by David Gibson, Partner
Equipped with snowshoes and digital cameras, a select group of Green Tech High Charter School students from Albany joined partners of Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve in the Adirondacks on Sunday, February 6. Led by Green Tech Charter High School faculty member Yusuf Burgess, these high school students are being engaged, inspired and prepared for a deeper relationship with wild lands. As Yusuf writes, they are exploring a deeper “sense of place” in New York State.
Yusuf: First, a brief introduction to the inspirational Yusuf Burgess is necessary. For many years, he has been helping young urban youth to discover discipline, teamwork, self-awareness and self-worth in the great outdoors. As often as time and funds allow, Yusuf brings at-risk youth to the Adirondacks, Catskills, Hudson Valley and beyond to learn outdoor skills such as boat-building, fishing, skiing, camping. He understands young people and the streets. He has walked their walk. A former guidance counselor at the Albany Boys and Girls Clubs, Yusuf is employed as Family Intervention Specialist with Albany’s Green Tech Charter High School. He is an experienced outdoorsman, kayaker and fisherman, founder of the Environmental Awareness Network for Diversity in Conservation, and is also New York’s representative on the Children and Nature Network. For several years, Yusuf worked for the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation to recruit more children and families of color into DEC’s Summer Camp programs. His successful efforts to create teen “eco-clubs” in urban America have been noticed at home and abroad, and he is widely sought to speak about the keys to his success. That success is partially defined by the growing number of young men and women who are now mentoring teenagers to also grow personally and professionally through outdoor pursuits. Yusuf is featured in the newly acclaimed documentary film, Mother Nature’s Child.
Last Sunday, Yusuf recruited four of his school's students to experience snowshoeing and cabin heritage in the Adirondack Park. This was an Educating for the Wild experience led by Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve.
Rendezvous in Wevertown: We met as planned in the small hamlet of Wevertown, Warren County, and looked in at the Beaver Brook Outfitters store at the junction of Rt. 28 and 8. This store located in a former small church has an amazing diversity of outdoor gear, and all about as far away from the mall as you can get! We then drove west on Rt. 8 to Beaver House, a wilderness cabin built by the pioneering wilderness conservationist Paul Schaefer, just southwest of Gore Mountain and North Creek. The group all had Red Feather snowshoes with the latest bindings, and I had already broken trail to the cabin in 2.5 feet of snow.
Entering Cabin Country: We snowshoed to the cabin, observing different trees, coyote, and snowshoe hare, red squirrel and other tracks on this path. We built a fire, and ate lunch inside. The young men—ranging from 14-21 in age—enjoyed the place. They couldn't believe that not much had changed inside in 50 years! Yusuf particularly enjoyed the heritage there, the old skis, poles, snowshoes, but mostly Paul Schaefer conservation, cabin construction and family history in the mountains, which Ken and I related in various ways. We read from Schaefer’s book, Adirondack Cabin Country.
Some Impressions: These young men experienced a safe kind of fun in deep mountain snow, a rare thing in their lives. One young man said in a quiet, serious moment, "I can get quite comfortable here." The experience may have created a lasting impression on him. Another young man from Albany said, "I could never live here." Why, I asked. "It's way too quiet, and the mall is too far away." Silence is not perceived as a good thing to some of these young people because, as Yusuf explains, in their lives silence often accompanies moments just before or after violence.
All are actual or aspiring engineering students who wish to attend places like RPI. One of them is currently an engineering student at SUNY Albany. They are experienced users of the digital world and they maintain facebook pages where they post their photos. They are very much "plugged in.” Yusuf tries to make appropriate outdoor use of that technology as learning tools. These bright and promising young people have immense respect for Yusuf; he is a friendly, knowledgeable guide in their lives, and family counselor.
We snowshoed to the Fogarty cabin, allowing the young men to see more of Cabin Country, and to horse around a bit in the deep snow of that open field. Back at Beaver House, the young men lugged the coolers of lunch material back to the cars. We left the cabin around 3:30 and I showed them Gore Mountain and the base lodge, so that they were oriented in case they chose to downhill ski there sometime.
Just a beginning: This is just the beginning of a promising partnership between us, Yusuf and his Eco-Clubs, and the Green Tech High Charter School. As Yusuf writes, he hopes to ensure future endeavors in the Adirondack Park that will incorporate camping, hiking, fly fishing, animal tracking, tree identification, trail maintenance, and more. Time, funds and transportation are always in short supply, but he does amazing things with the resources at hand. Our goal is to enhance understanding of our State’s wilderness with new and traditional audiences, and show how people can apply that understanding to better safeguard wild lands while enhancing their own lives in the process.
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