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Scaling scholarly heights: Adirondacks focus of new summer research program

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Students visited the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, a natural history center filled with river otters, birds and fish in the heart of the six-million acre park.The inaugural Summer Research Fellows Program at Kelly Adirondack Center: Samantha Muratori '14, Laura Johnston of Bard College and Elias Springer of Vassar College. (Photo by Matt Milless)Students are assisted by Loraine Wies, librarian at the Kelly Adirondack Center and Becky Schubmehl, special assistant to the President's Office and the Kelly Adirondack Center. (Photo by Matt Milless)

On a recent weekday, noted Adirondack historian Hallie Bond led students Samantha Muratori '14, Laura Johnston of Bard College and Elias Springer of Vassar College on a tour of Long Lake and some of the most pristine areas of New York's Adirondack Park.

Along the way, the group made a stop at the Adirondack Museum in Blue Mountain Lake, where Bond once served as education director and curator. The next day, the students visited the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, a natural history center filled with river otters, birds and fish in the heart of the six-million acre park.

"It was an amazing experience," said Muratori. She, Johnston and Springer are members of the inaugural Summer Research Fellows Program at Union's Kelly Adirondack Center.

The program strengthens the College's ties to the sprawling area, which is bigger than Yellowstone, Yosemite, Glacier and Grand Canyon National Park combined.

Working closely with Eddie Summers, President Stephen C. Ainlay's chief of staff and director of Union's Adirondack initiative, the fellows will spend nine weeks examining the tension that exists between economic development and environmental protection. They will participate in workshops and seminars and meet with representatives of organizations involved with Adirondack advocacy and policy. They will also meet with residents and business owners, and visit area schools and government buildings.

The students are required to write a series of op-eds related to a specific topic that will be submitted to outside news organizations. At the end of the program, they must submit a research paper and give a public presentation on the topic.

The students, who will all be seniors this fall, were selected through a competitive application process and their ability to conduct independent research. Each receives a stipend.

Among the three, Muratori is the only one with an extensive familiarity with the Adirondacks. The political science major (and anthropology minor) spends every summer with her family on Lake George. With an interest in journalism, she saw the fellowship as an opportunity to strengthen her research skills and writing. She will focus on the economic development in Tupper Lake, a former logging town in Franklin County.

Johnston grew up outside of Philadelphia. She once hiked Mount Marcy, the highest summit in the Adirondack Mountains. She believes the fellowship aligns perfectly with her major in environment and urban studies. She's weighing whether to concentrate on the environmental challenges of the watershed, or the role of immigrant labor and seasonal tourism on the park's population.

An economics major (with a minor in sustainability), Springer had no idea about the Adirondacks. He's intrigued by some of the economic challenges faced by many of the towns and villages, and wants to see whether the Grameen model, used to boost neighborhoods in developing nations through micro-lending, can be adapted here.

The students will spend time out in the field for some of their research and meet with experts from Union, including Carl George, professor emeritus of biology who has lectured extensively on the Adirondacks, and Jill Murphy, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Assistant Professor of English, who gave a talk on 19th century Adirondack authors. They will also meet with outside experts, such as Bond and Phil Terrie, professor of American cultural studies at Bowling Green State University and the author of numerous books and articles about the Adirondacks.

On July 18, the students will attend the Common Ground Alliance Forum in Newcomb to promote and discuss economic projects in the Adirondack North Country.

But they will spend most of their time at the Kelly Adirondack Center, which includes a home built by noted Adirondack conservationist Paul Schaefer in 1934 and the Adirondack Research Library. The center, which Union acquired in 2011 from a private conservation group, is three miles from campus in nearby Niskayuna

The library boasts the largest collection of material outside of the Adirondack Park, including rare books, maps, photographs, documents and the personal papers of some of the region's foremost conservationists. Loraine Wies, the center's librarian, has been a valuable asset for the students.

"This fellowship has been a good way to introduce us to the center," said Muratori. "It's still fairly new, but I think the more it gets used, it will really catch on with people on campus. There is a lot of history in this building."