By JEFF MEYERS
---- — BEEKMANTOWN — Dr. Philip C. Walker held a special place in his heart for the natural beauty of Point au Roche State Park.
Now, more than two decades after his death, his legacy as a naturalist and educator continues to grow.
As part of the “I Love Our Park” celebration last Saturday, the Friends of Point Au Roche group rededicated the Philip C. Walker Memorial Nature Trail, a 1.8-mile walking route that traverses a variety of ecosystems across the park.
“We are so honored,” said Walker’s daughter Rachel Walker, who attended the re-dedication with her sister, Elizabeth Bosworth, and Dr. Walker’s granddaughter, Rheta Recore. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful experience.
“Dad had such an enthusiastic love of nature,” she added. “He believed in sharing that with people.”
Speaking to a few dozen people in attendance, Rachel thanked the volunteers from Friends of Point au Roche, the staff of the State Park and several other groups and individuals who contributed to the reopening of the Walker Trail.
She told those in attendance that her father would have been “extraordinarily pleased” with the park’s efforts to preserve the area’s natural habitats.
Point au Roche Park was “one of his favorite places on Earth,” she added.
Friends President Mary L. Simmons expressed her appreciation for the efforts of everyone involved and offered informational plaques from the original trail to each of Dr. Walker’s daughters.
“The revitalization of Dr. Walker’s trail has been going on for some time now,” said Gerry O’Connor, vice president for the Friends and chair for the trail committee.
He noted that efforts to revise the original trail took a brief hiatus in 2011 following the damage caused by Tropical Storm Irene.
The original walking path, dedicated in 2002, followed a circular route down the center of Long Point and then along the shoreline of Lake Champlain and included several interpretive plaques that described the fauna or history of a particular location.
The new trail, which has 22 interpretive sites, includes the original route but begins at a freshly built kiosk located near the Point au Roche Interpretive Center and parking lots.
Dr. Walker was a botanist and field biologist. He came to Plattsburgh in 1951 to teach field biology at SUNY Plattsburgh and develop summer science camps at the college’s newly created Twin Valleys Outdoor Education Center in Lewis.
He taught at Plattsburgh State for 32 years, retiring in 1982.
“I can’t tell you how many former students approached us when we had the memorial service for my dad in 1991 to say how Dad had impacted them,” Rachel Walker said.
Many of those students were not biology or environmental science majors but learned of the special need to protect ecology from her father, she added.
SANTA WITHOUT SUIT
Hal Klein, a friend and colleague of Dr. Walker, was also on hand to share some special memories of time he spent with the professor.
“Phil was a good-natured, optimistic person,” he said. “He was always looking to have fun; he was like Santa Claus without the white whiskers or red suit.”
Klein spent plenty of days walking the fields and forests of Point au Roche State park and other natural settings across the region, he added.
They spent time on Valcour Island studying nesting sites of the great blue heron and searching for a rare orchid they had heard was growing on the island.
“We never found the orchid, but Phil discovered a walking fern growing out there,” he said.
Klein also praised Dr. Walker’s playful sense of humor, recalling one time when the professor used the call of a white-throated sparrow to announce his arrival at Klein’s office.
“White-throated sparrows can be found breeding in this park,” he said.
Informational pamphlets are available for visitors at the kiosk.
The trail is mostly flat with a few small, rolling hills along the way.
Email Jeff Meyers:firstname.lastname@example.org