10/28/11 by Dan Plumley
Braulio Acura - Environmental Studies and Geology - to graduate 2013 - from the Bronx.
When asked why the Adirondacks and wild lands are important to you, Braulio did not hesitate, stating, "One of the biggest things for me coming from the Bronx is the incredible contrast. Here in the Adirondacks and in wilderness lands I can experience a place of no distractions unlike home. Here natural beauty is in its prime and it is truly special and life changing."
Nick Schessl - from Waterloo, New York - class of 2013 "Here in the wilds of northern New York, roughing it, we get to truly hear ourselves think. Our pace slows down to where we can find a place where we are much clearer in thought about what really matters in our lives and where we want to go. In these wild lands, we can break down barriers and obstacles and figure out our clear path forward. I would be so excited to take part in the more intensive wilderness stewardship training."
Madeline Fones hails from Niantic, CT and participates in a number of NGO initiatives.
She is interested in helping Adirondack Wild reach more young people through the "Green Umbrella" initiative that links a number of college level students together statewide. Madeline is ready to help me organize students for direct advocacy in park stewardship and in issues before the park agency, DEC, Governor Cuomo and the NY State Legislature
Educating and training the next generation of conservation decision-makers is an all important goal of Adirondack Wild.
We recall fondly Paul Schaefer’s admonition: that our conservation work was to benefit the “Youth of Distant Tomorrows.” We serve that purpose most directly when we bring on board, inspire, educate and train today’s college and university level students in the work, purposes and values of our “Forever Wild” forest preserve and the legal, citizen-based advocacy history and laws to protect, preserve and conserve the Adirondack Park.
At 52 years of age and with 25 years of Adirondack conservation advocacy, I often tell these 18 to 21 year-olds the cold hard facts, quipping while staring at them intensely, “Look, in terms of years, I am already “over the bank,” but you – each of one of you – has the golden opportunity to help create the future of the Adirondack Park. Ask yourself, “will you play a role and will it be wilder and better protected than it is today?” We are still in process in the creation of the Adirondack Park, and your generation will ultimately determine its final design and whether, or not, it is to be protected into the future.” This simple truth is the basis for our “Educating for the Wild” program and why we invest a significant portion of my staff time in outreach to colleges and universities statewide.
Often for me, this means heading off early in the morning for a long road trip to a university campus on the far outskirts of the park, farther north upstate or even several hours downstate, but occasionally to rare and unique locations within the Blue Line. That was the case on a cool, overcast and rainy early October day, when I left Keene to meet 12 students from St. Lawrence University’s unique “Adirondack Semester” at Massawepie Boy Scout Camp west of Tupper Lake, New York.
Professor Eric Backlund in SLU's unique Outdoor Studies Program met me at the remote Massawepie Camp parking lot, a good 4 miles drive back in across an undulating ridgeline of a deep, tall forested esker that cuts through the north western Adirondack lake, bog and wetland complex. We then hiked 3/4 of a mile and took a waiting canoe, after donning life jackets in the heavy wind and intermittent rain and paddled over to the wild camp on the opposite shoreline. Here in this wild, undeveloped setting where 12 SLU students have been living (and studying) together since late August -- and are set to remain through late November – we held our orientation class to our Adirondack Wilderness Stewardship Training Program within one of approximately a dozen round yurts set in a forest of tall, giant white pines.
Eric tells me that these 12 students have been camping out and surviving largely on their own since late August. The students are selected from a host of applicants each year from many college disciplines for the highly sought after program and they hail from all over the Northeast and the US.
One youth named Braulio is a junior who hails from the Bronx – about as far removed experience-wise from the wild solitudes of the Adirondacks as you can get . Alexis, a young woman in her 3rd year as well, calls Staten Island home, but the rest of the group come from the Northeast states while two students, Annalise and Tori, come from as far away as Aspen, Colorado, and Hudson, Ohio.
To be sure, most of the students, prior to coming to St. Lawrence University, rarely knew much about the Adirondacks, much less its rich legacy of containing nearly 85 percent of all protected wild lands east of the Rocky Mountains. During their Adirondack Semester, they have toured the regional Department of Environmental Conservation and Adirondack Park Agency offices in Ray Brook for class and undertook overnight backpacking in the Eastern High Peaks region, as well as other field trips. But it is the quiet times at Massawepie, if armed well with knowledge, that they can appreciate their own place in these wild lands and this Adirondack Park that symbolizes so much for the wilds.
Providing an initial base of understanding for the history and laws of conservation protection for the Adirondack Park is a core target for these orientation sessions in wilderness stewardship. The role of the citizen advocate is another key foundation. In an hour long interactive discussion, we covered our Adirondack Wild connections with great wild land conservationists Paul Schaefer, Ed and Howard Zahniser (they are reading Ed’s "Where Wilderness Preservation Began").
We discuss the foundations of wild land and resource law under the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan, State Land Master Plan, national issue heritage for wilderness preservation and the Federal Clean Air Act (and Title IV, Acid Rain Control Provisions), climate change legislation and challenges and opportunities the park’s lessons create regionally, nationally and as a global model for the park's state and private land zoning framework. It’s a complex park with a diverse, rich history that demands interpretation based on experience.
The students have a myriad of good questions – inspired by the park’s rich history and latter day land use and wild land issues in the media, which the class is studying. Some seem awakened to be informed of the role our state constitution’s “forever wild” clause (Article XIV) played as a model for the design and establishment of the now 130 million acre federal wilderness system nationwide.
I, their teacher for a mere hour, urge them to write down key authors and important books describing the fight for the wilds in these Adirondack Mountains before inviting them to participate in the park’s protection through interning, assisting with our field work, participating in future wilderness stewardship training (which we bring right to their campus followed by a 4 day intensive in the wilderness in late June for the very hardy among them) and being in contact with any questions they may have going forward.
Many express enthusiastic interest in further training and following our class, we break for individual discussions outside under the pines and by the wild lakeshore. It is then that I meet them individually and get to know better some of the students who, in our short time together, seem to have grasped the sense of adventure, the real challenge and the personal responsibility that being a part of the Adirondack Park’s future really means. And through their eagerness and by their thoughtful questioning, here in the wilds of Massawepie, I too become a student of these young people and these wilds again, and am restored and reinvigorated, whether I am “over the bank” or not.
Dr. Erik Backlkund is a professor in Environmental Studies who invited me out to meet the students for his class with the Adirondack Semester students.
The St. Lawrence University Director of the Adirondack Semester is Cathy Shrady who is eager to work with Adirondack Wild on future interchange opportunities between with her students.
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