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Learn frontier folkways & wilderness lore at Ashokan Center’s Winter Weekend February 4 to 6 in Olivebridge

by Frances Marion Platt
January 31, 2011 10:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Even back in the days when it was relatively undeveloped as SUNY-New Paltz’s Field Campus, winter was always the coolest time of year to visit the sprawling rural Olivebridge site now known as the Ashokan Center. It was worth the trip for students and alumni just to experience the amazingly fast, mogul-studded sled run that ended up with a long skid across the frozen lake, then cap off the afternoon with a toasty hunker-down in the wood-fired lakeside sauna. Bouncy truck-tire innertubes have supplanted the splintery toboggans of yesteryear, but you can still do these things at Ashokan, weather permitting; and Cathedral Gorge still reaches its peak of beauty when festooned with stalactites and stalagmites of glacier-blue ice.

But next weekend, February 4 through 6, there will be additional reasons to motivate an adventurous jaunt to Ashokan. Every year the Center holds a Winter Weekend featuring indoor and outdoor workshops focusing on many aspects of natural history, Colonial-era crafts and Native American survival techniques, sustainable technology and folk and world music. February brings the onset of maple-tree-tapping time, so it’s a great opportunity to visit the Sugar Shack and watch this traditional winter activity – which has changed so little since the days when upstate New York was the wild frontier – firsthand.

But what makes the Ashokan Center’s Winter Weekend truly special is the way in which it brings together environmental educators with anyone in the general public who’s interested in the subject matter at hand. The New York State Outdoor Education Association (NYSOEA) and the New York State Teacher Centers partner with the Ashokan folks to offer hands-on learning experiences that teachers can bring back to their classrooms and regular folks can practice with friends and family in their own winter backyards. NYSOEA also uses the Saturday night dinner gathering as a platform for bestowing annual awards to outstanding environmental educators. These festivities will be followed by live music from local songwriter Ben Rounds and his band. 

Workshops offered during the weekend will teach you how to drum; identify trees when their leaves are down and animal tracks in the snow; try your hand at blacksmithing, tinsmithing or broommaking; understand the habits of New York State’s wild mammals; tie six basic types of knots; identify birds and build your own feeders; even how to make primitive stone tools by flint-knapping. If you’ve ever looked around on a bitterly cold or snowbound day in Ulster County and wondered how the region’s indigenous peoples and early settlers managed to survive without a thermostat, this is your chance to step into their moccasins for a bit – and hopefully come out of the experience feeling somewhat more competent in the outdoors in winter.

The Ashokan Center is located at 477 Beaverkill Road, not far off Route 28A in Olivebridge. One-day or full-weekend packages are available: The full Winter Weekend is $99 and Saturday-only from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. goes for $40. Preregistration is required. Packages include full buffet meals of hot breakfasts, lunches with assorted meats, cheeses and hot soups, as well as homestyle dinners and a full salad/cereal bar to complement the meals. For more information, full workshop descriptions or to register, visit the Winter Weekend page at www.ashokancenter.org or contact Brian Joyner at (845) 657-8333, extension 14, or via e-mail at csp@ashokancenter.org.

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