Imagine a winter’s day at the Adirondak Loj: deep snow on a frozen Heart Lake, cold that makes the inside of your nose tingle, abundant animal tracks, and the sounds of excited fourth-graders, putting on snowshoes for the first time and preparing to learn about the winter world around them.

Thanks to the generosity of donors like you, the Marie L. Haberl Three Seasons at Heart Lake school outreach program has been transforming the lives of fourth-grade students by bringing them to the outdoors and the outdoors to their classrooms for over a decade. Our vision for this program is simple: a world where every fourth grader has the experience of having fun on the trails around them, the skills they need to recreate safely and responsibly, and some basic knowledge of the natural communities in their neighborhood.

To accomplish this, we work with 10 schools and about 400 from under-served communities in Hamilton, Clinton, Franklin, and Essex counties, where poverty and childhood obesity levels are some of the highest in the state. Many of the students have never set foot on a trail before; others are well on their way to being 46ers.

We visit students in their classes four times a year (pre-trip visits in fall, winter, spring, and a final wrap-up at the end of the year). Students come to Heart Lake in fall to hike Mt. Jo, winter to go snowshoeing, and spring to explore and make maps. Students have a journal to use both in the class and the field, serving as a naturalist workbook, connecting the seasons and their experiences. The journal also provides the ability to build competencies in reading, writing, math, geography, and science. All components are designed in conjunction with teachers to help meet their goals and area aligned with New York State Learning Standards. We integrate academic disciplines by providing activities such as comparing habitats, studying animal behavior through tracking, measuring snow depth, and writing poetry. The program is designed to teach life skills such as critical thinking, teamwork, and decision making, as well as encouraging creativity and curiosity.

While each season has its particular thrills (the “WOW!s” of the students reaching the summit of Mt. Jo and seeing the view for the first time, the squeals of delight when kids find a pink lady slipper or a toad in the spring), there is a particular magic in the winter. Perhaps it is the fact that so many students are experiencing snowshoes for the first time, or the stillness, or the way that seeing animal tracks brings winter alive. But there is transformation afoot at Heart Lake. Just come by this February or March. You’ll hear it in the happy shouts of “I’ve got a track! I’ve got a track!” Most importantly, you’ll see it in the faces of our students, out for an amazing adventure.


Be part of this transformational program by donating at adk.org.