Home Nature preserves ECOS celebrates 50 years of helping nature explore and appreciate

ECOS celebrates 50 years of helping nature explore and appreciate


The Environmental Clearinghouse (ECOS) celebrates 50 years of helping people explore, enjoy and learn about the natural landscape around the Greater Capital Region.

The non-profit organization, based in Niskayuna, started in 1972 and was founded by a group of women from the Junior League of Schenectady. They were inspired by the national push to clean up the planet and by conservationist Rachel Carson, who wrote the influential book “Silent Spring,” the previous decade.

Known then as the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady, it served as a hub for monitoring local environmental groups, although it quickly grew to become more of an educational institution.

In the early years, ECOS organized discussions on water pollution, lobbying and legislation, recycling and open space. He also brought in expert speakers and organized everything from natural history classes to nature drawing and sketching classes. The members pleaded for the preservation of natural spaces.

ECOS also launched nature walks, which have remained a staple of its programming over the years. They have become favorites of Ruth Bonn, a former teacher and longtime ECOS volunteer.

“They have always been a mainstay of the Environmental Clearinghouse,” Bonn said. “They bring people like me and others to parts of the region you wouldn’t otherwise get to because they go to lovely places that aren’t necessarily off the beaten path. These are wonderful, and skilled leaders make a big difference.

During a recent walk, participants explored the Thacher Park Escarpment Trail, enjoying the foliage that was just beginning to turn orange and red for the season.

ECOS also organizes kayaking and cross-country skiing trips, all of which are ideal for people who might be hesitant to take trips like this on their own.

“We provide a safe environment and a safe space where people can come together to do these hikes and snowshoe walks and other recreational activities,” said John Loz, executive director of ECOS. “A lot of people feel intimidated to go alone, so we provide a place where people can gather to go together and feel safe to get out into nature.

Over the years, ECOS has continued to collaborate with other environmental groups and institutions in the region, working with Cornell Cooperative Extension and 4-H to create monarch butterfly habitats throughout the region. In the summer of 2019, ECOS also partnered with the Schenectady County Historical Society to offer Mohawk kayak tours. Educators from both groups briefed paddlers on the history of the river and the ecology of the river, including invasive species, birds, etc.

He also organized educational programs for children, including classes for students in the Summer Enrichment Program in the Schenectady Central School District. ECOS volunteers worked with more than 300 young Schenectady students in the summer of 2021 alone, delivering hands-on environmental lessons in Central Park.

Bonn has already helped with the sessions.

“It was just fun to watch them learn new things and get excited about things they might not have experienced otherwise,” Bonn said. “We had a little stream program and the kids really enjoyed it. It was the flow of rivers. . . just seeing kids wading through the water and learning something was awesome. Also, we had an interesting bee program and some kids were really excited to see bees up close and understand how bee life works. The practical part is something that I love as a teacher.

Beyond its educational programming, ECOS also encourages children and families to get out into nature through various challenges, including a Saturday Seven Preserve Challenge and a Frostbite Challenge, which runs from January 1 to March 30 and aims to walking the kids, snowshoeing or skiing.

Throughout its history, ECOS has also published guides to local natural areas.

“We have printed four guides to reserves in the Capital District. They are quite big. There are actually 21 places in Schenectady and this is the smallest,” said Maureen Gebert, who is the office manager for ECOS, which is headquartered at the Niskayuna Community Center.

The guides include trails in Schenectady, Saratoga, Rensselaer, Montgomery and Albany counties and they are currently working on a guide for Schoharie County. They are available for purchase on the ECOS website.

His latest publications focus on accessibility. Called Trails for All, the guides include detailed descriptions of 10 Saratoga County trails.

“It gives altitude so you don’t go up steep hills where there is a place to stop and rest. [It tells you] where you can park, everything you would need if you needed help walking,” Gebert said.

Trails for All is available for free on the ECOS website and the organization is working on trail ratings in Schenectady.

Projects like these require a team of volunteers. Bonn, who has been involved with ECOS for two decades and served on the board for years, noted that the number of volunteers has fluctuated over the years.

“It was initially, 50 years ago, very active because back then women weren’t working as much as they are now,” Bonn said. “There were a lot of very talented and knowledgeable women who got very involved. . . There is not this pool of volunteers that there was. I think like all other organizations that depend on volunteers, we have a hard time finding people who have the time.

ECOS currently has between 30 and 40 volunteers.

“I would love to see more people involved in saving the natural world,” Bonn said. “I would like people to understand the need to work to save the natural world and I think it’s a way for people to connect with the natural world and learn to value it and realize that it is important to protect it.”

During the pandemic, the ECOS Board of Directors recruited new members.

“We have someone from every decade it seems. Between people who are in their 20s to 70s and I think the diversity of institutional knowledge with lots of new ideas from our new, younger board members is going to help carry ECOS into the next 50 years,” said Loz . .

He became executive director of ECOS earlier this year and was initially drawn to the organization in part because of its long history.

“It was an organization that had a history that I really wanted to be a part of and I wanted to help this organization jumpstart the next 50 years,” Loz ​​said.

There are many environmental organizations in the capital region, but ECOS is the only one of its kind in Schenectady, Loz said.

“ECOS is really the only game in town when it comes to the City of Schenectady and the County of Schenectady,” Loz said.

In the future, ECOS plans to do more educational programs with children and families. For his 50th birthday, he is organizing a fundraiser to create a fund dedicated to youth programming.

Leaders are also looking for ways to make nature more accessible and are exploring the idea of ​​bringing a CDTA nature bus to Schenectady County, which would transport downtown residents to nature preserves and hiking spots.

“I basically see our organization adopting hopefully the new slogan ‘We make nature accessible, accessible through education [and] accessible through stewardship,” Loz said.

“Our mission is fundamentally to increase understanding of the natural world and to engage people in it. We hope to do more and more,” Bonn said. “It’s our 50th year, so we’re thrilled to have reached this milestone and look forward to another 50 years.”

For more information, visit ecosny.org.

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