early every habitat that exists in the 6 million-acre Adirondack Park can be found within 3,000 acres of land in Paul Smiths.

There, beavers busily maintain their dam; native birds scour Heron Marsh for tasty insects; brook trout populate ponds; and humans travel miles of trails, winding through forests and passing along wetlands.

The unique landscape belongs to Paul Smith's Visitors Interpretive Center, which became property of Paul Smith's College less than a year ago.

Prior to that, the VIC was owned by the state, but after budget cuts forced the closure of the facility in October 2010, the college stepped in.

When the VIC re-opened in May of this year, it was not only under new ownership, but it also took on new missions.

Brian McDonnell, manager of the center, explained that now that the college is responsible for the VIC with no help from the state, one mission is to make the facility self-sustaining within five years.

"We're trying to generate revenue through usage and programs and different events and activities and rental," McDonnell said.

SKI TRAILS

The VIC's property contains approximately 13 miles of maintained trails, which are open to the public year-round.

This past summer, the center hosted a series of trail runs on the property and is currently in the process of developing a system of groomed cross-country and skate ski trails. This winter, season and day passes will be available to anyone who wishes to utilize the ski trails; though, access to the center's hiking trails is free.

"I think the trails and the outdoors sections are probably why people come here the most," said Sarah Keyes, education and interpretive naturalist at the center.

PROGRAMS FOR KIDS

Keyes leads the center's Little Bobcats Program, an educational program for children ages 3 to 5, which runs in six-week sessions throughout the year.

The main focus of the program, according to Keyes, is to teach young children about Adirondack flora and fauna in a way that's fun for them.

From 10 a.m. to noon on Thursdays, Keyes, the children and their parents go for outdoor hikes, read stories and do craft projects centered around various nature-oriented themes.

Keyes also hopes to launch the Junior Adirondack Stewards Program, which she designed to give children ages 8 to 13 an understanding of ecosystems and the importance of stewardship.

INVOLVING STUDENTS

Since taking over the VIC, the college has also been making an effort to involve more of its own students in the center.

Paul Smith's College students were only peripherally involved when the state ran the VIC, said McDonnell, but now, more and more are working, volunteering and conducting research at the center.

McDonnell said several student projects are being conducted on the property, including studies of the center's mushrooms, insects, plants and animal species.

"It's a learning lab," McDonnell said. "It's a place where people can come and try different things."

BIRDING CENTER

The Adirondack Park Institute, which supported programs at the VIC long before the college took over, has continued to help underwrite funding for educational programs at the center, including the butterfly pavilion.

The pavilion is open from mid-June to mid-September and features live, native butterflies.

The VIC's main building houses a 150-seat theatre and meeting areas, which McDonnell said are available to be rented for conferences.

The building has also recently become home to two independent organizations that are working with the center to provide additional programming.

One such organization is the Adirondack Birding Center, which has begun offering birding walks, lectures and workshops at the VIC, in addition to an annual Bird Festival in June.

Brian McAllister, naturalist and director of the Birding Center, said the VIC's property is a great area for locals to relax and bird watch.

"I want to make it a destination for bird watchers," McAllister said of the VIC.

The Birding Center will continue to offer programming at the VIC throughout the winter, according to McAllister, including a birds of prey presentation given by Mark Manske of Adirondack Raptors at 1 p.m. every Saturday.

CENTER FOR WRITING

Also taking up residence at the VIC is the Adirondack Center for Writing, which offers programming for readers and writers throughout the Adirondacks.

Nathalie Thill, executive director of the Center for Writing, explained that while her organization has always tried to bring literary programming to the Paul Smith's College campus, it now hopes to cultivate literary arts at the VIC as well.

"The college really wanted for this to be a center to explore the relationship between art and nature," she said.

To aid in that exploration, Thill has transformed one of the facility's interior doors into a canvas for literary art by attaching a variety of large magnetic words to it. Passersby can arrange the words to create magnetic poetry.

"Poetry has such a perception of being dusty and academic, which just breaks my heart because it's never been that," Thill said. "It's always been on the forefront of social change."

Thill said she also likes to engage VIC visitors with what she calls "pop-up poetry." This is when she recites a poem for hikers as they explore the VIC's trails.

"My personal mission is I want our presence here to just sort of maybe make people think about the outdoors a little differently," she said.

Last month, the Center for Writing hosted a two-day high-school writing retreat at the VIC, led by performance poets. During the retreat, several high-school students from multiple school districts came to work on their writing and learn how to perform their work in front of an audience.

INTEGRATING MUSIC, ART

In addition, Keyes said an effort is being made to incorporate live music and art exhibits at the VIC.

"That's something that's never really been here before, the live music and the art," Keyes said.

"We're trying to work out some sort of a monthly schedule for live music."

The photography of Dr. Michael Adler is also currently on display at the VIC and will be through Nov. 18.

"We're very encouraging of local artists to come and show their work," Thill said.

In fact, Thill hopes to one day incorporate sculpture into the VIC's acres of natural terrain.

"I want to have a huge sculpture garden here eventually, and I think that will be a really amazing way to explore the relationship between art and nature," she said.

Email Ashleigh Livingston at: alivingston@pressrepublican.com

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