The Albany Pine Bush Preserve, a patchwork of 3,200 acres, has been designated a National Natural Landmark, after National Park Service officials determined it to be “an outstanding example of a globally rare ecosystem.”
The preserve will join 596 other natural landmarks as prime examples of biological and geographical features. The Pine Bush is one of only 20 remaining inland pitch pine scrub oak barrens in the world.
The Albany Pine Bush will being joining 596 other nationally recognized natural landmarks, including:
• Bear Swamp Preserve in Westerlo, Albany County
• Fall Brook Gorge in Geneseo, Livingston County
• Palisades of the Hudson along the west side of the lower Hudson River
• Mount Mansfield in Vermont
• San Andreas Fault in California
• Palo Duro Canyon State Park in Texas
• Mount Katahdin in Maine
Albany Pine Bush Executive Director Christopher Hawver, originally the park’s seasonal ecologist, has worked for the Pine Bush for 21 years. He said that he and the entire Pine Bush Commission staff were overjoyed when they learned it had been selected for national acknowledgement.
“For us, this is a whole new level of prestige and recognition,” Hawver said. “A lot of people love and appreciate the Albany Pine Bush, but I’m still surprised by the number of people who don’t even know we’re here.”
The preserve has a unique fire-dependent ecosystem that requires controlled burns to destroy exotic species, allowing the environment’s natural flora — which includes over 1,300 species — to regenerate. It even has its own fire-management program for maintaining seasonal fires.
“The landmark status came about from a specific interest in our sand dunes,” Hawver explained.
The Pine Bush’s sandy dunes are a key element to its ecosystem. They are a feature not usually found in environments so far from the ocean; the sands were left behind thousands of years ago by a glacier at the end of the last Ice Age.
The preserve’s open areas provide the optimal environment for blue lupine, a wildflower critical to the survival of the endangered Karner blue butterfly.
Hawver also said that this recognition will boost the preserve’s status if it chooses to apply for additional grants, as will the endangered status of the Karner blue butterfly and the rare inland barrens buckmoth. The unique ecosystem also sustains 156 bird species, 20 species of amphibians and reptiles and more than 30 species of mammals.
“The diverse flora and fauna of the Albany Pine Bush are an appropriate addition to the great scientific, conservation and educational resources preserved by national natural landmarks across America.” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis in a statement.
The Albany Pine Bush offers multiple recreational trails for hiking, mountain biking and bird watching.
The preserve also has a discovery center, where guests can learn more about the Pine Bush through nature lectures, interactive exhibits and outdoor events. Admission is free, and the center is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends.
“We’re just ecstatic about the whole thing.” Hawver said. “I’ve worked here for 21 years, and this is probably the most exciting thing that has happened for us.”