Woodlawn Preserve is home to a trove of walking trails and, as of this fall, is a treasure of sorts.
Eight geocaches were recently set up by Boy Scout Troop 357B from Schenectady/Rotterdam, creating the Woodlawn Preserve Geocache Challenge. The project was supported by a $2,500 endowed Neighborhood Challenge grant from the Schenectady Foundation.
“The initial idea through the neighborhood project was to preserve and highlight it as something in our neighborhood that not many people knew about,” said Army coordinator Thomas Waters.
The preserve is to the northwest of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve, tucked behind the neighborhood in Schenectady. With a pond and some walkable trails, it is spread over 135 acres. It is a wetland environment, although it includes the remains of a pine barren ecosystem, including dune formations, sand planes with pitch pine and scrub oak.
The Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve, a non-profit organization formed in 2012, has worked to restore the wild pine barren environment, partnering with the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission and the City of Schenectady to do so. During the summer, the 21-acre Woodlawn Preserve was cleared of invasive trees to create a more savanna-like environment.
“The next step would be to take out the stumps,” said Janet Chen of Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve. “Then re-establish trails and research with native plants that will regenerate the area and then we look forward to seeing the return of the kerner blue butterfly.” The endangered species has not been seen in the protected area since the 1970s.
Over the years, the Rotterdam Boy Scout contingent has been involved in maintaining the preserve. Scouts have helped with clean-up events and restored a wheelchair access point near the entrance to Gifford Road.
The Geocache Challenge is an extension of that task. Scouts began planning it more than a year ago after Chen told them about the thriving neighborhood grant. At the time, the military was just getting into geocaching, a type of treasury that relies on Global Positioning System technology. Using a mobile app, people can hunt for hidden caches made from watertight containers along with logbooks and a few trinkets. Sometimes they even contain a trackable or game piece that can be moved to various geocaches and tracked by users.
While the project was delayed by the pandemic, scouts were finally able to work on it this summer. They set up eight caches with logbooks, trinkets and trackables, and registered the cache with the official geocaching app. They also set up a trail map and a box with a scorecard that people can stamp if they find the cash. Those who locate each in the preserve can obtain patches designed by scouts.
Cashes are usually out of sight; Hidden in a tree or hidden among fallen leaves.
“The whole fun about geocaching is that you don’t know exactly where the box is,” said George Hawley, a Draper Middle School student and a member of the military crew. “You can be creative and find it the way you want to try and find it.”
The scouts also have a competition among themselves to see whose trackable journey is the farthest.
“Currently, there are trackables that started in Schenectady that are in the Boston area, a couple in New Jersey. Some are in Rhode Island and there are many that are in high peaks in the Adirondacks. They keep moving because people It’s so fun to find them and watch them,” Waters said.
Troop member Michael Zabinski has begun ground-training with his family in other areas outside Woodlawn Preserve, including Central Park in Schenectady and camping near Corinth. The best part for that? There is a surprise inside.
Holly, who has been with the group for the past four months, has also involved her entire family in ground-training for the project.
“We really went there as a family and we’d start doing it on the weekends,” said Hawley’s mom, Kimberly Hawley. “One of the best things was to be able to go and explore nature. It gives kids an extra job to do.”
Before the project, the family was not aware of the conservation, even though they lived relatively close.
“It’s such a good protection and we didn’t even know [about it],” said Kimberly Hawley.
It’s a response the military is seeing more and more on social media, both through the Woodlawn Preserve GeoCatch Challenge Facebook page and on the Geocaching app.
“When people find different places they can comment electronically and they’ve got some really great comments like ‘Wow, we never knew this preserve was here. What a great place to visit’ ,'” Waters said.
In the past few weeks, some of the geographies in the protected area have been damaged or disappeared. It’s a relatively common problem for people who have installed GeoCache, and Waters said scouts will continue to replace and repair GeoCache regardless. He also hopes to expand the project in the coming year.
“We’re going to keep it going, and next year if we get some more kids who are interested, we can expand it a little bit and say we’re going to include Woodlawn Park as well or maybe some geocaches. Some other parks in Schenectady. We hope to develop that over time,” Waters said.
For more information on the challenge, visit the Woodlawn Preserve GeoCache Challenge on Facebook. For more information about Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve, visit woodlawnneighborhood.org. Entrances to Woodlawn Preserve are located off Wells Avenue behind Gifford Road and Woodlawn Elementary.
The reporter can be reached here from Indiana Nash [email protected]
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