In summer, Adirondack explorers get 25 feet in the air to take a walk on the wild side and explore the forest with a bird's eye view. The 'High Line of the Forest' is a masterwork in educational engineering; balancing engaging activities, interactive exhibits, and harmonious design. But what happens in the winter? Does all of this fun just disappear until spring? One month and 40 degrees after avoiding frostbite, I traveled to The Wild Center to find out.
And what did I learn about winter at the Wild Center? That over the course of their evolution, animals have developed three main ways of surviving winter: resistance, hibernation, and migration. At the Wild Center in winter, you can experience all three for yourself. And when they say that it's for everyone, they mean it. All ages. All abilities. The goal of the Wild Center is to tap into the curiosity of everyone who walks through their door. As someone with hearing impairment and a learning disability, being engaged in the learning process has been a lifelong struggle; one that's resulted in a rather Cliffs Notes perception of the world, often phasing in and out of conversation, relying as much on smarts, common sense and a deductive reasoning prowess that would make Lieutenant Columbo proud, as the actual information gathered. But if there's one thing I can't resist, it's an unanswered question; a sure-fire way to capture my attention. So when Roy, the Wild Center's resident naturalist, took out a quarter-filled bottle of water and asked what was in it, you could probably see the gears in my head starting to work.
Winter Resistance at The Wild Center
Take a look at the quarter-filled bottle of water sitting on your desk or in your car or littered around your house (that might just be my house). What's in it? Not just water. When Ron asked me, I forgot air was something, too. The day before our outing, Ron had filled the bottle with snow, which had warmed and melted like it does becoming two separate elements - water and air. The air between crystals of water vapor, just like the air between goose down feathers or fiberglass insulation, is the main method of insulation used by animals who resist the cold.
One of my favorite things about The Wild Center is that every day can be different. Although there is an abundant menu of programs on offer, nature provides a natural deterrent to what's now known as Groundhog Day Syndrome. Every day is different and in the winter, on a guided hike or snowshoe with a naturalist, this is especially true. One day you may come across the tell-tale imprints of white-tailed deer or red fox and the next they can be gone or replaced with the prints of another animal. Just as we donned our own cold-resistance wear to make our way through The Wild Center trails, the animals of the forest do as well. Some burrow into the ground to below the frost line, where the temperature is a cool 40°. Some make their winter homes in the layer of snow itself, the snow also being insulation (if you've ever built a snow fort, you might recall the relative warmth in comparison to the frigid temperature outside). Some grow furry winter coats - like the wolves at Adirondack Wildlife Refuge - increasing the amount of insulating air trapped between hairs. Some puff themselves up, allowing a chamber of air to form between their feathers and their body.
With a pair of snowshoes and a naturalist to guide you, the potential for winter exploration is limitless!
Winter Migration at The Wild Center
When you've had enough fun playing in the snow and learning about the Adirondacks in winter, make like Canadian Geese and migrate towards warmth and the indoor exhibits.
That toasty warm air hits your rosy cheeks as you enter. In fact, every square foot of the complex's 54,000 is heated by a highly efficient commercial-sized gasification wood-pellet boiler manufactured and installed in New York State. It's the first of its kind and a significant step in living in harmony with nature on an industrial scale. Saturdays at The Wild Center offer a fascinating look at what it takes to keep the museum and its 900 animal residents happy with a Behind the Scenes Tour (additional $7-$10 per person, register in advance). For the budding environmentalist in your family or if you're thinking about what steps you can take to live a more sustainable life, this is a not to be missed experience!
Upon your arrival at The Wild Center, you'll receive a schedule of what's going on that day and when, from daily animal encounters with snakes, turtles, birds of prey, and porcupines to a showing of the award-winning documentary A Matter of Degrees, narrated by Sigourney Weaver. When not peering behind the scenes or attending a scheduled event, explore a bounty of creative exhibits from the minutiae of a root system, carnivorous plants of the Adirondacks, or, of course, the world-famous river otters of Otter Falls.
Winter Hibernation at The Wild Center
We've all, at least, thought about hibernating in the winter.
On a particularly cold day, who hasn't bristled with the sensation of a warm foot leaving the goose down and Egyptian cotton cocoon and hitting the wood floor with a chill and decided "just five more minutes", only to look outside at swirling snow-flakes and say "just five more months". Maybe we can't pull a Rip Van Winkle, and maybe hibernating through your trip is contrary to the point of going to the museum but when you're at The Wild Center, there is still ample opportunity to relax and savor the warmth at the Waterside Cafe. Enjoy a sandwich made with locally sourced ingredients and seasoned with herbs grown on-site for an artisanal lunch. Continue on your Wild Center adventure or make your way back to Lake Placid where an evening of live music at the Bar at Lake House or a first-run movie in a historic movie theater within walking distance awaits. Cap off your evening with a delicious meal at Dancing Bears Restaurant before drifting into sweet dreams in your cozy, lakefront room.