By Sarah Opdahl
Any residents who have spent time at Great Hollow Nature Preserve & Ecological Research Center on Route 37 know what a gem this property is for the local community and its list of attributes are many. Fun hiking trails? Check. Educational programs? Check. Ecological research studies and super active camps for children? Double check.
The busy staff at Great Hollow wear many hats, given that the 825-acre property is dedicated to a wide range of initiatives, including biodiversity conservation and applied ecological research through conservation-driven studies of plants and wildlife. They also offer a multitude of hands-on, experiential environmental education opportunities for adults and children, as well as school programs in the academic year. Of course, a large number of residents are familiar with the outdoor recreation on the property through the five miles of beautifully maintained hiking trails that are open to the public in all seasons.
A nature-based day program, Eco-Discovery Camp for kids is a highlight every year for Great Hollow. If any parents are in search of a place for their children to spend technology-free days in the outdoors, this is a camp to seek out. Executive Director Chad Seewagen describes the campers as spending their days “exploring Great Hollow’s creeks, forests, meadows, and trails, learning about the critters that make this special place their home.” To vary the programs, each weekly camp session includes a different theme and corresponding science-based activities and arts and crafts. There are always classic games afoot, plus hikes, and free play in the outdoors.
Seewagen explained, “This summer’s curriculum features some past favorites as well as some new themes and topics, ranging from forest ecology and wilderness survival to water exploration, nature art, and STEAM.” There are a few spaces left for campers who are interested in unique and fun opportunities to forge lasting connections with nature in the weeks of June 19, July 5, July 17, July 24, and July 31.
Great Hollow, a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization that was established in 2016, is able to successfully grow through its members. Members help sustain Great Hollow and allow it to run its environmental education programs, conduct ecological research, provide paid internships, and give grants to students. Seewagen noted the fascinating research that is ever-present on the property, “this summer we are starting an experiment to study whether Japanese barberry removal benefits native plants, insects, and birds. We have six 1-acre experimental plots set up at Great Hollow in which we will survey plants, insects, and birds before and after all of the Japanese barberry is removed over the next 2 years.”
Member contributions also enable staff to maintain the hiking trails that are free and open to the public, and protect and manage the land for wildlife. A healthy landscape for so many species, the trail cameras at Great Hollow are always snapping amazing shots of bobcats, bears, and coyotes. “Notable bird sightings recently include a Canada warbler, which we hope is a sign they will nest here this summer, and hooded warblers,” Seewagen said. He went on to say, “We also had common nighthawks circling over the property a couple of evenings ago, which is becoming a rarer and rarer sight as these once-common birds have been precipitously declining throughout the region.” Seewagen encouraged local residents to become members, saying, “We have many membership levels available, and many of them come with benefits, such as discounts on events and summer camp.”
If you are a regular at Great Hollow, keep coming and experiencing the property through its many opportunities. New to the property? Take it in with an easy hike up the Red Trail to a gorgeous waterfall and then come back to the parking area via the Green Trail. For those looking for a quieter, more secluded part of the preserve, Seewagen suggests starting at the little-known trailhead (and small parking area) off Hardscrabble Road to take the Purple Trail to the White Trail.