One Weekend, 450 Miles Through the Adirondacks

The College 220 class and Judson Potter '89 at Camp Wenonah.
The College 220 class and Judson Potter '89 at Camp Wenonah.

Over the weekend of Oct. 2-3, the College 220 class, “The Cultural and Natural Histories of the Adirondacks,” explored several Adirondack natural sites, visited the historic John Brown’s cabin in North Elba, and took part in a seminar on paddler’s rights during an overnight visit to Camp Wenonah, owned by alumnus James Schoff, ’68.


The 17 students, accompanied by Professors Robin Kinnel and Onno Oerlemans, hiked a nature trail just outside of Speculator, after having been denied a visit to an old growth forest near Goldmine Falls by a road closing occasioned by heavy rains earlier in the week. The adventure continued with a stop at John Brown’s cabin, followed by a journey to the top of Whiteface Mountain, where the students encountered rime ice (the temperature at the summit was 32°), which they had just read about the week before.


They also were able to observe the phenomenon of fir waves, which is a natural die-off of firs as part of a succession. Arriving at Camp Wenonah on Upper Saranac Lake, they were greeted by Dennis Phillips, a high school classmate of Schoff’s who was the host for the weekend. After dinner, Phillips, along with alumnus Judson Potter ’89 and Phillps’ colleague Ed Fitzgerald, presented two sides of a potential dispute between a landowner and paddlers who wished to canoe through the owner’s private property.


The students then repaired to the “jury room,” where they discussed the case and asked questions of alumnus Eric Schwenker, ’02, and his wife Kate (Amherst ’05) who both are lawyers. Upon returning to the “courtroom,” (also the dining room), the students advised landowner Potter what course of action they would recommend. It was a stimulating and exciting evening for all.


On Sunday, after a hearty breakfast served up by the hosts, the class visited the Wild Museum in Tupper Lake, only a short drive from Wenonah. The museum brought us back to the natural side of the Adirondacks, and between the exhibits and the extensive trail system, the students found a good bit of stimulation.


The next destination was Spring Pond Bog, a Nature Conservancy preserve, which has a unique collection of wildlife and is a quite different habitat than one associates with the Adirondacks. Unfortunately, the journey along logging dirt roads into the site took longer than anticipated, and they didn’t make it. However, along the way, they stopped for lunch with George and Ellen Utley, parents of Hannah, ’11, who is in the class, and got an opportunity to see a wilderness camp in the making.


The class traveled nearly 450 miles during the weekend, and they got an opportunity to experience and see a good bit of what makes the Adirondacks a fascinating part of New York, both historically and geographically.

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