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Migration2013: The Adirondack Winter Experience

ESF alumnus returns to the AEC in a different role

By Neil Patterson

The caravan traveled north on Route 28. The snow was getting deeper and the roads were worsening. Two vans filled with sleepy-eyed teenagers followed my pickup into the entrance of the Adirondack Ecological Center. It had been 15 years since I visited these cabins and picking out my bunk with the rest of the guys was surreal.

I chose the exact bed I slept in during the summer of 1995, when I was trapping small mammals for Charlotte Demers and helping the "deer crew." In the morning, several chaperones and I would lead a group of high school students into the same woods where I developed a lasting appreciation for the Adirondacks. This time it was winter and I was as excited as a kid once again.

The trip was the second of many planned under an environmental education project called Migration 2013. The project was started by the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force and seeks to provide native high school students in upstate New York with outdoor experiences that build leadership skills and cultivate informed decisions about environmental issues. The project highlights the migration of plants and animals under future climate change scenarios and will culminate in a backpacking trek of more than 1,200 miles from North Carolina to upstate New York during the summer of 2013.

The frozen Huntington Forest served as an appropriate setting for students to become acquainted with a potentially vulnerable environment that could be affected by warming temperatures. Students, parents, and chaperones from Tuscarora, Seneca (Tonawanda), Onondaga, and Mohawk (Akwesasne) communities have participated so far.

After selecting bunks, everyone changed into their winter clothes and prepared for a crash course in snowshoeing. The snow was too deep for travel on foot. We ventured into a managed forest to set traps for a small mammal study. Annie Woods led us through the data collection procedures and basic small mammal identification skills, showing us skins and mounts that we could handle and examine.

In the morning, after six representatives of three species were recorded and released, the group set out to the Newcomb Adirondack Park Agency Visitors Interpretive Center to find some otter slides. We found no otters but found plenty of tracks. Later, a small group ventured out to check the ice on Rich Lake. It was 26 inches thick!

At breakfast the next day, Paul Hai showed us a collection of archeological evidence, including a photograph of a dugout canoe unearthed near Arbutus Lake. We then drove to Tupper Lake to visit the Wild Center. Students watched a movie on climate change and saw live otters and a drowsy porcupine. On the way back, we stopped near Long Lake for a short hike through a well-trampled winter deer yard for some tree identification. We walked quietly and spotted six deer. The night was filled with headlamps, charades, and board games.

We awoke to eight inches of fresh powder Saturday. Following breakfast, students were harnessed like sled dogs to heavy toboggans, pulling stoves, food, shelter and bait for a two-mile round trip to the frozen lake. We caught very little through the fishing holes in the ice, but the underwater cameras revealed some close encounters with yellow perch and northern pike. The hot chocolate and hot dogs cooked in the old wooden ice shanty warmed us from the stiff morning winds. Around noon, the sun came out for a glorious afternoon on the ice. After returning to the cabins to clean and share our catch, firewood was pulled by sled to the icy beach for some storytelling around a fire. It was truly an Adirondack Experience not to be forgotten.

The trip was made possible with support from SUNY-ESF's Center for Native Peoples and the Environment and the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force. To find more information on Migration 2013, the Haudenosaunee Environmental Task Force, or the Center for Native Peoples and the Environment, visit http://tuscaroraenvironment.com/migration2013.aspx or http://www.esf.edu/nativepeoples/.

Neil Patterson Jr. (EFB '96) is a member of the Bear Clan of the Tuscarora Nation and an NSF GK-12 graduate student in ESF's Forest and Natural Resource Management Program.