By Melissa Hale-Spencer
GUILDERLAND — A mountain of garbage formed the backdrop Tuesday as clusters of eager students learned how to gauge life returning to a once-barren sandy plain. The land is being reclaimed by the Albany Pine Bush Preserve.
Farnsworth Middle School students, taught by Alan Fiero, who for 15 years has developed hands-on science projects in the Pine Bush, are in the vanguard
“It’s a pilot project. We hope to do it with other groups,” said Sara Poggi, an environmental educator. “The data will be useful for us.”
As the state legislature over the years has allowed the expansion of the Albany landfill, used by many local municipalities, the plan has been to eventually cap the filled sections and return the land to a state similar to the adjoining Pine Bush.
Fiero’s students, over the course of the next few years, will help answer that question.
Working with the preserve commission, Fiero secured a $5,000 grant from the Bender Scientific Fund that paid for research equipment, including binoculars, books for identifying wildlife, tools to capture invertebrates, and chemicals to analyze water.
In an era when, Fiero noted, “Grants are drying up,” he’s pleased to have the equipment and hopes to continue the monitoring in future years when most of the remaining cost will be for transportation. On Tuesday, a school bus took the class to the reclaimed land, off of Washington Avenue Extension, wending its way down a long, sandy road.
Whether the capped dumping grounds can be restored remains to be seen, Fiero said. “It will be the biggest dune in the area,” he noted.
Fiero’s four classes of seventh-graders will return three or four times a year to work with preserve staff in monitoring the returning birds and aquatic life as well as literally testing the waters and capturing photographic images of the evolving terrain.