Longtime forest ranger and Paul Smith’s grad to become new director of college’s VIC
By Gwendolyn Craig
Scott van Laer, a forest ranger with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, is retiring and taking a new role as director of the Paul Smith’s College Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC).
Van Laer, 48, is wrapping up his ranger duties at the end of March, but will officially retire in May. Van Laer said he will be full-time in his new role mid-May.
The VIC is a nonprofit organization with a nearly 3,000-acre campus that focuses on educational programming and offers multi-use trails for visitors. There are also places to camp, a Nordic ski facility and plenty of hiking trails. Van Laer will fill an approximately three-month vacancy after former General Manager Andy Testo left at the end of last year.
Van Laer, who was also an outspoken union representative for forest rangers, said his new role will be a natural career transition. He is a 1993 graduate of Paul Smith’s College, where, he said, “it all began for me.”
“I’ll still be involved with educating the public on environmental issues, outdoor recreation issues, and it’s an amazing facility,” van Laer said.
Jon C. Strauss, interim president at Paul Smith’s College, said van Laer’s ranger experience combined with his administrative duties with the New York State Police Benevolent Association, make him a quality person for the director role.
“Scott is working on developing a new strategic plan for the VIC which includes increased fundraising for trail improvements, including directional and interpretive signage, increase recreational use with particular emphasis on guided short excursions, broaden programs and courses, return school groups when COVID-10 subsides, and more,” Strauss added, in an emailed statement to Adirondack Explorer.
The college is also hoping the VIC will soon host wilderness first aid trainings, Leave No Trace trainings and re-establish a friends support group.
In his time as a ranger in the High Peaks region of the Adirondacks, van Laer has witnessed the growing number of visitors. He would like to take some of the many visitor management suggestions made for the High Peaks and apply them at the VIC, including recommendations from the High Peaks Strategic Planning Advisory Group. That state-appointed group released final recommendations to the DEC earlier this month.
One of the strategies the advisory group recommended included collecting more data and surveying.
“I would hope that some of the stuff we saw outlined in that committee, we could maybe get them some useful data,” van Laer said. “We could do some research on the impacts of different types of trails. We could try things there, too. We could experiment.”
Van Laer also wants the Adirondack Watershed Institute, which is another part of the college, to use the VIC more. He suggested research experiments with students, such as closing down a trail during amphibian migration season or bird nesting season, to see whether it is helpful for wildlife.
“I’d like to see us do some of the things we’d like to be done on the 3-million-acre forest preserve that feels impossible, so hopefully we can do some of that on the 3,000 acres of the Paul Smith’s VIC,” van Laer said.