ALBANY, NY – In July 2014, U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell officially designated the Albany Pine Bush as a National Natural Landmark (NNL). The Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission chose the occasion of the 100th meeting of the Commission Board to celebrate the high honor by unveiling a bronze NNL plaque issued by the National Park Service.
Christopher Hawver, Commission Executive Director, said, “This important national recognition further substantiates the Albany Pine Bush as a globally-rare treasure with unique geology and ecology. It also gives us an opportunity to focus on the little-known fact that the Pine Bush is the very best example of wind-derived inland sand dune landforms in the northeastern U.S. We are especially grateful to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who helped secure this prestigious designation.”
The Albany Pine Bush was selected because of its unique combination of outstanding geologic (sand dunes) and ecological (pitch pine – scrub oak barrens) features. The dunes found in the Pine Bush are the result of wind-moving sand that had accumulated in glacial Lake Albany after the Wisconsin glacier melted 12,000 years ago. According to the National Park Service, which administers the NNL program, the Albany Pine Bush Preserve provides the opportunity to further study the natural history of the area and significant geological episodes of radical climate change.
Commission Conservation Director Neil Gifford said, “The dune system recognized by the NNL designation forms the very foundation for the Preserve’s unique ecology and sets it apart from just about every other pine barrens.” He explained that “other pine barrens are on relatively flat sand plains or ridges of bedrock. The sand dunes create many different habitats by providing unique fine-scale combinations of light, temperature and humidity.” Gifford added, “This is why the Albany Pine Bush supports more types of plants and animals than other pitch pine – scrub oak barrens. The valleys between dunes support recurring frost throughout spring months; north facing dune slopes are cooler than those facing south, and there tends to be more moisture at the base of the dunes than the ridges. The dunes also lay the foundation for the wildland fire that drives pine barrens ecology; in many cases the very adaptations that help plants survive dry sandy soils make them more flammable.”
The National Park Service’s NNL Program recognizes and encourages the conservation of sites that contain outstanding biological and geological resources, regardless of landownership type. NNLs are owned by a variety of land stewards, and participation in the program is voluntary. National Natural Landmarks are selected for their outstanding condition, illustrative value, rarity, diversity, and value to science and education.
Hawver decided that the milestone 100th meeting of the Commission Board, an event worth celebrating in its own right, would be an appropriate backdrop for the unveiling of the NNL plaque.
Hawver said, “The event was also intended to draw attention to the remarkable story the Pine Bush has to tell, and its many unfolding layers of amazing facts.” The new NNL plaque will be prominently displayed at the entrance to the Albany Pine Bush Discovery Center.
The 3200 – acre Albany Pine Bush Preserve, located in New York’s Capital District, protects one of the best remaining inland pitch-pine scrub oak barrens in the world. This extraordinary fire-dependent habitat provides homes for many plants and animals containing 55 New York State-designated wildlife Species of Greatest Conservation Need, including the federally endangered Karner blue butterfly. The Preserve is a National Natural Landmark, New York State Unique Area, Bird Conservation Area and a National Audubon Society Important Bird Area. Characterized by rolling sand dunes and miles of trails, the Preserve offers visitors many recreational opportunities including hiking, bird watching, cross-country skiing, horseback riding, mountain biking, hunting, fishing and canoeing.
As the gateway to the Pine Bush, the Discovery Center is a state-of-the-art interpretive center where visitors come to understand why the Pine Bush is rare and special. The “green” certified building transforms a visit to this unique destination into an exciting exploration where learning comes naturally through interactive exhibits, an outdoor Discovery Trail, and numerous programs on the ecology, natural history, cultural history and management of the Pine Bush. Admission to the Discovery Center is free (there is a small fee for programs). The Center is open weekdays 9AM-4PM, weekends and most holidays 10AM-4PM. For more information, visit www.AlbanyPineBush.org or call 518-456-0655.