By Hope Rogers, Trail Walker Contributor
For people who want to learn more about the natural world and find concrete ways to support it, or for those who want to learn new outdoor skills, New York State offers two information-packed programs every fall.
New York’s Master Naturalist Trainee weekend educates participants in many aspects of the state’s natural resources and guides them to opportunities to teach others and/or participate in conservation work. Becoming an Outdoors Woman, a joint venture of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and the nonprofit New York Outdoors Women, offers a program of workshops in plant and tree identification, ecology, hiking and camping, kayaking, map and compass reading, hunting, fishing, trapping, and many other outdoor skills.
Over the September 18-20 weekend, the eighth group of Master Naturalist Trainees—33 teachers, property owners, and others interested in protecting and restoring the natural world—converged on Cornell University’s scenic Arnot Teaching and Research Forest in Van Etten, N.Y. Program Director and Cornell Wildlife Biologist Kristi Sullivan assembled a varied lineup of experts who provided overviews of the challenges facing a variety of woodland inhabitants, from bears to bats. Trees, fungi, and stream ecology were covered as well. Students also tried their hand at citizen science projects, such as dredging for and identifying stream invertebrates. A binder packed with information on the many topics, as well as an extensive list of volunteer opportunities, supplemented the presentations.
Bunking in rustic cabins and dining at long communal tables, participants had plenty of opportunity to meet and talk with others about their subject(s) of interest and the particular environmental issues of their home area.
Following the weekend of workshops, trainees who take 14 hours of additional coursework and perform 30 hours of volunteering can qualify for full Master Naturalist certification. Subsequent volunteering or courses maintain the certification each year. New York State residency is not required. For information, see http://blogs.cornell.edu/cerp/master-naturalist-program/
Two weeks later, as the disturbance of distant Hurricane Joaquin whipped up the wind, more than 120 women gathered at Lake George in the Adirondacks for the 22nd annual Becoming an Outdoors Woman (BOW) weekend. As the rain mercifully held off, they each pursued a tight schedule of four, individually selected, 3 ½-hour workshops—long enough to dig into each topic and practice new skills. On Friday and Saturday evenings, a variety of short presentations were followed by fundraising raffles emceed by wisecracking Kelly Stang, DEC wildlife biologist and coordinator of the BOW program.
Communal meals and shared enthusiasm for outdoor activities made it easy to meet other participants, who attended from as far away as Florida (again, N.Y. residency is not required for participation). Half of the group were return visitors, some having attended several times.
Kayaking and fishing students braved the high winds. Other women engaged in more stationary pursuits, such as observing trap-setting or learning the ins and outs of car camping, while bundled up in the cold weather. Then, on Sunday morning, a stunning sunrise ushered in a clear, warm fall day.
As the weekend ended, taxidermy students ferried home mounted rodents, raffle winners packed up their prizes, and everyone headed to the Northway with new outdoor experiences under their belt.
The Becoming an Outdoors Woman weekend is offered at various locations throughout New York State. Other outdoor skills workshops are held during the year; more info can be found at http://www.dec.ny.gov/education/68.html