Nature, history, hiking, cross-country skiing, scenic views, learn-to experiences: what do these all have in common? You’ll have to visit the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) to find out!
Opened in 1989, the VIC has been an outdoor staple for over three decades. Originally, it was run by New York State as a visitors’ center, but is now owned and operated by Paul Smith’s College. Today, the VIC exists as an extension of the college of sorts, promoting learning activities and opportunities to grow for all ages, abilities, and skills.
Same place, new face
If you regularly visit the VIC, you may have started to see a new face around campus in mid-May 2021. Scott van Laer joined the team after retiring from the Department of Environmental Conservation as a forest ranger. We had the chance to speak with van Laer the other day, and his excitement for the future of the VIC is tangible. From continuing established programs to expanding offerings and exhibits, there is so much to do at the VIC this summer for adults and children, beginners and experts!
Butterflies and more
Since 1993, the Butterfly House at the VIC has been a wonderfully attractive destination. Inside the screened house, visitors will find native species of butterflies and plants. Most butterfly houses around the country are indoors and feature tropical diversity. The VIC keeps it local, highlighting the species visitors are likely to see outside of the Butterfly House walls. It’s a chance to get up-close with what’s really happening in the Adirondacks at that moment in time. To populate the house, adult butterflies are netted and brought to the Butterfly House where they lay eggs. On Thursdays in 2021, from 1 - 2 p.m., visitors can join the VIC Butterfly House Manager to learn more about Adirondack native pollinators during a recurring event called Pollinate the Park! Butterflies, bees, and other pollinators help our forests, gardens, and outdoor spaces grow, so this is a great opportunity to connect with our landscapes.
Aside from the Butterfly House, the VIC's main building is also home to indoor exhibits that thoughtfully tell the story of the Adirondacks. There’s also local artwork adorning the walls. And a gift shop with maps, patches, pins, and much more. The indoor welcome center at the VIC could be a rainy day activity or a place where you stop and say “hi” before hitting the trails. Plus, the views are incredible, overlooking a few bird feeders and the fire tower atop St. Regis Mountain.
A calendar full of events
Visiting the Butterfly House isn’t all you can do at the VIC! There’s a whole calendar full of events throughout the summer. van Laer said one thing he’s really looking forward to implementing is a more robust schedule of “learn to” programs, guided outings, and Leave No Trace and informational navigation events. As a forest ranger, van Laer saw firsthand the need for these types of programs. Recently, there has been increased excitement for outdoor activities in the Adirondacks, so courses like Learn to Fly Fish, Basic Land Navigation, Guided Canoe Paddles, LNT Awareness, and Wilderness First Aid were added to the VIC’s roster to help recreationalists prepare for days outdoors.
Visitors can also learn about the animals that can be found at the VIC. Glimpse into the lives of freshwater turtles. Or search for salamanders. Or join others for Friday Night @ the VIC every week throughout the season to learn about bats, moths, and loons, or see art and live music.
Another recurring option for those looking for a peaceful morning is Yoga on the Deck. Yoga, a way to practice marrying the body, mind, and spirit, is practiced here outdoors as a way to embrace all things natural and connect you deeply with yourself. Yoga on the Deck starts at 9 a.m. and goes until 10:15 a.m., on Wednesdays from June 28 - September 1. Classes are held outdoors unless inclement weather pushes them indoors.
Learning and yoga are great, but if you’re looking to speed things up a bit, there are options for adrenaline junkies, too! On Wednesday evenings from June 16 - July 28, the whole family is welcome to participate in the Summer Trail Run Series. Better yet, the Jenkins Mountain Scramble is back in person this year on August 21. There are options for a moderate 10k or a more strenuous Half Marathon. Pre-registration is required.
Feeling hungry after all that activity? Join a Wild Edible Walk with wild local edible plant expert Pat Banker from Cornell University Cooperative Extension. This walk is offered on 10 different days throughout the summer so be sure to check the VIC’s calendar to see what dates are available. You’ll learn how to identify, harvest, use, and cultivate edible plants that can be found here in the Adirondacks! If you don't want to harvest your own food, Thursday - Sunday, 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. a Paul Smith's College-run food truck will be at the VIC serving up delicious items such as pulled pork tacos, grilled cheese, and more! Did someone say rhubarb lemonade and gluten-free cookies?
Of course, a guided hike or learn-to fly fishing event might not fit in your schedule. That’s okay! You can still visit the VIC for a day perfectly catered to you. There are miles and miles of trails great for hiking, trail running, and birding. Outings can be as long or short as you’d like, so if you have young ones in tow, you don’t have to worry about a time commitment here. There are also ponds to canoe or kayak! This place really does have it all. If you visit in the summer and would like to bookmark the VIC as a winter destination, be sure to check back as the snow starts to fall! Rumor has it the cross-country ski and snowshoe trails here have the best snow in the Adirondacks. van Laer also has some big plans for this coming winter season. We'll save those details until the warm breeze of summer subsides, but if the phrase "open woods skiing" or the history of the old ski center on Jenkins Mountain interests you, you'll want to keep on eye on the VIC.
So, come to the VIC this summer for an hour, for a day, for a learning experience, or to look at art. While you’re in town, make sure you also check out all the tasty restaurants and things to do. In Saranac Lake, everyday is an adventure.