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Rensselaer Plateau

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About the Rensselaer Plateau

The Rensselaer Plateau is a small, roughly round region in eastern New York state, with a unique geology and ecological features more characteristic of areas much farther north.

This region is a rolling plateau underlain by greywacke, a type of sandstone made mostly from quartzite, and thus highly erosion-resistant. Elevations range from 1,000-1,800 ft, with local relief minimal, 20-50 feet in most places, except at the perimeter where relief reaches 400 ft. Besides the greywacke, there are small amounts of shale and conglomerate, and the area is covered in rocky glacial till. Soils here are thin. Uplands with drier soils are interspersed amongst numerous kettle ponds and small wetlands. The region has a humid continental climate, considerably colder than surrounding lower-elevation areas. The frost-free growing season ranges from 90-135 days.

Forest cover is mostly a mix of northern hardwoods with red spruce and balsam fir. Wetlands support swamps of red maple and other hardwoods on some sites, eastern hemlock and mixed hardwoods on others, and spruce and fir on yet others. There are also acidic sphagnum bogs with black spruce and tamarack, and sedge meadows. Spruce flats are found on flat sites adjacent to wetlands, and contain red spruce, white spruce, black spruce, and balsam fir. Dry slopes around the edge of the region, especially south-facing slopes, support some Appalachian oak-hickory forest, which originally contained American chestnut as well.

This region was logged in the late 19th and early 20th century, and the current forests thus represent second-growth.

Although only a small portion of it is protected as public land, this region has some of the most intact forest cover in the region and as such has immense wildlife value. The population is low, and there is little agriculture, reflecting the region's thin, rocky soils and short growing season. Only a small amount of land is cleared for hay or pasture. There is some tourism and recreation, as well as some mining of the greywacke. Cherry Plain State Park is the largest tract of public land in the region, and the region also contains Pittstown State Forest and Grafton Lakes State Park.

This region is mostly surrounded by the Taconic Foothills, except to the east where it directly borders the Taconic Mountains. This eastern border is abrupt, marked by a narrow, steep-walled valley through which the Little Hoosic River flows.

References

1. Bryce, S.A., Griffith, G.E., Omernik, J.M., Edinger, G., Indrick, S., Vargas, O., and Carlson, D. "Ecoregions of New York (Poster)", U.S. Geological Survey (2010) Web.