Geneseo is now the official academic partner of Letchworth State Park. The partnership was formalized on March 12 as a result of the efforts of an advisory committee, which included both members of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and Geneseo students. The agreement involves the creation of a nature center at Letchworth––which the state will fund along with contributions from Geneseo––as well as new opportunities for student and faculty engagement and research in the park.
Assistant professor of geography James Kernan has been instrumental in promoting this agreement since the fall of 2013. According to Kernan, Geneseo students will benefit from the creation of the Letchworth nature center and students’ research and other academic activities will in turn benefit the park.
“The expectation is that in the future we’ll do things like coordinate internships, pitch ideas for student research projects, ideas for programming,” Kernan said.
According to an article in the Democrat and Chronicle, Geneseo will have preferential use of one of the two classrooms in the nature center, designed to “promote educational and research activities.”
Though construction on the nature center will not begin until May, the signing of the partnership agreement will have an immediate impact. In the past, students and faculty who had projects in the park had to go through an approval process as well as check in and pay an admission fee each time they entered the park.
“Now, everything is fast-tracked,” Kernan explained. “The student researchers basically put their names on a checklist and when they go to the park to do work, they just drive right through the gates. They don’t have to stop and check in and pay the fee.”
Several student projects have already centered on Letchworth. Kernan himself headed a field study of 11 students in spring 2014. Students have also received funding to study deer populations, invasive species and stream quality in the park.
“I’ve had at least a dozen student volunteers that have worked with park managers to do invasive species monitoring,” Kernan said.
This new partnership will not only benefit geography students, however. The advisory committee that helped precipitate the partnership included students studying biology, geology, education, anthropology and history––many of whom are interested in the cultural and historical aspects of the park.
“It’s cool to be able to research all the stuff in our backyard,” sophomore Laurel Linde said. Linde is an anthropology major who is also interested in geology. “Letch is very interesting. I really like the park, and free is always good. I’m a big fan of free.”
Kernan is also looking forward to the new possibilities that will come with this agreement.
“We’ve had students already taking classes and volunteering and doing research there, and the partnership wasn’t even formalized until just a week or two ago,” Kernan said. “So it’s just very exciting. [There are] lots of opportunities.”