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Learning in Our Backyard

Learning in Our Backyard

By Erin Trombley, Digital Marketing Coordinator

One way that ADK inspires outdoor learning is through its chapters. As community representatives, chapters play a key role in connecting people to their local outdoor spaces. Danielle Sanzone, who serves on the ADK board and Albany Chapter executive committee, recently spoke with me about a program that she helped create to provide youth from the Albany, New York, area with an educational experience at the Pine Bush Preserve.

Erin: How did you learn about ADK?

Danielle: I heard about ADK right after college through a friend’s mom who had hiked the 46. She talked about the people she’d met and the hikes she did with the group. It sounded like fun, but I wouldn’t join ADK until I was in my thirties.

Erin: How long have you been an ADK member?

Danielle: I joined ADK during a stay at Heart Lake about seven years ago. I camped in a canvas tent with my dad and my best friend the weekend of the Perseid meteor shower. I remember the forecast for the weekend being terrible but somehow the skies were completely clear and we had a couple great nights of watching the stars and the meteors on the shore of Heart Lake.

My dad and I saw the value in having places like Adirondak Loj at Heart Lake and the High Peaks Information Center (HPIC), so when we went to the HPIC to get souvenirs from the weekend, we heard more about ADK from Bobby Clark, who I’d later work with as a trailhead steward volunteer, and became members.

A person standing in a field

Erin: What inspired you to ­volunteer with ADK? ­

Danielle: I’ve always been grateful for those who help with stewarding these lands and trails that I love. I saw an email come through from ADK a few years ago about a volunteer opportunity at the HPIC/trailhead for hikes like Mt. Marcy and Algonquin. I applied and then did the training to become a trailhead steward for a week that summer.

This volunteer work includes helping hikers outside the HPIC with questions, helping with the parking lot, pick­ing up garbage in the area, and ­basically enhancing folks’ experience at the HPIC/trailhead. This includes ­staying at a platform tent in the campground. The shift is from 6:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

It’s, honestly, a pretty sweet volunteer gig. You get to stay in the Adirondacks for a week and talk with people who also love (or are in the process of starting to love) the Adirondacks. I’ve also done a little bit of trail work; I’d love to do more.

Erin: How did you first get involved with ­outdoor ­programs, and ­outdoor youth programs in ­particular?

Danielle: I’m on the executive committee of ADK’s Albany Chapter. Like other chapters, we’re always trying to share information about Leave No Trace and the ten essentials, and to help people of all ages become comfortable outdoors. I became the chapter’s membership chair a couple of years ago and reaching a younger demographic is something the chapter had been doing long before I joined.

Last summer, I supplemented the existing efforts with a program that had elementary students in Albany YMCA summer programs do short hikes with information on Leave No Trace and the ten essentials and answering the myriad of questions from the kids. I’m so grateful to our partners on this with the YMCA, Premiere Transportation, and the Albany Pine Bush.

Last year, nearly one hundred kids did the hikes at the Pine Bush and Peebles Island. These were offered a couple times a month last summer. When we polled the kids, about three quarters of them said they had never hiked before.

This past spring, we continued the program and went back to the Pine Bush (where the educators do a wonderful, informative program). We had many returning students and they remembered a lot of what they had learned last year about hiking and the Pine Bush. I’m always looking for volunteers for this in the Albany/Schenectady area. Folks are welcome to reach out to me.

Erin: What impacts have you observed on the kids who participated in ­outdoor ­programs you’ve been ­involved with?

Danielle: That’s a great question. I’ve observed kids who were nervous about hiking or trying an unknown activity become much more confident on the trails. They also are little sponges and remember so much about Leave No Trace, things to bring, and facts about the Pine Bush. This spring, before the educators even talked about it, many of the kids remembered the information about glaciers, the land being covered in water, and why the sand is at the Pine Bush.

Erin: What did it take to get the ADK/YMCA/Pine Bush Preserve ­program started?

Danielle: It took having a good contact at the YMCA (it’s been great working with Rifat and her team at the Y; thanks to my friend Emily for making the connection) and then coordinating with the folks at Premiere Transportation (David Brown there was more than happy to help as soon as I reached out). Then another friend helped with connecting with the Pine Bush (thanks, Penny!).

ADK was also extremely willing to help with educational pieces for the informal but important curriculum with the kids. It came down to making a few phone calls, sending some emails, and having a couple of in-person meetings. It was well worth the effort for the result.

Erin: How do you see ADK’s role in communities across the state?

Danielle: I see ADK as an organization that helps people in communities across the state explore natural spaces in their own backyard, along with offering outings to the High Peaks. I’ve led local outings to the Pine Bush, where people who have lived in this area for years were able to see Karner blue butterflies for the first time. I also led a hike to a recently opened public trail to an overlook in ­R­ensselaer County. People love learning more about their surroundings. I’m happy to be part of that experience, as I love continuing to explore and learn new things, too.

In addition to her volunteer roles with ADK, Danielle Sanzone is in leadership positions locally with the Philanthropic Educational Organization (PEO) and the Joy Foundation. Danielle has been recreating in the Adirondacks since she was a little girl and started hiking in the High Peaks soon after graduating from St. Lawrence University.

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