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Our children: The future of the Adirondacks

November 14, 2009
Joe Hackett, Enterprise Outdoors Columnist

Weather over the past week ranged from raging snow and fierce winds to gentle rains and, finally, to a few Indian Summer days of sunshine and warmth.

Skim ice departed the ponds as muddy conditions replaced hoar frost on the trails, while woodland wanderers traded their down jackets for shorts and T-shirts were found on Adirondack summits in the middle of November.

A growing carpet of fallen leaves continues to accumulate on the forest floor as the forest sheds its cover in the wake of the season's first significant snowfall. Last weekend's snow served only to tease hunters, who again wait for decent tracking snow.

The snow cover that blanketed the region Friday evening had nearly disappeared by noon of the following day. By Saturday afternoon, hunters could work up a sweat simply by climbing a tree stand and temperatures pushed well into the 60s.

The inconsistencies of recent weather patterns have been mimicked by the behavior of whitetails, which "simply ain't where they oughta be by this point in the season," according to one experienced hunter.

The future of the Adirondacks

In previous columns, I have lamented the fact that area youth are often an overlooked regional resource. In the course of preparing for the seasonal onslaught of tourists, many local communities do not focus their attention on the next generation of Adirondackers.

Many Adirondack youth remain out of sight and out of mind. If they aren't involved in the processes of our tourism-based economy, they won't understand it. They'll be disconnected from their community and from the region as a whole.

Despite the revelations of the recent Adirondack Park Regional Assessment Project - that the region is suffering from a severe "brain drain and bright flight'' - there is no denying that today's youth will be the leaders and decision makers of tomorrow.

Although youth may often be out of our sight, they shouldn't be out of our minds. I often think of "Jim."

"Jim" was a lanky, awkward and kind of geeky kid. He never quite fit in, but still got along well with nearly everyone.

He wasn't the most athletic student, but he had some school spirit and supported various athletic teams. He attended games, played in the school band, acted in school plays and was considered just a regular, if somewhat irregular, kind of guy. He also loved the outdoors and regularly made trips up the nearby peaks.

Near the end of his senior year, friends asked him to attend the school's annual awards banquet, where awards are conferred and varsity letters are presented.

The event typically honored the school jocks and brainiacs and Jim felt uncomfortable and a bit out of place. He actually considered slipping out the side door as the letters were being handed out. Then he heard his name announced. He stepped onto the stage, wondering what the heck he was doing.

Out of the shadows stepped an older hiking companion, a guy who often drove him to the mountains. In his hand were a small colored patch and a pin.

Unbeknownst to Jim, his climbing accomplishments had been brought to the attention of the school's athletic director. They were seen by the athletic department and the school board as a major athletic achievement.

In lieu of a varsity letter, Jim was presented with membership in the Adirondack 46'ers Club. It was as if he had hit 46 home runs or scored 46 points in a basketball game. A 46'er patch was his letter and the assembly recognized that fact as they stood in rousing ovation.

Area school officials should take note: There are always going to be students who can't run fast, jump high or throw hard.

Remember: There are other achievements.

It is inclusiveness that bonds a student body and builds a community.

Jim will forever remain a member of that small Adirondack community and the community is glad to have him.

Adirondack youth gather at the Wild Center

I was encouraged to learn that over 150 students and staff from more than two dozen high schools and colleges recently attended the first Adirondack Youth Climate Summit at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake earlier this week.

The event - inspired by a former Lake Placid High School student who had attended a climate conference held at the Wild Center in 2008 - brought together a wide spectrum of students who share concerns about climate change and its impact on the Adirondacks.

Over the course of the two day event, students, teachers, administrators and others worked with scientists, researchers and policy makers to consider opportunities to make positive changes in their local environment and to explore potential opportunities in the burgeoning "Green economy."

It is promising that local youth have exhibited such a keen interest in climate change, for they are the ones who will inherit the problem. Furthermore, it was inspiring to learn that so many have already begun taking a personal responsibility for addressing the challenges of the future.

Adirondack youth gather in the wild

Last month, a different group of Adirondack students got together for three days at the DEC Fourth Lake Public Campground for a weekend of camping and outdoor fun.

The students, members of the 4-H Adirondack Guides program, spent the weekend demonstrating the skills and knowledge they had acquired throughout the past year.

The 4-H Adirondack Guides program is a year-round series of events and workshops offered to area youth between the ages of 12 and 18. It is geared toward those who have an interest in outdoor skills, environmental education and natural resource management. The program is typically attended nearly equally by male and female participants.

Every year, Guide program participants must complete a series of competencies in order to advance to the next level. This year, all of the program's participants advanced with flying colors.

The 4-H Adirondack Guide program offers three levels of accomplishment: apprentice, intermediate and advanced.

Upon entering the program, youth spend the first year learning outdoor and camping skills, tree, mammal, fish, and bird identification, and map and compass skills. After completing these requirements, participants must test into the first level. As youth graduate into the advanced levels, the skills and knowledge they must possess increase.

Throughout the program participants work hand-in-hand with local guides, woodsmen, foresters, forest rangers, conservation officers and wildlife managers to gain practical experience.

Most participants also achieve the requirements of the Hunter Safety Education program as required by the 4-H Shooting Sports Program.

Upon completion of the Guides program, youth must demonstrate the skills they have learned. Versed with a thorough knowledge of the local environment, and having demonstrated competency in a variety of outdoor skills, the students must take and pass the New York State DEC Guide's License exam.

After achieving a NYS Guide's License, former participants often continue to assist the program as instructors and facilitators.

This year, the trip concluded with a Geocache led by newly Advanced Guide Ben Hoffman.

The 4-H Guides program provides an outstanding model with potential for duplication across the Park. While it provides area youth with the skills and knowledge to take advantage of the region's recreational opportunities, it also offers youth an incentive to pursue educational advancement and career opportunities.

If you are interested in the 4-H Adirondack Guide program and would like more information, please contact the Warren County Cornell Cooperative Extension at 668-4881 and ask to speak with John Bowe or Martina Yngente.

Keesler Scholarship Fund

The Janice and Paul Keesler Scholarship Fund is proud to announce that it is now accepting applications from qualified students.

Paul and Janice were avid sportspersons who wrote and lectured about the outdoors and founded and published the nationally-recognized and respected New York Sportsman Magazine. Developed as a living memorial to two people who loved New York state and the outdoors, this fund assists students training in the field of wildlife management.

According to Scholarship Fund President Dave Hamilton, "These annual scholarship awards are available to any New York state resident who has been accepted into an accredited institution of higher learning and is, or will be, working toward obtaining a degree in some facet of wildlife management."

The 21st series of Janice and Paul Keesler Scholarship Awards will be distributed in January of 2010. To date, the fund has had the honor of distributing more than $28,000 in grants to deserving Wildlife Management students.

Individuals interested in applying for these scholarships may do so by sending a request for an application form, along with a stamped, self-addressed legal sized envelope to: the Janice and Paul Keesler Scholarship Fund

C/o Bridget Keesler (sec/treas)

P.O. Box 485

Newport, NY 13416

The completed application form must be returned to the committee no later than December 31, 2009. For further information please visit



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