.
Open May 1 to Veterans Day (Monday, November 12) 8 a.m. to sunset, seven days a week.
Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center – 475 Dyken Pond Road, Cropseyville, NY. 518-658-2055.
Hiking, boat rentals, cross-country skiing, fishing, geocaching, school programs, snowshoeing.
Open year-round, during daylight hours.
Grafton Lakes State Park – 100 Grafton Lakes State Park Way, Cropseyville, NY. 518-279- 1155.
Biking, boat rentals, bridle path, crosscountry skiing, fishing (accessible), hiking, hunting, fishing, ice skating, nature trails, playgrounds, picnic areas, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, swimming beach (accessible).
Open year-round, 8 a.m. to dusk.
Schodack Island State Park – 1 Schodack Island Way, Schodack Landing, NY. 518-732- 0187.
Biking, boating, camping, cross-country skiing, fishing, hiking, hunting, ice skating and snowshoe trails (accessible), playgrounds, picnic areas, playing fields.