(Phoebe Lampson, Volunteer, and Erin White, NYNHP Zoologist, collecting samples.)
Pick up a tax map or look at some early deeds of the area and you will see reference to “Lands of Rensselaer”. That expression is symbolic and significant for it is the responsibility of Rensselaer and the Tech Park to maintain best practices in managing these natural resources wisely. A drive through of the “Lands of Rensselaer” provides only a windshield view of this formidable environmental setting that extends from Route 4 to the Hudson River and North to the RPI radio tower adjacent to the Rainbow Division Armory. These lands encompass over 1,250 acres, including 59 acres in the City of Rensselaer.
Did you know there are eight streams traversing the Park eventually connecting to the Hudson River, five of which are named and referenced in deeds dating back to the 1700’s? Typically these records reference survey methods of the time; chains and links to measure distances, saplings and fence posts to reference specific locations and lot boundary lines. These stream names include descriptions typical of the Dutch vernacular of the era in which those lands were settled such as the “Skipper Killitie” and the “Snoeken Kill”.
One of the more visible streams at the Park is the “Kline Plantasies Killitie” a stream that begins several miles to the east of the Park and flows under Defreest Drive on its way to the Hudson River. That stream was one of several streams in the region studied last summer by the New York Natural Heritage Program (NYNHP) to evaluate and monitor the aquatic characteristics, quality and overall health of these micro environments. Our “Killitie” is a textbook example of a healthy aquatic environment, populated with a variety and quantity of species most desirable in a small stream ecosystem. 13 animal species including Stone Flies, Midges, Caddisflies, Alderflies and Riffle Beetles were prevalent within a modest 2 foot x 2 foot streambed section. A large population of green frogs monitored the field visit and a large minnow was seen trying to swim upstream through the Defreest Drive culvert. Water quality results were similarly positive, especially the lack of organic pollution effects.
Bloomingdale Brook is the largest stream of the Park and has been the site of one of the largest habitat improvement projects in the Park in several years. Bloomingdale Brook traverses the Park along the northern boundary on Route 4 and meanders behind the parking lots at 105, 145, 165, and 425 Jordan Road, eventually terminating at the Hudson River. Last summer, approximately one acre (3,000 linear feet) on both sides of the brook was improved to create a more desirable environmental situation. Swales, spillways and ponds have been created and in short order, desirable plant life and selected tree and shrub plantings have flourished, resulting in one of the best wetland environments of its type.
The Park is populated with a healthy variety of old growth trees including shagbark hickory, black walnut (both present around the Park office and Pat’s Barn), bigtoothed and quaking aspen, black cherry and chestnut, red and white oak. In fact, the vast majority of the materials in Pat’ Barn originated from trees harvested from the property, some of which were installed in an early barn and later reused to build the original Defreest Barn (now Pat’s Barn) in the mid-1700’s.
Many of you are aware of the latest unwelcome species invading the Northeast, the Emerald Ash borer. The Ash Borer has been marching northward, unabated for several years after devastating the ash population in several Mid-Atlantic States. The Ash Borer progression is being closely monitored by several agencies and the borer has been found in the Hudson Valley. The Park has a large population of the ash trees along Jordan Road and several more were planted over 20 years ago around the parking lots and walking areas. Ash trees are otherwise a hardy species known for their full symmetrical shape and beautiful yellow fall foliage. In an effort to protect this important environmental asset, the Park has instituted a multi-year, ash tree treatment program intended to protect the 100 ash trees in the public areas of the Park from the ash borer – and perhaps creating a fire line in the process of mitigating this invasion further. The first phase of the cataloging and treatment of trees began last summer and the next phase will begin again in the spring.
The “Lands of Rensselaer” include a rich and important cultural heritage and the Park is the epicenter for much of that history. That story will be told in a future edition. Until then – how many readers know there are two listed cemeteries in the Park and that the famous Van Rensselaer manor calls the Park its home?