Students blaze new nature trail in Oneonta

Allison Collins

SUNY Oneonta swim team members and ‘Into the Streets’ volunteers Shane Mills, William Coddington and Jessie Triller helped build a nature trail at the Van Cleft Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary in Oneonta on Saturday.

As part of “Into the Streets,” State University of New York at Oneonta student-athletes hit the trails.

For the college’s annual day of volunteerism, held Saturday, about 30 members of its swim teams collaborated with Otsego County forester Joe Sweeney, college staff and members of the Oneonta Susquehanna Greenway Committee to build a new nature trail.

The approximately 1.5-mile, 1,500-foot elevation trail is part of the Van Cleft Bird and Wildlife Sanctuary, located on a 50-acre parcel above Wilber Park.

According to a press release, the property is managed by the Otsego County Soil and Water District. Though under the county’s purview since 2004, until Saturday, sanctuary land did not include marked trails.

The statement said the new trail, which connects to existing trails in Wilber Park and mountain-biking routes crossing from Oneonta High School to Glenwood Cemetery, will be primarily for hiking and bird watching.

“The entire recreational area consists of 405 acres owned by the city, county, school district and cemetery,” the statement said, “with 11.4 miles of existing trails stretching from East Street to Cemetery Hill Road.”

Organizers said they hope the new trail increases community interaction with the sanctuary.

“We had these pieces of land that were disconnected,” Sweeney said, “and this trail was a way to connect them. The county portion of the land was very underutilized and the public didn’t even really know about it. But we’ve created a network and now we’re reaching out to the community to come use this land.”

The event organizer, SUNY biology professor and Oneonta Susquehanna Greenway chair Donna Vogler, echoed: “It’s so nice to live in a city where you can just go off on trails like these. We want to get people out on them.”

In a written statement, Vogler said: “This trail will provide public access to a bird sanctuary that is close to downtown but remains unknown to most residents.”

Sweeney said, given Saturday’s success, he foresees continued county-college collaboration.

“(Otsego County Forests) does volunteer trail building all over the county,” he said, “but this is the first year we work with ‘Into the Streets.’ I think we’re hoping to do this every year with the college.”

“It was a three-way organization between Oneonta Susquehanna Greenway, ‘Into the Streets’ and our county forester,” Vogler said. “And even though the weather wasn’t very nice, the combination of effort was better than expected and made up for the weather.”

Sweeney noted that, pending installation of signage and some clean-up, he expects the trail to open “within two weeks.”

College staff and students said they, too, considered the trail-building experience rewarding.

“Living upstate, I love hiking,” SUNY Oneonta junior and team leader Harrison Abrams said. “It’s really beautiful up there and the more trails you have, the better. It’s just good for the community.”

“Within our department, part of our mission is to give back and do service work,” Chris Schuler, head SUNY Oneonta men’s and women’s swimming and diving coach, said. “This is a time when we’re out of season and the students have that availability and my background is in biking and hiking.” Schuler has coached at the college for 21 years.

“I like that this is where I’ll take my children and I can say, ‘My students helped build this.’ It’s full-circle,” she continued. “(The students) get excited to do it. They’ve accomplished something and made something to be proud of.”

To learn more about OSG’s efforts, visit oneontagreenway.org . For trail information and maps, visit oneontatrails.com .

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