Why the Albany Pine Bush is sandy

Pine Bush Sand

By Liz Clancy Lerner

The Albany Pine Bush has, at times, perhaps been underappreciated. "Not even a diseased dog ought to be allowed to die and be buried on its premises, out of the respect for the dog," wrote a 19th century historian of the sandy landscape. Ouch. Later, the Thruway would plow through the area. And, of course, it's also the site of the Albany landfill.

But the Pine Bush is a bit of a rarity -- an inland pine barren (sandy, but not near the coast). In fact, only twenty places like it exist in the world.

So, how did all that sand end up in the Pine Bush?

Pine Bush Marker

Pine Bush Ice
More than 20,000 years ago a glacier called the Laurentide ice sheet covered most of New York State. It was about a mile tall (there's a great representation of how big that is at the discovery center). And as temperatures grew warmer, the ice began to melt over hundreds of years.

That melt turned into a large lake that scientists call Glacial Lake Albany. It was almost 200 miles long, 30 miles wide, and about 400 feet deep.

The ancient Mohawk River flowed into that lake and created a sandy delta. When the lake eventually dried up, it exposed the sand. Wind shaped the sand into dunes and then into what we now know as Albany Pine Bush. It once covered 40 square miles -- but is only about 10 percent of that size today.

Pine Bush Pine

While it's seen as a place where nothing can grow (in the farming sense -- the term barren in "pine barren" refers to it being infertile), it manages to remain quite green. Pine trees, scrub oak, and lupines do well in the sandy environment.

Pine Bush Needle Trail

It's also home to the endangered Karner Blue butterfly. Other rare fauna -- including the inland barrens buckmoth, eastern hognose snake and spadefoot toad -- also reside in the Pine Bush. (Fishers, too.)

Pine Bush Discovery Center

If you're planning on a visit, the trails are clearly marked (red, blue, yellow and white) and maps are available at the trailhead (watch out for ticks). The Discovery Center, which opened in 2007, is worth a visit, too. There are some great interactive exhibits and a gift shop to explore.

If you're looking to read more about the history of the Pine Bush, here are a few books to check out:
+ Pine Bush: Albany's Last Frontier, by Don Rittner.
+ Natural History of the Albany Pine Bush Albany and Schenectady Counties, New York. Field Guide and Trail Map, by Jeffrey K. Barnes
+ Mayor Corning: Albany Icon, Albany Enigma, by Paul Grondahl

Find It

Albany Pine Bush
195 New Karner Road
Albany, NY 12205

Comments

I used to hike the Pine Bush when I lived in Albany 20 years ago. It was like stepping into another world -- just beautiful.

And this is why grass won't grow in our back yard.

Just want to add that the series of classes the Discovery Center runs in summer and on school vacations are excellent. You have to sign up in advance on the website.

Pine Bush discovery center has a rather interesting toilet. It is composting and you have to flush it before use.

Nice plug for one of the gems of the Capital Region!

Whenever I give my live tour of the region to my visiting friends and relatives (using info almost exclusively learned on AOA) I include the Pine Bush. It's a nice eco-honor.

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