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Giving the Gift of Raquette Lake

raquette lake

Starting their first semester at college has always been exciting for SUNY Cortland freshmen.

But now, incoming students begin their college careers with a real adventure.

Students  have an opportunity to experience a weeklong orientation in the pristine Adirondack wilderness surrounding SUNY Cortland’s Center for Outdoor and Environmental Education at Raquette Lake. 

The Adirondack Trail Blazers program is part of the College’s ongoing effort to open the unique wilderness experience offered through Huntington Memorial Camp and Antlers to greater numbers of SUNY Cortland students, alumni and other members of the College community.

Traditionally, students with majors in the departments of art and art history, biological sciences, childhood/early childhood education, geology, history, physical education and recreation, parks and leisure studies have had an opportunity to learn-by-living at the rustic Adirondack complex.

Support from the College’s endowment fund, allows greater numbers of students from those fields, and many others, to have an opportunity to participate.

The Trail Blazers program takes place near the end of the summer, when as many as 40 accepted newcomers who complete orientation on the main campus will add a weeklong visit to Camp Huntington.

“The overall goal is to help them make that transition from a relatively structured, home-based high school experience to a more independent lifestyle and the challenges of attending college,” said Robert Rubendall, who directs the College’s Environmental and Outdoor Education Center, which has facilities near Albany and at Hoxie Gorge in addition to Raquette Lake.

During the program, the participants take in the sights and sounds of nature. They swim and paddle in the brisk lake waters, pitch tents for three nights on unspoiled shores and climb a high ropes course at Camp Huntington, the only nationally designated Historic Landmark in the SUNY system.

“They are learning self-discipline, making choices on their own, learning to stick to a schedule and basically connecting with other students coming in as well as faculty and upper class members,” Rubendall said.

Afterward, the group returns to the main campus to share weekend activities with their new classmates before the start of fall semester classes. The initiative is modeled on a wilderness immersion program started by Dartmouth College in the 1960s and adopted by many colleges.

“They have become more and more popular over the years as children become more and more dependent upon their parents,” Rubendall said. “There is a better success rate for the students and a better student retention rate by the colleges. They immediately have a peer group. They have friends, they know more of what’s expected of them on a college campus. We hope to involve them more quickly in the resources and networks that are available to them on campus.”

The program is open to all new students, regardless of major or economic background. It involves a fee, but the College uses resources to send young scholars on the trip, even if they cannot afford the cost, Rubendall said.

Widening student access to this experience, which generations of alumni recall as having a transformational impact on their personal, academic or professional lives, is the driving motivation behind the College’s Campaign for Raquette Lake, an effort to raise $1.5 million for the Raquette Lake Endowment Fund.

“The endowment provides all interested SUNY Cortland students with the opportunity to experience Raquette Lake,” said Kimberly Pietro, the College’s vice president for institutional advancement. “This fund helps us expand our utilization of the facility and provide students with a unique experience to explore, discover and transform their lives through outdoor education in a way that would not otherwise be possible.”

For more information about the Campaign for Raquette Lake, contact the Cortland College Foundation, Inc. at SUNY Cortland, 313 Brockway Hall, P.O. Box 2000, Cortland, NY 13045; or call 607-753-5744 or 866-653-6246; or email.