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From Scary Stories to COVID-19 in the Adirondacks


Students in this fall’s Forever Wild: Cultural and Natural Histories of the Adirondack Park explored the social, political, and environmental issues and debates within the largest state park in the U.S. and presented their thoughts and findings online. Taught by Onno Oerlemans, the Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of Literature, the course gave students a closer look at the geologic and conservation marvel that, in a non-pandemic semester, provides recreation and adventuring opportunities to many Hamilton students.

In addition to blog submissions throughout the semester, students also posted their final research projects to the website in an effort to give visitors with a better understanding of this popular region in Upstate NY. Topics ranged from the impact of COVID-19 to scary legends and lore.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Park by Alex Geer ’21 delved into the practice of using ghost stories as cautionary tales to keep recreationists safe. As Geer said, a sign about safe bear practices isn’t nearly as effective as telling campers perhaps slightly exaggerated stories of bears invading camps and mauling inhabitants. Geer takes readers through several legendary Adirondack tales, including the ghost of Grace Brown on Big Moose Lake as an instructive caution against drowning and a Route 86 ghost story about monsters on the road as a deterrent against driving in bad weather. Geer points us toward more information on Grace Brown’s ghost here (28:10) and the Route 86 story here.

Another research project, COVID-19 in the Adirondacks by Emma Goodell ’21 and Emma Parkhurst ’21, discussed the ecological, social, economic, and health effects of the pandemic on North Country communities. A major focus of their project is the lack of healthcare infrastructure, including transportation of patients, medicine, and supplies within the park.

Visitors to the park can put residents at a higher risk of contracting COVID, especially because many arrive from hotspots including New York City and Albany. In addition, the standing problem of overuse has been exacerbated as many people are seeking healing in the fresh air. Record numbers of tourists are causing negative impacts for trails, summits, plants, water quality, and wildlife.

Many argue that tourism must continue in the park as it is a main economic driver of the region. Goodell and Parkhurst show that tourism has not decreased during the pandemic, which increases the risk of exposure of residents, but that tourists are spending less money at local businesses and attractions in the area, which, in fact is hurting the economy.

Other final projects included The Effects of Climate Change on the Adirondacks: Case Study on the Moose by Dylan Morse ’22 and Gab Venne ’22; Snowmobiling in the Adirondacks by Cam Baker ’21, Sarah Ferdinand ’22, and Eliana Silk ’22; Adirondack Ice: The History and Evolution of Ice Climbing in the Adirondack Park by Joey West ’22; and Deer Hunting in the Adirondacks by Paul Rinzler ’23 and John Troast ’23.

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