‘O’ really?

Mohonk researchers get a nod from Oprah

by Mike Townshend
April 07, 2011 11:00 AM | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Shanan Smiley takes a water sample from the Beaver Swamp on the Mohonk Preserve’s recently-acquired 46-acre Ayers property.
Photo by Lauren Thomas.
Shanan Smiley takes a water sample from the Beaver Swamp on the Mohonk Preserve’s recently-acquired 46-acre Ayers property. Photo by Lauren Thomas.
Scientists and naturalists at Mohonk Preserve’s Daniel Smiley Research Center got a big shout out this month from one of America’s most powerful media figures -- Oprah Winfrey.

In O Magazine’s April issue, the Smiley Research Center was given a tip of the hat for their ongoing mission to track temperatures in the Shawangunk Mountains. The magazine recognized the researchers there as local heroes.

“It’s an honor, and an acknowledgement of the legacy of dedicated, meticulous data collection of the Smiley family from Albert through Daniel, to Paul Huth, to the staff we have today,” said biologist Shanan Smiley. “It is important, now more than ever, that the public be aware of local long-term scientific findings in this time of global change.”

Oprah’s magazine praised the Daniel Smiley Research Center for the roll it’s played through the years in documenting the phenomena we now know as global warming. The magazine sifted through the center’s data, pointing out some interesting findings in the 115 years’ worth of statistics.

For instance, the average year-round temperature in 1896 clocked in at 47 degrees, but by 2010 -- and after years of gradual escalation – the average temperature came in at 51 degrees. Rainfall and precipitation has also been on the increase, O Magazine pointed out.

“It’s kind of fun for everyone to be in the magazine,” said Mohonk Preserve spokeswoman Gretchen Reed, adding that Oprah’s name, and her legions of fans, has brought a whole new level of exposure to the nature preserve.

“We’re really thrilled to be in the publication,” she said.

From a small collection of naturalist note cards recording temperature levels, plant blooms and animal movement data, the center’s database has grown into an impressive and unique scientific record -- and one that’s been utilized by NASA, Columbia University and countless others.

Shanan, a biologist working as the center’s collections manager, should have a familiar last name. She married into the big Mohonk clan, and she is the granddaughter-in-law of naturalist Daniel Smiley, for whom the center is named.

“It’s been a very unique and special experience to literally be following in Dan’s footsteps,” she said. “Taking the same routes on the carriage roads, visiting the same locations like springs and lakes, and recording everything: weather, hydrology, plants, birds, mammals, insects, amphibians, and reptiles.

“Especially today, it is a very rare occurrence to continue a family’s legacy in a location that has been protected, and that has changed very little in 142 years.”

Daniel Smiley Research Center has a small, but dedicated core staff of five people, including Director of Research Emeritus Paul Huth, historian and naturalist Bob Larsen, Director of Conservation Science John Thompson, biologist Shanan Smiley and deer management coordinator Ethan Pierce.

To get a look at what O Magazine wrote, pick up an issue at a newsstand near you. For more information on the Smiley Research Center itself, head to or search for Mohonk Preserve on Facebook.

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