The Woodlawn reserve is home to a multitude of hiking trails and, starting this fall, a sort of treasure hunt.
Eight geocaches were recently installed by Boy Scout Troop 357B from Schenectady / Rotterdam, constituting the Woodlawn Preserve Geocache Challenge. The project was supported by a $ 2,500 Thriving Neighborhood Challenge grant from the Schenectady Foundation.
“The initial idea through the neighborhood project was to draw attention to the reserve and highlight it as something that is in our neighborhood and that many people may not have known,” said said Troop Coordinator Thomas Waters.
The reserve sits northwest of the Albany Pine Bush Reservation, tucked away behind the Schenectady neighborhoods. With a pond and a few hiking trails, it stretches over 135 acres. It is a wetland, although it includes remnants of a pine heath ecosystem, with dune formations, sandy plains, pines and scrub oaks.
The Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve, a non-profit organization established in 2012, have worked to restore the environment of the wild pine heathlands, partnering with the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission and the Town of Schenectady to do so. Over the summer, 21 acres of the Woodlawn Preserve were cleared of invasive trees to create a more savannah-like environment.
âThe next step will be to remove the stumps,â said Janet Chen of the Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve. “Then re-establish the trails and reseed with native plants that will regenerate the area, then we hope to see a return of the Karner Blue Butterfly.” The endangered species has not been seen in the reserve since the 1970s.
In recent years, the Rotterdam Scout Troop has been involved in the maintenance of the reserve. Boy Scouts assisted with clean-up events and restored a wheelchair access point near the entrance to Gifford Road.
The Geocache Challenge is an extension of this work. The Scouts started planning it over a year ago after Chen told them about the Thriving Neighborhoods grant. At the time, the troop had just embarked on geocaching, a kind of treasure hunt that relies on Global Positioning System technology. Using a mobile app, people can search for hidden caches, which consist of waterproof containers with a logbook and a few trinkets. Sometimes they also feature a trackable piece or game piece that can be moved to different geocaches and tracked by users.
While the project was delayed by the pandemic, the Boy Scouts were finally able to work on it this summer. They installed eight caches, as well as logbooks, trinkets and trackable items and registered the caches with the official geocaching app. They also set up a box with a trail map and scorecards that people can stamp once they find a cache. Those who locate them each in the reserve can receive a patch designed by the scouts.
Caches are usually just out of sight; hidden in a tree or hidden among the fallen leaves.
âThe great thing about geocaching is that you don’t know exactly where the box is,â said George Hawley, troop member and student at Draper Middle School. âYou can get creative and find it however you want to try to find it. “
The scouts also have a competition with each other, to see which trackable travels the farthest.
âRight now there are traceable items that started in Schenectady and are in the Boston area, there are a few in New Jersey. Some are found in Rhode Island and several are found in the high peaks of the Adirondacks. They keep moving as people find them and it’s kinda fun to watch them, âWaters said.
Troop member Michael Zabinski began geocaching with his family in other areas outside of the Woodlawn Preserve, including Schenectady Central Park and by camping near Corinth. The best part for him? The surprise trinkets inside.
Hawley, who has been with the group for about four months, also got his whole family involved in geocaching through the project.
âWe actually went there as a family and we were starting to do it on the weekends,â said Hawley’s mom Kimberly Hawley. âOne of the best things was being able to go and explore nature. It gives the kids one more thing to do.
Prior to the project, the family was unaware of the reserve, although they lived relatively close.
“It’s such a cool preserve and we didn’t even know [about it]Kimberly Hawley said.
It’s a reaction the troupe is seeing more and more both on social media, through the Woodlawn Preserve Geocache Challenge Facebook page they run, and on the geocaching app.
âWhen people find the different places they can comment electronically and they got really great comments like ‘Wow, we never knew that stash was there’. What a great place to visit, âsaid Waters.
In recent weeks, some of the geocaches in the reserve have been damaged or disappeared. This is a relatively common problem for those who have geocaches installed, and Waters said scouts will continue to replace and repair geocaches regardless. They also hope to expand the project in the coming year.
“We’re going to continue to operate, and next year if we get a few other interested kids we can expand it a bit and say okay, we’re also going to include Woodlawn Park or maybe put some geocaches in another park at. Schenectady It’s our hope to grow it over time, âWaters said.
For more information on the challenge, visit Woodlawn Preserve Geocache Challenge on Facebook. To learn more about Friends of the Woodlawn Preserve, visit woodlawnneighbourhood.org. The entrances to the Woodlawn Preserve are located off Gifford Road and Wells Avenue, behind Woodlawn Elementary.
Journalist Indiana Nash can be reached at [emailÂ protected]
More from The Daily Gazette:
Categories: News, Schenectady County