The Woodlawn Preserve is home to a trove of walking trails and, as of this fall, a treasure hunt of sorts.
Eight geocaches were recently installed by Boy Scout Troop 357B of Schenectady/Rotterdam, making up the Woodlawn Preserve Geocache Challenge. The project was supported by a $2,500 Thriving Neighborhood Challenge grant from the Schenectady Foundation.
“The initial idea through the neighborhood project was to draw attention to the preserve and highlight it as something that’s in our neighborhood that maybe a lot of people didn’t know about,” said troop coordinator Thomas Waters.
The preserve is northwest of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, tucked away behind neighborhoods in Schenectady. Featuring a pond and a few walkable trails, it stretches across 135 acres. It’s a wetland environment, though it includes remnants of a pine barrens ecosystem, with dune formations, sand planes along with pitch pine and scrub oak.
The Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve, a nonprofit organization that formed in 2012, has worked to re-establish the wild pine barrens environment, partnering with the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission and the City of Schenectady to do so. Over the summer, 21 acres of the Woodlawn Preserve were cleared of invasive trees to create a more savanna-like environment.
“The next step will be to take out the stumps,” said Janet Chen of the Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve. “Then reestablish trails and reseed with native plants that will regenerate the area and then we’re hoping to see a return of the Karner blue butterfly.” The endangered species hasn’t been seen in the preserve since the 1970s.
Over the last few years, the Rotterdam Boy Scout troop has been involved with maintaining the preserve. Scouts have helped out on clean-up events and restored a wheelchair access point near the entrance off of Gifford Road.
The Geocache Challenge is an extension of that work. The scouts began planning it more than a year ago after Chen told them about the Thriving Neighborhoods grant. At the time, the troop was just getting into geocaching, which is a treasure hunt of sorts that relies on Global Positioning System technology. Using a mobile app, people can hunt for hidden caches, made up of watertight containers with a logbook and some trinkets. Sometimes they also feature a trackable or a game piece that can be moved to different geocaches and tracked by users.
While the project was delayed by the pandemic, the scouts were finally able to work on it this summer. They installed eight caches, along with logbooks, trinkets and trackables and registered the caches with the official geocaching app. They also set up a box with a trail map and scorecards that people can stamp once they’ve found a cache. Those who locate each in the preserve can receive a patch designed by the scouts.
The caches are usually just out of sight; hidden in a tree or tucked away amidst fallen leaves.
“The whole fun about geocaching is you don’t exactly know where the box is,” said George Hawley, a member of the troop and a student at Draper Middle School. “You can get creative and find it whatever way you want to try and find it.”
The scouts have a competition going amongst themselves as well, seeing whose trackable travels the farthest.
“Currently, there are trackables that started in Schenectady that are in the Boston area, there’s a couple in New Jersey. Some are in Rhode Island and there are several that are in the high peaks in the Adirondacks. They continue to move as people find them and it’s kinda fun to watch them,” Waters said.
Troop member Michael Zabinski has started geocaching with his family in other areas outside of the Woodlawn Preserve, including Schenectady’s Central Park and while camping near Corinth. The best part for him? The surprise trinkets inside.
Hawley, who has been with the group for the last four months or so, has also gotten his whole family into geocaching thanks to the project.
“We actually went as a family and we would start doing it on the weekends,” said Hawley’s mom, Kimberly Hawley. “One of the best things was to be able to go and explore nature. It gives the kids an extra thing to do.”
Before the project, the family wasn’t aware of the preserve, even though they lived relatively close by.
“This is such a cool preserve and we didn’t even know [about it],” Kimberly Hawley said.
It’s a reaction that the troop is seeing more and more of both on social media, via the Woodlawn Preserve Geocache Challenge Facebook page they run, and on the geocaching app.
“When people find the different locations they can comment electronically and they’ve really gotten some great comments like ‘Wow, we never knew this preserve was here. What a great place to visit,’” Waters said.
Over the last few weeks, some of the geocaches at the preserve have been damaged or have gone missing. It’s a relatively common problem for those who have installed geocaches, and Waters said the scouts will continue to replace and repair the geocaches regardless. They also hope to expand the project in the coming year.
“We’re going to keep it running, and next year if we get a couple more kids that are interested, we may expand it a little and say hey, we’re going to also include Woodlawn Park or maybe put a couple geocaches in some other park in Schenectady. It’s our hope over time to grow it,” Waters said.
For more information about the challenge, visit Woodlawn Preserve Geocache Challenge on Facebook. For more on the Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve, visit woodlawnneighborhood.org. Entrances to the Woodlawn Preserve are located off of Gifford Road and Wells Avenue behind Woodlawn Elementary.
Reporter Indiana Nash can be reached at [email protected]