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North country initiative connects residents with nature

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CANTON - A new project called hat combines technology with outdoor experiences and opportunities was recently developed to help get north country residents to spend more time outside.

“In today’s society, kids are becoming more and more infatuated with technology, and it’s getting harder and harder to pull them away from their iPads, iPhones, the TV and the computer,” Nature Up North Project Manager Erin Siracusa said. “If we can’t get them away from their technology and outside, then why not use their technology to get them outside.”

With a new website providing maps of trails, field guides and other information about the north country, Nature Up North is an initiative to excite residents about the world around them and connect them to multiple natural world experiences such as canoeing and fishing clinics, aquatic plant and animal workshops, night hikes and camp cooking sessions.

Ms. Siracusa said her position as project manager was established after St. Lawrence University was awarded an $800,000 grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, New York City. The university has allocated $113,658 of those monies to the Nature Up North project.

The grant money paid for Ms. Siracusa’s position, helped launch the website and provided for some of the activities available to the community. The project also received a $20,000 grant from the St. Lawrence River Research and Education Fund and $18,000 from the Henry David Thoreau Foundation.

“One of the reasons we’re doing this is because there’s not really an active nature center around,” Project Director Erika Barthelmess said . “We thought it would be cool to use the web to create a virtual nature center.”

Dr. Barthelmess, an associate professor of biology at St. Lawrence University, said that many of her students can’t identify trees in their backyards but are good with technology. Ms. Siracusa said the project was Dr. Barthelmess’s “brainchild” and that her main goal was to get the community involved.

“We really want Nature Up North to be a community initiative,” she said. “It’s about engaging north country residents. The goal is to get the community outdoors experiencing nature, and, ultimately, investing in their natural surroundings and willing to protect it.”

Dr. Barthelmess also said the website will act as a social media venue, providing opportunities for people to post and share their own nature experiences with others in the community. Residents will then be able read about those experiences and possibly check out those same places or attend similar workshops.

Nature Up North interns David Pynchon and Jack Holby will be mapping trails to add to the website along with running summer programs and workshops in the community including a canoeing workshop this Saturday on The Little River in Canton, Ms. Siracusa said.

She said in the future she hopes Nature Up North will also get an app to further engage the community.

“Down the road, the ultimate goal is to build an appreciation of the natural world from which will come the need to preserve it,” Ms. Siracusa said.

Although the website is still in its early design stages, more information about Nature Up North, including an events calendar, can be found at http://NatureUpNorth.org.

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