The Woodlawn Preserve is looking more and more like the ancient Pine Bush it once was.
The City Council has seized many properties in the Pine Bush that were privately owned by people who didn’t pay taxes on the land. The council is now considering abandoning the network of “streets” in the preserve. None existed in reality, but they’re all on official maps as streets to be built when the land was developed.
Years ago, the council decided the land should never be developed, but they couldn’t get rid of the paper streets because it would deprive owners of access to their land if they ever built there.
Now that the land officially belongs to the city — taken in last year’s tax foreclosures — officials can change the maps and show one large parcel of green space.
The Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve is also reinvigorated, and members plan to replant authentic vegetation in the preserve, which has been badly damaged by all-terrain vehicles.
Even students have gotten in on the action. At Woodlawn Elementary School, they study the ecology of the unusual area, which has sand dunes and vegetation that thrive through fire, among other unusual traits. But much of that vegetation has been choked out by invasive plants native to the rest of the Capital Region.
Now, the Friends group is going to plant gardens at the preserve entrance behind the school, so students can see the vegetation that is supposed to grow in the preserve. It will start with wild lupine, a flower that nourishes the Karner Blue butterfly. The preserve used to be home to thousands of those distinctive butterflies, but invasive species killed the flowers, and without them, the butterflies could not survive.
Getting the butterflies back will be tricky; the first step is to plant lots of lupine.
“Maybe we can lure some of the butterflies back,” organizer Janet Chen said.
Eventually, the group may begin to rip out the invasive species, as it used to do many years ago.
“We haven’t even started looking at that yet, but we will,” Chen said, adding that it is “very complicated.”
“We have a long way to go,” she said.
But volunteers are enthusiastic. Some residents have crept into the preserve, tracking down ATVs and reporting the license plate numbers to police. ATV riders seem to have gotten the message.
“Neighbors say it’s 90 percent better,” said volunteer Lou Grasso. “Through diligent policing, we’ve gotten it so people aren’t destroying it with ATVs.”
The group is marking three walking trails in the preserve this spring, and Restore New York Woodlands will host a woodsman walk there at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, May 11 .
At a neighborhood-wide garage sale on May 18-19, the group will also be selling T-shirts and hats to raise money for the cause. This summer, members may stock the preserve’s pond with bass and hold a fishing contest, Grasso said.
The group meets at 7 p.m. the fourth Wednesday of each month at the Hibernian Hall on State Street. However, due to a scheduling change, the next meeting will be Wednesday.
Grasso hopes to eventually help the preserve return to its Pine Bush roots.
“That’s one of the things in Woodlawn that’s been neglected,” he said.