September 30 - October 7, 2012
Dear friends, registration is now closed for this course - we hope you will join us another time - thank you!
Led by alpine expert Michael Gaige with special guests:
Robin Kimmerer, author of Gathering Moss;
Mike DiNunzio, author of Adirondack Wildguide;
and John Davis of TrekEast
“The fact is new and seems strange to many that there should be in the northeastern part of New York a wilderness almost unbroken and unexplored, embracing a territory considerably larger than the whole state of Massachusetts… from the bold mountain that lifts its head up far beyond the limit of vegetable life to the most beautiful meadow land on which the eye has ever rested." ~ Rev. John Todd, 1845, Long Lake.
This course presents the natural history and cultural history of the Adirondack Park in northeastern New York State—Eastern America’s greatest wilderness area, and our country’s most singular, improbable and successful conservation story. We have timed our visit so that we may witness the Adirondacks during what is expected to be its peak color season—a world-class temperate forest spectacle.
The 6-million-acre park hosts over 250,000 acres of old-growth forest, 3000 lakes, and secondary forests commonly over 100 years old. Bears are common, and moose, after 100 years of absence, are returning. Occasionally a wolf or a cougar pass through. This is arguably as wild as it gets in the eastern forest. This remarkable park defies all the traditional conservation labels. Two and one-half times larger than Yellowstone, it is neither a national park nor a national forest. It’s been called “a park that is not a park, a wilderness that is not a wilderness.” It IS a complex mosaic of lands, people, agencies, non-profits, land values and principles. Private lands, on which development is subject to a State zoning and permitting agency, compose slightly more than one-half of the park. Roughly one hundred fifty-thousand people live here in about 100 communities year-around, where the largest village has less than 5000 people. The remaining half of the park is part of the state-owned Adirondack Forest Preserve that is guaranteed by the New York State constitution to be maintained as forever wild. These lands cannot be sold or leased, and their timber cannot be sold, removed or destroyed. Here lies some of eastern America’s wildest, most rugged landscapes, boasting forty-six peaks over 4000 feet.
During our visit to this fascinating area, daylight hours will be primarily spent in the field with expert naturalists, exploring the primary ecosystems of the Adirondacks. It is here that many northern boreal species reach their southern-most latitudes and southern affiliates reach their northern limits. Topping out at over 5000 feet, some mountains display arctic species, while, at just over one hundred feet above sea level, the Lake Champlain Valley contains species more common in southerly oak-hickory forests, timber rattlesnakes, and rich, mesic habitats. In a span of just a few dozen miles, one can witness Appalachian heartland trees as well as signature arctic species, such as Diapensia and alpine azalea.
Before our evening meal, we will share excerpts from some of the Adirondacks’ greatest literature. At nightfall, we will gather around some of the region’s most prestigious leaders and educators. We will be lodging outside Elizabethtown in Kilkenny Lodge, a beautifully renovated Great Camp that was built in 1901. Great Camps refer to the many summer homes of the wealthy that were erected in the remote wilderness of the Adirondacks in the late 19th C. Built aesthetically and organically out of indigenous logs and stones, Great Camps were usually simultaneously rustic and lavish, the contrasting elements creating what has become the classic architectural “look” for dwellings in America’s eastern wilderness areas.
Focus of this Course Includes:
- Ecological study of the natural communities of the North Woods, including the northern hardwoods on the lower slopes, white pine and pitch pine forests on sandy outwashes, boreal spruce-fir forests cool, moist lowlands on the upper slopes, and alpine meadows above the tree line.
- Sequence of plant succession after natural disturbance in the North Woods; characteristics of old-growth forests.
- Ecology of wetland ecosystems, including river corridors, bogs, swamps and marshes.
- Mastering field recognition of all the primary tree species of the North Woods, both deciduous and conifers, in the various ecosystems, along with their associated assemblages of shrubs and herbs.
- Special focus on moss ecology, ethno-botany, and species recognition.
- Geologic history of the Adirondacks in the context of the nearby, but distinct, Appalachian Mountain chain, including the landscape sculpting caused by recent glaciations.
- Native American history and European exploration and settlement.
- History of conservation and environmental advocacy in the Adirondacks; present and future conservation challenges.