They’ve climbed Azure Mountain to
watch the sun set, taken part in a goose
census and climbed some Adirondack
High Peaks. They’ve sponsored an
outdoor survival skills workshop, a
community campfire with music and
a combined introduction to paddling
and tree identification canoe trip on the
Little River.
These are just some of the activities or-
ganized this past summer by Nature Up
North, a new program at St. Lawrence
that is funded in part through grants
from the Andrew W. Mellon Founda-
tion, the St. Lawrence River Research
and Education Fund and the Henry
David Thoreau Foundation.
The purpose of Nature Up North is
to further place-based and environmen-
tal education in the North Country,”
wrote Erin Siracusa ’12, project man-
ager in 2012-13. “(This) is a unique
interdisciplinary project that seeks to
use the current generation’s infatuation
with technology as a means to further
their connection to nature.”
The project director is Associate
Professor of Biology Erika Barthelmess,
who also directs the conservation biol-
ogy major. She says she came up with
the idea after realizing that many of her
introductory students “could not recog-
nize the basic aspects of place, like the
names of trees, partly because they were
tethered to electronic devices. I realized
the electronic age is upon us, so why
not take advantage?”
A “major component” of Nature Up
North, Siracusa continued, is a website
integrated with social media that “will
allow users to carry their smartphone
into the woods and share their experi-
ences in nature with others by upload-
ing photos, videos or other data. It will
also serve as a ‘one stop shopping’ site
where users can download trail maps,
learn about local food, access species ac-
counts to identify local flora and fauna,
and learn about what it means to live
in the North Country. Our hope is to
create a space where people of all ages
can connect to the natural world and be
encouraged to protect and preserve it,”
Siracusa said.
Barthelmess describes the website (Na-
tureUpNorth.org) as “a virtual nature
center” that can also be a vehicle for
contributions to scientific research. She
explains, “We’d like folks to post when
they see their first red-winged black-
bird in the spring – are they returning
earlier? That would tell us something
about climate change.” The site also
hosts a calendar of activities and events
held by other area nature centers and
But it’s not just the website that brings
people together. Intern Jack Holby ’14,
who led the Azure Mountain hike, says
participation was roughly three-quarters
local residents and one-quarter
St. Lawrence students, including one
from the Bronx and one from Cambo-
dia. “The project builds community
among several cohorts of people,” Bar-
thelmess observes.
Jacob Malcomb ’10 signed on as the
project manager in July, and St. Law-
rence students will do a lot of the labor.
This is an opportunity for liberal arts
students to do work that has practical
value for the community,” Barthelmess
said. Much of the website content grew
out of spring courses ranging from pho-
tography to environmental history.
In five years, this will be the ‘go-to’
site for finding places to go and things
to do in the outdoors,” intern David
Pynchon ’13 said. “I envision ours as
a trusted site for recreation, education
and knowledge about the local environ-
Usually, technology pulls people
indoors,” added Holby. “This project
uses technology to get people outdoors.”
Laurentians gathered (left) to relax at
the Adirondack Mountain Club’s Ad-
irondak Loj, near Lake Placid, after a
day of hiking in the High Peaks of the
Adirondacks as part of St. Lawrence’s
Nature Up North program.
Nature Up North: Using Technology to Get People Outdoors
David Pynchon photos