Monday, January 3, 2011

Former Newcomb VIC Reopens Under SUNY-ESF

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) will reopen the former Adirondack Park Agency (APA) Visitor Interpretive Center in Newcomb tomorrow after taking over programming at the facility January 1st. The APA closed the Newcomb and Paul Smiths VICs late last year as New York State’s fiscal crisis worsened.

According to a press release issued today, the facility’s name has been changed to Adirondack Interpretive Center (AIC) “to reflect both its location and its mission to serve regional residents as well as visitors from beyond the park’s boundaries.”

The AIC, located at ESF’s Huntington Wildlife Forest, will remain open all winter, with 3.6 miles of trails, open dawn to dusk daily, to snowshoe or cross-country ski. The interpretive center’s main building is scheduled to be open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. “However, during this transitional period, the building might be closed occasionally during those hours,” ESF Director of Communications Claire Dunn told the press. “Visitors wishing to ensure the building is open when they arrive are advised to check in advance by calling 518-582-2000.”

“We want to carry forward the legacy of the Adirondack Park Agency’s interpretive program,” Paul Hai, an educator with ESF’s Adirondack Ecological Center, who is planning programs for the interpretive center, told the press. “We want the facility to be more than a nature center. We want to offer educational and recreational programs that are based on a foundation of natural history and science.”

Hai said he is finalizing plans for three programs that will be among those held next spring and summer and provided the following descriptions:

Fly-fishing: A series of workshops will explore the natural history of fish and the culture of fly fishing and teach fly-fishing techniques. Participants will have an opportunity to fish waters in the Huntington Wildlife Forest that are otherwise inaccessible to the public. Participants can choose to attend one session or all in the series, which will be held periodically through the spring and summer.

“Working Forests Working for You”: This series will bring experts to the center for programs and presentations on various aspects of forestry and the forest products industry, from silviculture to forest management and pulp and paper mill operation.

“Northern Lights”: This series on luminaries in the Adirondacks will include presentations on famous people whose work had a relationship with the Adirondacks. Subjects will include John Burroughs, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Winslow Homer.

Hai said that he’s also hoping to host professional development workshops, a series exploring the role the Adirondacks in modern philosophy, a book club, and canoe skills training.


Monday, December 27, 2010

Dave Gibson: Naturalists Help Keep the Lights On

It’s certainly getting frosty out there, and that’s particularly true for the state’s environmental centers, educators and interpreters.

I first wrote about the closing of the two Adirondack Park Visitor Interpretive Centers and the loss of their naturalist staff last June, and the good news that the State College of Environmental Science and Forestry (SUNY) would run programs at the Newcomb facility in 2011.

Comments back to me said, to summarize, “it’s nice, but get real. In this recession, we have no time to worry about frills and luxuries like environmental education.” I thought I could make a better effort at stating my case.

Most of these “retired” state naturalists are skilled environmental interpreters – meaning that they, to quote a classic definition of interpretation, are skilled at “revealing meanings and relationships through the use of original objects, first hand experiences and illustrative media, rather than simply conveying factual information” (Interpreting our Heritage, by Freeman Tilden).

In essence, these professionals relate parts of the natural world (or the historic or cultural worlds) to something deep within the personality or experience of the visitor, resident or student. What they reveal provokes people to respond, not to yawn. This provocation, in turn, causes visitors to the VICs, Wild Center, Adirondack Museum, or Five Rivers Center to appreciate what they are seeing or experiencing more intensely.

That intensity of appreciation can lead to a desire to understand the details, or a whole ecosystems. These people may develop into aware, informed, understanding, active environmental managers, conservationists, or historians. These activities can and do change the world in ways large and small, and it often begins through good interpretation at a State Park, Visitor Center, or Museum.

Like all layoffs, these at Christmastide are bad enough for the individuals and families involved, like the forced departure of naturalist Ellen Rathbone from the Newcomb VIC, from her park community and from Adirondack Almanack as she seeks new opportunities beyond New York State. We hope New York’s loss will be Ohio’s gain. But the loss of veteran naturalists and educators in NYS is felt statewide.

For instance, a veteran educator at NYS Parks was just laid off after 26 years of successful efforts to link environmental education to improved stewardship of all 150 State Parks. The response of officials in Albany is predictable. “It’s too bad, but we have to cut these naturalist jobs just to keep most Parks open next year.” Keeping the lights on, the golf courses open, the bathrooms plumbed, the roads cleared are a priority. So is keeping the lights on in our eyes, hearts and minds. What these educators do can have real-world, stewardship implications.

For example, this particular naturalist developed a Bird Checklist system for all State Parks back in the late 1980’s. That was considered a “nice” thing to do. A decade later, the awareness those checklists created helped activists to fight off a proposal to construct a large trucking haul road through breeding bird habitats and wetlands of Saratoga Spa State Park. Fifteen years later, these intact wetlands still feed Great Blue Herons, and Kayaderroseras Creek, which in turn has developed into a premier canoeing and kayaking destination.

Thinking ahead, the opportunities for future environmental education employment – and the services those people provide – are shrinking. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation is closing two of their three Environmental Education Centers – Stony Kill Farm in Dutchess County, and Rogers EE Center in Sherburne, Chenango County.

The closing of these facilities is big deal for many families for whom these centers and their professional staffs represented learning opportunities, career advancement, family fun and happy memories – to say nothing of community meeting space – at no expense just miles from their front doors. As far as I can tell, the electric lights are still on at Five Rivers EE Center in the Capital District, but I’m not sure about the learning lights, meaning the staffing.

Who will provide those “provocational,” interpretive services to our young people and families in 2011, or 2021? More and more, we hear of the crisis of “wired” kids staying indoors, who are not exposed to the confidence-building, skills-building that outdoor experiences and unstructured playtime provide. We need more adults to share our outdoor heritage, not fewer.

The system of centers supporting this activity around the State is frayed. But there is hope. My hope is founded on the efforts of people who have picked up the fallen baton, such as SUNY’s Paul Hai, who is committed to keeping the Newcomb Interpretive Center open for continuing cultural and environmental interpretation under the auspices of the College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

It will take time for that facility and others in Newcomb and elsewhere to gain their footing after the loss of so many experienced staff. But there are people like Paul and institutions like ESF out in their communities who are determined not to lose a chance to change someone’s life, or to turn them on to the Adirondacks, or anywhere else with the potential to reveal both our landscapes and parts of ourselves. Let’s work with SUNY’s Paul Hai, or Paul Smith’s College and many others to keep the “lights on” for the fragile network of Adirondack learning centers, museums and interpretive facilities.

Photo: Paul Hai, right, of SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry with Tom Cobb, left, retired Preserve Manager with NYS Parks, former staff with the Commission on the Adirondacks in the 21st Century, and a director of Adirondack Wild: Friend of the Forest Preserve.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Adirondack Stats: Deer-Car Collisions

Number of deer-vehicle accidents per year in the US: approximately 1.5 million

Months when deer-related accidents are most likely to occur: October and November

Number of people in the US killed in crashes involving animals (mostly deer) in 1993: 101

That number in 2007: 223 » Continue Reading.


Saturday, December 18, 2010

Officials: Sea Lamprey Control Seeing Success

The Lake Champlain Fish and Wildlife Management Cooperative is reporting unprecedented success resulting from the on-going sea lamprey control program. The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are working together to improve and manage the fisheries of Lake Champlain. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Adirondack Family Activities: Charles Dickert Wildlife Collection

Tucked in the lower level of the Saranac Lake Free Library is “the finest collection of Adirondack animals ever gathered in one place.” These animals are not wild anymore or even tame for that matter. The Charles Dickert Wildlife Collection is a one-room museum dedicated to the works of taxidermist, Charles Dickert.

My daughter stands in the entranceway with her jaw dangling open. She has seen mounts before but these are pristinely cared for and arranged and overwhelming in number. We quickly note that not all creatures are indigenous to the area. We ask our son to look for the elephant lamp in the display that we see in an old picture from the Guggenheim camp. He discovers that the black ducks flying in V formation above his head are also in old photos on display. He marvels at the colors of the wood ducks and is curious about the leopard rug. » Continue Reading.


Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wild Center Offers New Winter Season Pass

Like many of the winter resorts in the area that offer season passes for skiers and snowboarders, The Wild Center (a regular sponsor of the Adirondack Almanack) is unveiling a new Winter Season Pass for residents and frequent visitors to the Adirondacks.

With something happening every weekend during the winter months, the season pass is valid for unlimited visits from January until Memorial Day weekend. The Center is open throughout the winter on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10:00 am until 5:00 pm and during the entire week of President’s Day.

The passes are available at a special online price at The Wild Center’s website for $29.95 for an individual and $55.95 for a family. Pass holders can also take advantage of regular special sale discounts at the Center’s store.

Activities during Wild Winter Weekends will include tracking workshops, nature walks with Peter O’Shea, bird encounters, an in-depth discussion about the Return of the Wild exhibition and the popular Otter Birthday Party.

Every Sunday is Family Art and Nature Day where you can learn more about the Adirondacks and participate in nature-related art projects that the entire family can enjoy.

Visit www.wildcenter.org for detailed information on the Calendar of Events. The new Winter Season Pass covers unlimited admission to The Center for ALL of these activities as well as otter encounters, feature films, screenings of the BBC ‘Life’ series and the free use of snowshoes for exploring the trails.

“We want to offer something to people who would like to use The Center in the winter for family days or to come to all of the lectures and special events, and make it easy,” said Jen Kretser, Director of Programs. “An individual or family only needs to come twice during the winter to have the pass pay for itself. With something happening every weekend, it really is one of the best values in the Park all winter.”

Please visit www.wildcenter.org/pass to purchase your Winter Season Pass at the online price today. The Winter Season Pass is also available for purchase at The Wild Center, for $38 for an individual and $65 for a family. The Wild Center is closed during the month of April.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

Adirondack Ice: Cultural and Natural History

Adirondack residents know ice. They shovel it, sand and salt it, fish through it, skate and snowmobile on it, carefully craft sculptures out of it, run Zambonis over it, but mostly, they probably slip and fall on it, or fret over its disappearance. Today ice is more inconvenience, than local convenience; more of a hazard, than a habit.

Caperton Tissot’s Adirondack Ice: A Cultural and Natural History (2010) recalls a time when life was more intricately entwined with ice. It wasn’t long ago that much of wintertime work and play was dependent on thick natural ice. In the late 19th and early 20th century, the Adirondack ice industry was substantial. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wild Center to Host ‘Family Friday’

Looking for something to do after the turkey is eaten and guests are still visiting? On Friday, November 26th, The Wild Center will host a special Family Friday. The day will include live music, a talk and book signing by local author Caperton Tissot, seasonal goodies from The Waterside Café, arts and crafts for kids, a discount at The Wild Supply Co. (the museum’s gift shop), free gift wrapping, nature walks and live animal encounters.

From 10:30 am until 1:00 pm The Rustic Riders, a Saranac Lake-based acoustic group, will play original music with traditional roots in the Great Hall.

Local author, Caperton Tissot will talk about her new book Adirondack Ice: a Cultural and Natural History at 1:00 pm in the Flammer Theater. Ice has determined the course of Adirondack history in many surprising ways. This book traces the evolution of that influence, touching on everything from ice industries and transportation to recreation and accidents. In 360 pages of personal stories, observations and over 200 historic and contemporary photos, she pays tribute to a fast disappearing era. A book signing will follow.

The Great Hall will be filled with music by Adirondack musician Jamie Savage from 2:30 pm until 4:00 pm.

All programs are free for members or with paid admission.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Almanack Says Goodbye to Ellen Rathbone

Did you miss something yesterday? I know I did. Ellen Rathbone, our dedicated naturalist for more than a year and a half has left the Adirondacks, and so too the Adirondack Almanack.

Those who have been following Ellen’s writings know that she contributed (twice a week!) out of the love of nature education and as part of her job as an interpretive educator and naturalist at the Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) in Newcomb. Despite her ten years at the VIC, when the Adirondack Park Agency faced cutbacks this past year, education and Adirondack visitor services were the first to go. Ellen had hoped to find a position here in the region but alas, ended up Education Director at the Dahlem Conservancy just outside Jackson, Michigan.

The Dahlem Conservancy is an environmental education / nature center which also has a farm, at which they’ve just put in an acre of community gardens. She’ll be doing all sorts of public and school based nature, gardening, and environmental ethics programming. You can check them out at http://www.dahlemcenter.org/.

Ellen has been working as a naturalist or environmental educator almost steadily since she graduated from SUNY ESF in 1988 with a BS in forestry and biology. Her work has taken her from NY to NJ to VT but she had a special affection for what she called her “beloved Adirondacks.” Ellen incredible insight to our natural world and defense of the smaller (some would say creepier) creatures of our woods and waters will surely be missed here at the Almanack. (We’re currently in search of someone to fill her boots, no one could replace her.)

I thought in honor of Ellen’s departure I’d link to some of her work here at the Almanack. Of course you can always still follow her adventures in Michigan at her own blog.

Ellen’s Recent Several Part Series on Bats

Knowing Your Local Watershed

Flights of Fancy: Featuring Feathers

On Mice

Adirondack Crows, Ravens, and Jays

Adirondack Development: A Naturalist’s View

Ellen on Insects

You can find all of Ellen’s writings at the Almanack here.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

State Museum Enters Invasives Fight With ‘Biopesticides’

The New York State Museum has received a $1 million federal grant to conduct a new research project aimed at protecting endangered species of native freshwater mussels from the impacts of invasive zebra mussels.

With the grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), through its Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, Museum scientists will use what they are calling an “environmentally safe invention – a biopesticide” to continue their research with a new emphasis on open water applications. The project will be led by Museum research scientists Daniel Molloy and Denise Mayer. » Continue Reading.


Monday, November 15, 2010

The Big Blowdown of 1950

The Adirondacks is prone to powerful windstorms, isolated tornadoes, and occasional hurricanes, derechos, and microbursts. Perhaps the second most destructive of these in modern Adirondack history (next to the 1998 Ice Storm) occurred in November, 1950.

The Big Blowdown brought heavy rains and winds in excess of 100 mph. In a single day – November 25th – more than 800,000 acres of timber was heavily damaged. The storm caused a complete shutdown of the roads and trails across large swaths of the park, a historic suspension of the State Constitution, a temporary glut in the spruce market, and a political impact that continues to this day. » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Adirondack Bats: Little and Big Brown Bats

At long last, we come to the end, the final chapter on Adirondack bats. I left the most common species for my last piece because what is common today may be gone tomorrow. I speak of the little brown (Myotis lucifugus) and big brown (Eptesicus fuscus) bats, those furry cave-dwellers who have been most heavily impacted by the fungus-based disease now known as white-nose syndrome (WNS). Every hibernaculum in New York has now been diagnosed with the disease, and in some of the caves, these bats have experienced over 90% mortality. It’s a sobering fact. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Adirondacks’ Endangered Bat: The Indiana Myotis

To the average Joe, an Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis) is not a terribly impressive animal. It is a smallish, brownish bat, often mistaken for a little brown bat (another less-than-dazzling member of the clan). A scientist in the know, however, can detect small differences to tell these species apart, such as the length of the toe hairs (I kid you not), the length of the ears, the color of the snout, the amount of shine to the fur, or the presence of a keel on the calcar (a spur of cartilage that gives some rigidity to the trailing edge of the wing membrane near the bat’s foot). » Continue Reading.


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Adirondack Bats: Keen’s and Long-Eared Myotis

Two bats that are often never mentioned (mostly because so few people have heard of them) are Keen’s myotis (Myotis keenii) and the northern long-eared myotis (Myotis septentrionalis). Both species have been found in the Adirondacks, but neither in great numbers. » Continue Reading.


Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Adirondacks’ Smallest Cave-Dwelling Bats

Having covered the Adirondacks’ solitary tree-dwelling bats, it is now time to tackle the cave bats. There are a number of species to contend with, but today I am going to introduce you to just two: the eastern small-footed bat (Myotis leibii leibii) and the eastern pipistrelle (Pipistrellus subflavus).

The small-footed bat, as you no doubt guessed, is noted for its petite terminal appendages: it has small feet, only about six millimeters long. I’ve never seen any data on the size of other bats’ feet, but one must suppose that they are significantly larger with respect to the size of the bats in question. » Continue Reading.



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