Off Sunrise Drive in Dickinson, a mowed green path led into a meadow and the forest. White butterflies flitted from stalks of blooming goldenrod, while insects chirred their late summer tune. A red-tailed hawk wheeled slowly in the sky, while a blue jay darted through the trees.

Welcome to the SUNY Broome campus. No, really.

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SUNY Broome’s Natural Areas span 125 acres, and feature 3.8 miles of well-marked trails that cross a variety of terrain. Steward of the Natural Areas Victor Lamoureux hopes the community will take advantage of the new hiking spots – especially since continued use will improve the quality of the trails.

“A lot of days when I’m working on it, I don’t see a soul,” said Dr. Lamoureux, a biology professor.

Open to both the campus community and the public, the land is a living laboratory for students – and also subject to continual improvements. Both making improvements and maintaining the trails are considered service learning for students in some classes, Lamoureux said.

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This summer, the college added a new 1.8-mile trail: the Perimeter Trail, which winds through the hillsides and woodland around campus, and includes the kiosk and access off Sunrise Drive. The previous year saw the addition of the Measured Mile trail, which begins behind the baseball field near Campus Services.

Board bridges get travelers over wet spots, as well as an adventurous contraption made of boards and salvaged tires.

And improvements are bound to continue as hands-on learning experiences. Engineering students are working on a bridge that will span a small ravine, for example, making for easier hiking on the connection between the Perimeter Trail and the Sheriff’s Spur Trail; that portion of the project is expected to be completed during Summer 2017.

img_5812“Our real goal is a suspension bridge, like the ones they have in Costa Rica,” said Lamoureux, who brought a class to the South American country during the last school year.

Walking on the new trail this fall, Lamoureux pointed out natural features: a stand of shagbark hickory, a pond where wood frogs lurk, the spiky caterpillars of the milkweed tussock moth feasting on leaves, a sweet birch whose broken twig smelled like root beer. While most trees were slender and close, the occasional oak or hickory spread large and wide – dubbed “wolf trees,” as in lone wolf. They are the sole remnants of days 60 years gone, when the woods were once pastures and open fields, and the “wolf trees” the spots where cattle used to gather for shade.

If you know how to read the signs, you can see the history of this corner of Broome County, hidden as the forest slowly reclaims the land.

“There is more forest in New York Today than in the year 1800,” Lamoureux observed. “That strip over there could be 60 years old, but back in the Poor Farm days, it would have been a working woodlot.”

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If you go

The public can access the trails at two community entrances: one near the top of Sunrise Drive in Dickinson, and the other behind BAGSAI. Look for the trail map posted at the information kiosks at these sites. There are also information kiosks by the Measured Mile entrance near the baseball field, and a path called Duane Whittaker’s Way on the hillside behind the Ice Center and Lot 14.

Walking, running and hiking are permitted, but dogs must be leashed. Hunting and motorized vehicles are prohibited, as is littering. Remember: If you bring it in, take it out with you!