PAUL SMITHS - Living in New York City, sometimes it's hard to imagine what it's like in upstate, especially somewhere as different as the Adirondacks.
This summer, three high school students had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks here, thanks to The Nature Conservancy's Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future program.
One of those was 16-year-old Jason Bonet, who lives in the Bronx with his mother, stepfather and two sisters. Bonet has had a strong interest in the natural world since he was young, but this summer he took that to a whole new level.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
The Nature Conservancy LEAF interns Jason Bonet, mentor Carlos Hernandez, Kevin Velez Mendoza and Gustavo Figueroa are pictured at Paul Smith’s College in July. In the background is Lower St. Regis Lake.
In June, Bonet joined 13 other kids and three leaders on a 30-day backpacking trip in Alaska. The trek was done through the National Outdoor Leadership School. During the trip, Bonet said he learned to become more self-sufficient and developed a greater appreciation for the natural world.
Upon returning from the NOLS trip, Bonet joined fellow students Kevin Velez Mendoza and Gustavo Figueroa, along with mentor Carlos Hernandez on a four-week journey through western, central and northern New York. At the final destination, they were they were under the tutelage of the Adirondack Chapter of The Nature Conservancy.
None of the students had ever visited these regions before.
The three students all have a background in environmental studies. Bonet and Figueroa attend the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, while Mendoza goes to the Academy for Environmental Leadership in Brooklyn. Hernandez works at The Green School: an Academy for Environmental Careers in Brooklyn. In the Adirondacks, they were led by Conservancy intern Amy Ignatuk.
Nationwide, the Conservancy's LEAF program is four weeks long and this summer involved high school students from eight cities who worked with Conservancy programs in 22 states.
While the New York City trio was here in the Adirondacks, they visited a number of sites where they participated in outdoor-related activities.
They did trail work at two of the Conservancy's nature preserves: Coon Mountain in Westport and Silver Lake Bog in Old Hawkeye.
They removed European frog bit, an aquatic invasive plant, from the Grasse River in Lampson Falls with Meghan Johnstone of the Adirondack Park Invasive Plant Program.
They checked and set trail cameras for wildlife monitoring at the Conservancy's Boreas Ponds property in North Hudson.
They toured Paul Smith's College for an overview of environmental programs.
They hiked to the summit of Wright Peak with chief summit steward Julia Goren to learn about alpine habitat and the partnership program with the Adirondack Mountain Club and state Department of Environmental Conservation that safeguards rare and fragile plants.
Plus, they assisted a Conservancy stewardship coordinator with a farmland conservation easement site visit in the Champlain Valley.
For each student, the trip to the Adirondacks had different meanings.
Bonet said one of the biggest benefits of the LEAF program is that the program allowed him to gain a clear vision of the work that goes into different environmental careers.
"Through these programs, I get a feeling of what I want to go into in the future," he said.
He said it became obvious to him through his experiences that many people in the city don't really have a good idea of what the Adirondacks are about.
"Education is my top priority, people should know what's happening up here," he said.
While Bonet seems to have an interest in becoming something along the lines of an environmental educator, Figueroa's interest in the natural world is completely different. He's more focused on physics.
"The environment is not only what's around you, but it's also what it's made of," he said. "You could learn more (about) a plant from its molecular structure and also from what they look like. That's what makes me come (up) here."
For Mendoza, the trip to the Adirondacks appeared to be, at least partly, a nostalgic one.
Mendoza grew up in Puerto Rico, where he lived in the lush countryside, surrounded by the natural world. When he moved to New York City, he left that behind. When he visited the Adirondacks this summer, it brought him closer to his native home.
"I hadn't noticed what I was missing," he said with a soft voice.