Winter, spring, summer or fall, the Adirondack region has much to offer outdoor enthusiasts. Stephanie Graudons of the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) isn’t one to let a little cold snap stop her from communing with nature. Graudons has volunteered with this regional organization for the past seven years and began working for it for a year and a half ago. One of her roles as a volunteer has her setting out for winter hiking 3.5 miles into the Johns Brook Lodge in Keene Valley. On a rotating basis, she and other volunteers spend an entire weekend staffing the Henry L. Young Cabin. “Anyone who is hiking through there can stop in to warm up in the wintertime,” She explained, “We serve hot chocolate to hikers and answer trail and weather-related questions.”
The ADK is a non-profit regional organization with 27 chapters throughout New York State and New Jersey. The chapters are all volunteer led, and offer outings for all seasons, ages and abilities with the mission of educating people about responsible outdoor recreation and conservation. Graudons works out of the Member Services Center in Lake George. Many programs are run from the Heart Lake Program Center in Lake Placid.
Like many non-profit organizations, the Adirondack Mountain Club is eager to attract the interest and involvement of the younger generation. To that end, the organization conducted a member survey in 2014, which identified a need for a new focus area in the organization, and the Young Member Outreach position was created. Graudons recently came down from the peaks long enough to talk with Strictly Business.
SB: Where did you get your passion for the outdoors?
SG: I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. I grew up on a dead-end road in the southern Adirondacks. I had plenty of woods to play in out back. I joined Girl Scouts, and went on many camping and snowshoeing trips as a kid. I earned my first hiking patch at Pok-O- MacCready Camps in fifth grade. Outdoor recreation became a more serious hobby in college when I joined my college’s outing club.
SB: How did your career path lead you to where you are now?
SG: In college, I started out as geology major, but I ended up switching to psychology. I enjoy working with people, especially smaller groups, and experiential education. I am especially interested in youth development and ways to use the outdoors to foster personal development, overcome challenges, and increase self-esteem.
After college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do my master’s in, so I did some exploration. I interviewed people in the field and did some job shadowing. The advice that I was given was to keep my options open and look into MSW programs. I eventually chose social work because it would allow me to work with any population in any setting. I did not want to be limited to working only in a school, hospital or a clinic. Social work includes a lot of life skills, like learning how to communicate, problem-solve and how to work with people, and has allowed flexibility in my career path.
SB: How did you find the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK)?
SG: I joined the outing club while I was at SUNY Oswego. When I graduated, a coworker suggested that I join ADK to meet new people to hike with. I started by going on chapter outings, and after a year, I began volunteering. I started leading my own outings, and over time, that turned into volunteering on chapter committees. I was part of the membership and development committee and was part of writing the survey that ultimately ended up leading to the creation of the position I am in now.
SB: What advice would you offer to someone new to outdoor recreation in our region?
SG: If you are brand new to outdoor recreation, I would say to do your research, ask questions, and go with a group. ADK offers guided programs and skills workshops to beginners and anyone looking to enhance their skills. Our chapters have a variety of outings for all ages and abilities, including beginners’ hikes and family outings. When I started out, I had no idea what I was doing, how I should be dressed, what gear I needed, or how to pack. ADK was very welcoming and integral to helping me enjoy my outings. I know that our leaders are experienced and more than willing to teach someone who is new.
SB: What would you suggest for a winter recreational activity this year?
SG: We have our Winterfest event each January at Heart Lake in Lake Placid. It offers a variety of outdoor recreation for the public to come and try. It’s family friendly and beginner friendly. We offer activities such as skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating, sledding, and more. There are talks and workshops to help people learn.
It’s a great opportunity to come and just try out different things. It’s free, and open to the public. They usually have live music and a buffet in the evening. You can come for an hour, or come and spend the whole day there. This year the event is Saturday, January 7, 2017.
SB: What do you believe the North Country community should do to encourage more people to take advantage of the outdoors?
SG: I think there are already increasing numbers of people taking advantage of the out- doors. I don’t think we have an issue with getting people to come and recreate. What is more important is providing them with education about how to recreate responsibly and practice ‘Leave No Trace’ while they are out.
We’ve seen a huge increase in hiker traffic in the High Peaks. While the High Peaks are amazing, many of these are strenuous, rugged hikes over many miles. If you are newer to hiking you probably want to start with something smaller. There are a lot of really cool shorter hikes, like the Fire Tower Mountains. I encourage hikers to look into the Fire Tower Challenge and Kids on the Trail patch programs for a fun way to explore trails all over the Adirondack Park.
SB: You do a lot of education about responsible recreation. What is one thing all hikers should know if they do hike in the high peaks?
SG: A handful of the Adirondack High Peak summits are home to a rare alpine ecosystem. Some of these species are not only rare in New York State, but they are globally rare as well. These plants are specially adapted to survive in a harsh environment, including acidic soil, extreme cold, and harsh winds, and it only takes a few steps on the vegetation to kill it. By being mindful of where you step and only walking on solid bedrock, you can do your part in protecting this fragile ecosystem.
Summit Stewards work on the summits during the summer season, doing research and teaching hikers about the alpine plants, and it’s been hard to keep up with the increase in hiking traffic in recent years. If people aren’t mindful of how they are recreating, they can contribute to the decline of alpine vegetation as well as the erosion and degradation of trails. This can lead to a negative impact on the entire ecosystem. We encourage hikers to learn and practice ‘Leave No Trace’ to minimize their impact while out there.
SB: What inspires you?
SG: I am inspired every day by the passionate people around me who truly love what they do, and who can find beauty in everything. I am inspired by taking new people out and seeing their reaction, especially when they get to the top of a mountain and see the view for the first time. That is a pretty cool moment to share.
SB: How has the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK) impacted you?
SG: Being involved in ADK has been really powerful for me. I attribute much of who I am today to ADK. I not only work there, but I volunteer for programs above and beyond my job because I believe in its mission. I deeply care for protecting the wild places in New York State. I want others to know that this is a welcoming organization for all interests, ages, and experience levels. ADK leaders have mentored me and helped shape my own leadership style and skills. The club values its members, their ideas, and their feedback. We welcome anybody to join us!
OCCUPATION: Young Member Outreach Coordinator for the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK)
HOMETOWN: Mayfield, NY (the southern Adirondacks)
EDUCATION: Bachelor’s degree in psychology from SUNY Oswego; Master’s degree in social work from SUNY Albany
COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT: Correspondent for the Adirondack 46ers Organization, member of Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce Young Professionals Organization
In addition to working for ADK, she actively volunteers for the club leading outings and serving the Summit Stewardship and Winter Host programs.