During the last ice age 10,000-15,000 years ago, this region was covered with ice. As temperatures rose and the glacier melted, retreating northward, an earthen dam developed near present-day Newburgh. Water collected north of it and, ultimately, a lake extending from Newburgh to Glens Falls/Queensbury formed. We refer to this lake as Glacial Lake Albany.
Rivers and streams emptied into the lake and dropped loads of sand, gravel and clay. A lot of sand was deposited in the Wilton/Northumberland area.
When the dam broke, the water drained away leaving the sand exposed to the forces of the wind and water. Dunes, still evident in today’s gently rolling terrain, formed.
The sandy soils combined with other factors to create large open areas of grasses and wildflowers with scattered trees, principally pitch pine and oak. In the dunes’ swales, seasonal wetlands formed. Today, these areas support many rare plants, animals, and ecological communities.
With continuing development pressure, these lands, and the wildlife they support, are disappearing.
The Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park partners with entities including The Nature Conservancy, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Town of Wilton, and Saratoga County to work with willing landowners to protect these important lands.
Lands are protected via donation or purchase. In some instances, lands in the Town of Wilton have been protected through open space set asides resulting from conservation subdivisions.
Today, there are close to 2,300 acres of protected land within and near the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park Study Area. The goal is 3,000 acres.
The greatest threats facing species adapted to the upland dry sandy soils and lowland wet areas are reforestation, development, and fragmentation.
Fire once played an important role in this landscape comprised of sandy soils. Lightning strikes and train-sparked fires swept across the land burning the above-ground vegetation. Fire tolerant plant species like pitch pine and scrub oak survived due to their extensive root systems. Wildflowers and grasses quickly recovered and grew in the new sunny openings. As the area’s human population increased and fire companies came into being, these fires were extinguished. Without fire, natural succession continued and once open areas became forested. The increased density of trees, primarily white pine, greatly reduced sunlight reaching the ground and those original grasses and wild flowers that were not shade tolerant died. With the loss of this early successional habitat, the animals depending on it also disappeared.
The upland sandy areas’ suitability for development also fueled the decline of these habitats. Wilton has experienced tremendous growth in the residential, commercial and light industrial sectors in past decades. Some of this development has occurred on lands that were conducive to supporting imperiled species.
The Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park works to restore and maintain the early successional habitat and wetlands that support a suite of species whose populations have declined with the suppression of fire and the increase in development.