Stepping out before winter

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October is a month that feels right on the cusp—the tipping point between the beginnings of fall and the transition into winter. The days begin to feel less the brisk greens and yellows of September  but not yet settled into the browns and bitter winds of November. The change of the season is sharp and rhythmic, but often obscured by the frenetic nature of back to school. It’s a wonderful time to step out into nature and feel the tangible quieting, as local, ecosystems prepare for the sleep of winter. There are many places to hike in the Capital Region. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Albany Pine BushPreserve – Albany
What: This preserve is a type of globally rare ecosystem known as a Pitch Pine Scrub Oak Barrens. The preserve functions as an ecological island for over 20 at-risk species, including the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis).
Where:  Preserve’s discovery center, parking lot and main trailhead at 195 New Karner Road, Albany NY 12205.
Hiking: The Pine Bush has approximately 18 miles of trails. They range in length from about a quarter mile (The Discovery Trail, around the educational center) to three miles (The Purple Trail, through the Madison Avenue Pinelands to DiCaprio Park). As of Fall 2015, the Pine Bush is undergoing a reconfiguration of trail systems to encourage ecological health. Check the website for updates.
Website: www.albanypinebush.org
Special considerations: Hunting is allowed; but no motorized vehicles; no specimen collection; pets must be leashed.
Five Rivers Environmental Education Center – Delmar
What: Five Rivers is an environmental center and a managed 450-acre area of forest, open meadow and wetlands, overseen by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. There is a visitor center open weekdays, and 10 miles of hiking trails open to the public. The center had its origins in the 1930s, when the NYS Conservation Department purchased the lands and created an experimental game farm, in order to stabilize populations of waterfowl and upland game birds. In the early 1970s, the farm was reincarnated as an environmental education center.
Where: Center at 56 Game Farm Road, Delmar NY 12054.
Hiking:  There are multiple short, interpretive hikes (two of which are handicapped-accessible), offering woodlot, beaver pond, stream bank, and reclaimed field environments. Two longer trails (North Loop—2.3 miles and Wild Turkey Trail—1.6 miles) ramble through open fields, marshland and northern hardwood forest.
Website: www.dec.ny.gov/education/1835.html
Special considerations: No hunting; no motorized vehicles; no specimen collection; no pets.
Thacher State Park – Voorheesville
What: Thacher State park is centered around a massive limestone escarpment, part of the Helderberg mountain range. The unique geology, which contains innumerable marine fossils, proved very attractive to researchers and amateur geologists of the 19th century. Increased tourism in the early 20th century inspired local politician John Thacher and his wife Emma Treadwell Thacher to purchase and begin preserving large parcels of land. The land became a park in 1914, under the supervision of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society. The park offers 25 miles of recreational trails for hiking, biking, skiing, snowshoeing and some snowmobiling.  It also has a nature center with exhibits on the park’s natural history.
Where:  Park at 1 Hailes Cave Road Voorheesville NY 12186; Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center at 87 Nature Center Way, Voorheesville, NY 12186.
Hiking: There are multiple trails in the interior of the park, ranging in length from a quarter to two and half miles. However, the most notable trails are the Escarpment Trail (along two and a half miles of plateau overlooking Guilderland and New Scotland) and the short Indian Ladder Trail (below the escarpment and underneath two waterfalls).
Website:www.nysparks.com/parks/128/details.aspx
Special considerations:  Hunting is allowed in specified areas; pets allowed on leash; bicycles permitted on some trails; but no motorized vehicles and no specimen collection.
Huyck Preserve – Rensselaerville
What: The Huyck Preserve is unique in that it has been a biological research station since 1937. It hosts various biology and ecology research groups throughout the year, and one fellowship-funded doctoral student each summer. There are 12 miles of trails on approximately 2,000 acres.
Where: The Preserve at 5052 Delaware Turnpike, Rensselaerville NY 12147.
Hiking: There are trails that loop around Lake Myosotis and Lincoln Pond, as well ones running by Rensselaerville Falls. The flora includes old growth forest and pine and spruce plantations that are close to a century old. The trails are open to the public, but the preserve also offers educational guided hikes (both free event hikes and upon-request private group hikes for low cost).
Website: www.huyckpreserve.org
Special considerations: Especially since this is an active research preserve, specimen collection and venturing off-trails are not permitted. No vehicles, hunting or camping allowed. Pets must be leashed.
Wilson M. Powell Wildlife Sanctuary – Chatham
What: This is a 145-acre bird sanctuary in Columbia County, owned by the Alan Devoe Bird Club, but open to the public. The preserve offers a variety of wetland habitats, including glades, marshes, a valley stream and a pond, as well as lichen-rich cliffs.
Where: On Hunt Club Road, Old Chatham NY 12136, less than two miles from County Route 13.
Hiking: The White Trail offers a large loop, including Dorson’s Rock, with an excellent view of the Hudson Valley and a good vantage point for watching raptors. The smaller trails interconnect across a varied terrain through wetlands and woodlands.
Website: Find a map here: www.alandevoebirdclub.org/images/sanctuary.pdf
Special considerations: Open during daylight hours. No hunting, vehicles, bicycles, or pets; no specimen collection.
Indian Kill Preserve – Glenville
Where:  Parking lot at the intersection of Maple Avenue and Hetcheltown Road, Glenville NY 12302.
Hiking: The preserve offers two main hikes, as well as various unmarked trail areas to explore. The shorter Yellow Trail takes hikers away from the Indian Kill, up to an oak forest on the bluff. The main (Clair Schmitt) trail crosses the stream at the site of an old dam, and takes hikers through the preserve’s full spectrum of biodiversity: ferny areas by the water, the oak forest,  and plantations of red cedar and red pine – and also travels from the stream up to the bluff and down again.
Website: Download a map at www.schenectadycounty.com/FullStory.aspx?m=194&amid=769
Special considerations: No hunting, vehicles, bicycles, camping; no collecting plants; pets on leashes only. For more information, contact the Schenectady County Planning Department at 386.2225.
 

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