Hoxie Gorge, a Cortland treasure, reaches 50-year milestone

CORTLAND, N.Y. – Roughly 1,000 SUNY Cortland students a year visit Hoxie Gorge, with its rushing waters and its interesting mix of flora, fauna and geology.

“There have been about 41 academic journal publications, books or master’s theses done from studies there and $1.16 million in research has been conducted in whole or part at Hoxie Gorge,” said R. Lawrence Klotz, distinguished teaching professor of biological sciences, who has managed the facility for 25 years as chair of the College’s Hoxie Gorge Committee.

In fact, 50 classes of Red Dragons have experienced hands-on learning opportunities at the outdoor campus, which today is an integral part of the William H. Parks Family Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education.

Half a century ago, SUNY Cortland acquired the large tract of rolling woodlands and meadows about seven miles south of the main campus.

The College will invite alumni, faculty, staff and representatives of the SUNY Cortland Auxiliary Services Corporation (ASC) — which facilitated the acquisition — to celebrate the milestone on Saturday, July 11.

The Hoxie Gorge jubilee will be included in the SUNY Cortland Alumni Reunion 2015 festivities as an enhancement to an educational hike that has been offered in recent years to Reunion guests by faculty in the College’s Biological Sciences and Geology departments. The ceremony takes place at the George McDermott trailhead at 11 a.m. Buses will depart from the Lynne Parks ’68 SUNY Cortland Alumni House at 9 a.m. and return at noon.

The faculty members who worked hard to acquire and develop programming at Hoxie Gorge will be honored at the ceremony with the unveiling of a plaque that will stand at the entrance to a planned arboretum. These were George L. McDermott, distinguished service professor emeritus of geography; John A. Gustafson and Eugene Waldbauer, both emeritii biological sciences professors; and Harlan “Gold” Metcalf, the late professor of recreation and leisure studies.

Details for the event can be checked at cortland.edu/rl-events.

Professors Worked to Find New Fieldwork Site

Located in Cortland County, the W.H. Parks Family Outdoor Center, Hoxie Gorge is situated in the southern New York section of the Appalachian Plateau province. The gorge itself is a tributary to the Tioughnioga River. It contains a venerable stand of old growth Hemlock trees.

The site was well suited for SUNY Cortland’s course fieldwork in a variety of disciplines. Moreover, it met the College’s need to expand and enrich academic programs for students enrolled in what was then a rapidly growing institution.

Alumni Reunion Tour, Hoxie Gorge
Alumni have experienced the wonders of the W.H. Parks Family Outdoor Center, Hoxie Gorge, during past alumni reunion weekends.

The main campus had eaten up all the surrounding woodlands where professors formerly had taken their students for field studies, Klotz said.

“Fifty years ago, a lot of classes had just walked out the back door and behind Old Main through nature on the hill,” Klotz said. “But the expansion removed all the areas we could get to through the main campus.”

In 1964, McDermott, Gustafson, Waldbauer and Metcalf formed a committee that spent the late spring of that year surveying, mapping and studying tax records of suitable land in the immediate area around the College campus.

“The purpose was to create an outdoor area for interdisciplinary use by many departments,” said Robert Rubendall, current director of the W.H. Parks Family Outdoor Center.

“They were looking for land that met three specific conditions,” he said. “That it be within a half hour of campus; that it include over one hundred acres and preferably between two and three hundred acres; and that it have a specific variety of natural areas that the professors wanted to use for the classes they would be teaching.”

The committee identified an ideal 169 acres and convinced three separate landowners to sell their adjacent former farmlands to the Student Faculty Association in the early fall. One of its members, McDermott, managed the property for the first 25 years.

“It’s easy to get to, you can go out for a couple of hours,” Rubendall said.

Graduates recall with great fondness their time spent at this outdoor classroom. For some, it was their first close encounter with wilderness.

The site has only an outhouse and a lean-to, but it sees heavy yearly classroom traffic. In addition, faculty members and students use it frequently for research purposes, Klotz said.

Klotz this year turned over chairmanship of the committee to Steven Broyles, professor and chair of biological sciences, and David Barclay, associate professor and chair of geology.

Klotz will help organize the planned anniversary festivities for the Hoxie Gorge facility.

Later in the summer, SUNY Cortland also plans to celebrate 1965 as a special, vintage year for the acquisition of another College property, the W.H. Parks Family Outdoor Center, Antlers, located on Raquette Lake. On Saturday, Aug. 22, the campus community will gather in the Adirondacks to celebrate the golden anniversary milestone.

The ceremony will begin at the amphitheater alongside the Casino building. Refreshments will be served. Depending on how many people attend, the event will move to the grassy lawn behind the Casino. A bus will depart from and return to the SUNY Cortland campus to transport faculty and staff guests.


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