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Old farmstead offers an outdoor classroom

June 27, 2011
By AMANDA WHISTLE , The Leader Herald

GLOVERSVILLE - The 110 acres containing a decades-old farmstead, an overgrown apple orchard, wild roses and wetlands were once Native American hunting grounds bartered by Sir William Johnson from the Native Americans for a barrel of beer, keg of whiskey and a ream of cheap material, according to records researched by a Gloversville Middle School teacher.

The land, part of the Kingsboro patent, was part of 20,000 acres acquired by Johnson, said eighth-grade earth science teacher Jessica George.

That's just one of the lessons that could be taught from a unique outdoor classroom on the nature trails that run just west of the middle school.

Article Photos

Earth science teacher Jessica George holds an engraved sign at the site of an old Gloversville farmstead on school property that says, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught.”

The Leader-Herald/Amanda Whistle

The old farmstead, accessible from the trail, is on school property and was discovered while the Gloversville Middle School Environmental Club was making the nature trail. Over the past four years, students and volunteers have been working to fix up the grounds of the farmstead.

When club members first saw the old farmstead, it was overgrown and scattered with Depression-era farming equipment.

Three automobiles - a Ford, Oldsmobile and a Buick - had to be removed from the remnants of a stone silo. Trees were cut down and students beautified the area, painting a mural on the side of one of the barn's stone walls.

The mural, said George - who is co-adviser of the club along with Marie Wojeski - is a history lesson in itself as it celebrates the "three sisters": corn, beans and squash.

The barn is thought to be about 80 years old, and George is planning to meet with its former owners, the Rice family, to get more information about the property.

The space now has been transformed to include an observation deck, a covered pavilion and a driveway that is handicapped-accessible.

A silo was demolished for liability issues, George said, and the site is taking shape.

The vision is for a classroom without walls and a curriculum without boundaries that blends English language arts, science, math, history and health into one unique educational experience.

"They're [students] supposed to be excited about the wonder of nature. There are so many teaching opportunities outside. Why not give them the real thing?" George said.

George said the club might be able to host a grand-opening ceremony in the fall if she keeps working on the site over the summer.

"By then, I'd like to have the grill, benches, a well and gutter system, some kind of mechanism of water and 'porto-potties.' There's a lot to do," George said.

The effort began in the 2006-07 school year when high school business teacher Tammy McCue approached George about applying for a $5,000 award from Lowe's to construct an outdoor learning center.

The district was awarded the grant to transform what's known as the old Rice Farmstead into an outdoor learning center.

Gloversville High School Science Department Chairman Jeff Gardiner helped cut down trees.

He applauds the outdoor classroom idea.

"It gets the kids out of their traditional classroom and gets them outside," Gardiner said. "I'm a big proponent of environmental studies. I think one of the things nowadays is kids don't have the exposure to outdoors that they did a generation or two ago."

Funding for the project has come from a variety of sources, including a long list of area businesses.

The Parent Teacher Association Central Council donated $2,500 this year.

Kingsboro Lumber, Nethaway Auto Sales, Tractor Supply Co., Noble Ace Hardware, Gugenberger Inc., McDonald's, Cherry Valley Monument and Letter Memorial are a few of the businesses and organizations that have donated materials, labor or cash.

Local engineer Steve Smith donated his time to do design work for the observation deck.

The Environmental Club raised money with spaghetti dinners at Al's Pizzeria, dress- down days, cheesecake raffles and by salvaging metal.

They also wrote letters to businesses, and the school received restitution money from a man who was convicted in City Court of taking metal off the property.

Boy Scouts also became involved, reclaiming lumber from the barn into picnic tables and a trail entrance gate.

To complete the site and fulfill financial obligations, George said the club needs to raise about $6,000 more.

George said the club needs about $3,500 to complete its obligation to Get it Done Construction Building and Remodeling, which just finished the driveway this month,

Get it Done owner Brian J. Sisco couldn't be reached for comment, but George commended him, saying he has been patient with payment and supportive of the project.

The rest of the needed funding would go toward portable restrooms and on-site water.

According to state education regulations, an outhouse without plumbing would not be an option.

George also envisions a stone barbecue pit the cafeteria staff might use to provide meals for grade-level classes during the three sections of lunch periods.

Another idea is to have a yellow brick road with each brick engraved with a math formula.

"The students can come to the walkway to get the 'tool' they need to solve the problem for calculating," George said.

She envisions benches made from whole tree logs that can seat a class of 30 students.

"There are so many learning opportunities," George said, such as identifying the myriad tree and wildflower species, watching birds nest in the many nesting and rousting boxes installed by students, learning the geology of how the state landscape was formed - in this case by a drumlin, an elongated hill shaped by glacial ice.

Anyone interested in donating labor or funds can mail their donation to the GMS Environmental Club, 234 Lincoln St., Gloversville, NY 12078.

For further inquiries, contact George at 725-8683, or Wojeski at 725-1309 or

Visit the school's website,, for more information.

Amanda Whistle covers Gloversville news. She can be reached at



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