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Health and Fitness Special Section Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, January 29, 2009

“An unlimited amount of resources” awaits visitors to the Pine Bush

By Jordan J. Michael

The Albany Pine Bush Preserve is one of 20 inland pine barrens in the world, sitting on the glacial lake of Albany. There are 18 miles of terrain to explore.

“It’s a very unique area and its right in the Capital Region’s backyard,” said Blake Etchison, education program assistant at the Pine Bush Discovery Center. “The land sits on sand dunes and the wildlife is adapted to the sandy soil.”

The Pine Bush Discovery Center in Albany is an interactive facility that opened in June 2007 after New York State swapped with the State Employees Federal Credit Union for the brick building. The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission was created in 1988 and is now glad to have a home.

“The commission never really had a place to meet before,” said Wendy Craney, communications director at the discovery center. “Before, we would just meet out in the Pine Bush and go from there. It’s nice to have a headquarters now.”

The discovery center is geared towards family fun, even during the winter months when the Pine Bush is covered in snow. “We have a full lineup of activities for February,” said Etchison. “We want to get people out in the wilderness so we can build a connection between the Pine Bush and the people.”

The winter lineup includes a movie day, wildlife tracking, snowshoe adventures, nature’s valentine, natural beauty, craft corners, CSI Pine Bush, snow birds, and an owl prowl.

Etchison told The Enterprise that the movie being shown is called Microcosmos, a documentary about insect life. The free screening is this Sunday at 2 p.m. “You can experience the everyday life of a bug,” she said.

A huge activity for the winter Pine Bush is snowshoeing. There is 18 miles of trail to work with.

“Snowshoeing is great because anyone can pick it up easily,” said Craney. “Some people just come here on their own and hit the trails. It’s cool because you can follow animal tracks.”

A popular animal to follow in the winter is the owl. Great-horned owls, screech owls, and barred owls all breed in the winter. The discovery center is hosting an owl prowl on Feb. 20 at 6:30 p.m.

“We’ll have an informational session about owls so people will know what to look for when we go outside,” said Etchison. “The owls make some interesting noises at night.”

“You never know what you’ll come across when you go deep into the Pine Bush,” said Craney. “There are deer all over and chickadees are hanging out. There is also a lot of hawk activity because they’re looking real hard for food.”

The Pine Bush is known for its Karner blue butterflies, a species that is on the federal endangered list. The commission hires volunteers every winter to research snowfall and how it affects the butterflies.

“We’re trying to figure out if more snow is good or bad for the Karner blue’s eggs,” said Etchison. “The eggs are on the ground for the whole winter. Is the snow helping or hurting? The population of these butterflies had diminished more than 90 percent over time.”

The community will have a chance to do some researching through the Critter Scene Investigation program on Feb. 18 at 10 a.m. The group will examine evidence in order to solve some Pine Bush mysteries.

I’m sure there are species in the Pine Bush that we don’t know of yet,” Etchison said. “It will be like those CSI television shows, but it will actually be real instead of fake.”

“The Discovery Center is free to look at and the programs are only a couple of bucks,” said Craney. “There’s so much history here in the Pine Bush that people should know about.”

“There is an unlimited amount of resources around here,” said Etchison. “Come plug in your mind.”

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