By Tom Manitta & Maggie Newell

Fall is a very popular time of year at Heart Lake. Vibrant leaves and cool weather are a welcome relief after the bugs and heat of summer. With the brisk breeze comes another exciting thing for ADK (Adirondack Mountain Club) educators: it’s the start of another year of school programs.

A child walks past a leaf“Mud, mud, I love mud! I’m absolutely, positively wild about mud! You can’t go around it, you have to go through it! Beautiful, fabulous, super-duper mud!” The mud song echoes through the trails at Heart Lake as fourth graders wrap up their days hike during Three Seasons at Heart Lake: Marie L. Haberl School Outreach Program. The mud song is just one of many ways we share “Choose the Right Path” (also known as Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces), one of the seven principles of Leave No Trace. Students become familiar with all seven principles throughout the program.

Before ever stepping foot on the trail, we visit the students in their classroom to share the first step of any adventure: planning! To emphasize the importance of “Know Before You Go” (Plan Ahead and Prepare) we perform the Leave No Trace Jane and Unprepared Joe Skit. Students then sort through a pile of gear to determine what Jane or Joe would bring. We always include a potty kit among the items; containing a trowel, toilet paper, and hand sanitizer. This is a piece of group gear that the guide will carry. Having it in the classroom gives us the opportunity to go over how to poop in the woods and answer any questions before the urge strikes. With their new knowledge of how to do the deed, what to pack, and some Heart Lake history, students are ready for their first hike. We set our sights on the mighty Mount Jo.

A group of people hike on a mountain

Once the day comes for their hike up Mount Jo, some students have no problems splashing through every mud puddle we come across on the trail. Others are more hesitant to step into the mucky unknown. Teaching responsible recreation is at the core of ADK’s mission and our school programs are no exception. We discuss with our students that we will encounter mud on the trail and that when we do, we will walk right through it! More importantly, we explain why. Understanding the importance of simple actions, like walking through the mud, is a big step to becoming stewards. The well-loved trails up Mount Jo offer clear examples of the negative impacts of high use and mud avoidance. Seeing these effects firsthand solidifies the importance of every foot fall and how they can be leaders of conservation on the trail. By the time we reach the puddles near the summit, most fourth graders take pride in stomping and splashing their way through.

A child writes in a bookThe next times the fourth graders come to Heart Lake to hike with ADK it will be winter, then spring. Each season provides another opportunity for students to get out and learn about nature, Leave No Trace, and the changing season. In the winter, “choosing the right path” may be focused more on why we are wearing snowshoes. But come spring, the mud song will surely come up again, and the search for durable surfaces will continue, although this time with the accompaniment of freshly bloomed trout lilies, trilliums and American toads along the trail.

Promoting responsible recreation, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, increasing environmental literacy and helping students gain a place-based connection to the Adirondack Park: these are the goals ADK has pursued with fourth grade students for the last 17 years of Three Seasons at Heart Lake. This program, at its core, attempts to provide a tangible connection for the future environmental stewards of our region and beyond. ADK staff, volunteers, members and donors truly believe in the value of this program and the positive effect of environmental education. We are proud to offer this program to schools for free so that as many students as possible can participate.

If you would like to support Three Seasons at Heart Lake and our quest to create small but dedicated Leave No Trace hikers, click here.


Tom—or “Tamarack Tom” as the fourth graders know him—is ADK’s Interpretive Manager. He has been involved in Three Season at Heart Lake for six years since starting as a seasonal Naturalist Intern and currently coordinates the program.

Maggie—or “Mayfly Maggie”—is ADK’s Community Outreach Coordinator. Maggie started in 2016 as Loj Crew then worked as a Naturalist Intern. She currently works as the primary educator for Three Seasons at Heart Lake.

Photo Credit: Seth Jones