An independent field biology study turned out to be especially fruitful for both teacher and student. Every week since January 2011, Westport ninth-grader Peter Hartwell and mentor David Thomas Train have been exploring the Champlain Area Trails along shoreline, streams, wetlands, and woods near Westport. Those explorations eventually prompted them to enter the Champlain Area Trails Society Travel Writing Contest.
Hartwell attends the BOCES Special Education program in Mineville. To supplement the Mineville curriculum, he studies several subjects privately—including field biology with Thomas Train. “Peter and I spend time together every Wednesday after school in outdoor science explorations, and we wanted to share what we do and see,” Thomas Train explained. “He is an avid outdoors explorer, with great observation and drawing skills.” And Thomas Train is certainly no stranger to the trails of the Champlain Valley: He is the guidebook author for the ADK Guide To The Eastern Region. “I know the CATS trails well and am excited every time a new one is developed, more open space is protected, and I have a new place to explore!” Thomas Train said.
Their jointly written essay, entitled “Wildlife, Connected In and Out of Town,” earned them the first-place prize of $500.
“CATS introduces people to the richness of the natural world in the Champlain Valley, and David and Peter’s essay does the same,” noted contest judge Phil Brown, who is editor of the Adirondack Explorer and a regular contributor here at Adirondack Almanack. “I was especially impressed by the variety of their field observations—the number of species, or their signs, encountered—and by the detailed descriptions of what they saw,” Brown said. “David and Peter make us realize that we are surrounded by fascinating wildlife and that we can learn much about our wild neighbors if we just pay attention. The authors also uncover on their outings evidence of the Champlain Valley’s long human history. As they say, ‘It’s a lively neighborhood for all who walk, hop, paddle, fly, crawl, swim, bound, run, waddle, slither, or put out seeds.’” Their essay, Brown added, “was infused with the greatest familiarity with the region and its inhabitants.”
Visitors to the CATS website were also able to have their say and pick their favorite entry. Jessica Wimett, of Wadhams, won the $250 People’s Choice Prize for receiving the most online votes—41 percent. Her essay, “A Great Resolution,” tells the poignant story of how she named her baby during a hike on a CATS trail. “I decided to enter the contest because I immediately had an emotional response to thinking about this area, and the sense of community and nurturing I’ve discovered here,” said Wimett. “The thing I like best about the CATS trails is their accessibility. When I don’t have the time to go on a major outdoor romp, I can still have an impromptu wander outdoors with my daughter.”
CATS launched the travel writing contest in September with the purpose of promoting economic vitality through outdoor recreation based tourism. “People are researching vacation destinations online, so as they look into visiting the northeast, we want them to see these articles about New York’s Champlain Valley and get inspired to come here, enjoy the outdoors, patronize local businesses, and tell others about this beautiful area,” said Chris Maron, executive director of CATS. “We are grateful to the J.C. Kellogg Foundation for underwriting this contest.”
Contest Coordinator, Gretel Schueller noted, “The contest spawned several strong stories. The top four—which include the two winners—can be viewed at our online CATS Destination Guide.”
The next CATS Travel Writing Contest will begin in February. Visit www.champlainareatrails.com for full details. Contest-related questions can be directed at CATScontest@gmail.com.
Photo: People’s Choice Award Winner, Jessica Wimett.