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Skidmore College

Stewarding the North Woods

August 6, 2015
Katie Cuthbert ’16 and Urvi Kalra ’28
Cuthbert and Kalra check a familiar trail.

On a warm summer morning in the North Woods, a robin pecks determinedly at a patch of bare soil, hunting a worm. A squirrel rustles a pile of dry leaves. Students and city residents gather, apply bug spray, and chat. At 9 a.m. sharp, Katie Cuthbert ’16 and Urvi Kalra ’18 call the group to follow. As this year’s North Woods stewards, they have been prepping for this tour for the better part of a month.

This summer the two environmental studies majors have been learning North Woods biology, geology, and history, walking the trails with local experts and professors, and conducting research. It’s one of the most important aspects of their stewardship job, because they can then share their newfound knowledge in outreach events like the morning tour. One Saturday, the stewards staffed an information table at the Saratoga farmers’ market to talk about North Woods programs, answer queries, hand out fliers, and just exchange smiles.

Why outreach? The goal is twofold, says Cuthbert. First, the stewards hope to create an environment where students and community members can explore and develop a respect for the forest. Second, they hope to spread awareness about issues affecting the woodland so that all can play a role in protecting its health and biodiversity. In fact, Kalra believes that the history of the North Woods is something every Skidmore student should learn. Emily Davidson, in Skidmore’s Sustainability Office, says, “Katie and Urvi have a passion for the woods that’s contagious.”

In addition to tours and tabling, the stewards organize service days for community members to participate in hands-on projects in the woods. They also hike and play nature games with elementary schoolers at Skidmore’s Camp Northwoods. “Working with children helps us foster love and respect for nature in the younger generation,” says Cuthbert, whose post-Skidmore hope is to work as an outdoor educator with children. Along with maintenance tasks, this year’s stewards are also producing a field guide, videos, and curriculum materials.

Another key project is invasive species removal, explains Kalra, who hopes to become a documentary filmmaker in the conservation field. As she has learned, introduced invasive species tend to outcompete native plants or animals and may alter nutrient cycles, food chains, and habitats, reducing the biodiversity and resiliency of an ecosystem, thus making it more susceptible to disease or even collapse. In the North Woods, garlic mustard, Japanese barberry, and burning bush are primary targets. Each year, locations of invasives are mapped by GPS so that future stewards can identify critical areas to tackle and can study progress over the years.

“Big picture,” Davidson says, the stewardship program “fosters an ethic of enjoying the natural world while preserving it for future generations.”

For news and event information, visit the North Woods blog or Facebook page

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