Cassandra Ferrante '21: Finding Local Sense of Place in Hamilton, NY

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One day when I was a first-year, I decided to go walk along the Chenango Trail Towpath. The problem was: I had no idea where it started. I had heard people talk about it, but I had trouble finding it - apparently, it was somewhere behind Price Chopper?

These past semesters with COVID-19 have highlighted the importance of local recreation outlets. Since the fall, Colgate students were restricted to outdoor activities within the local area of Hamilton, N.Y. We had structured outdoor time during quarantine, where we were allowed to get outside during a specified window of time. As the outdoors can be a much-needed mental break from academics, not being able to leave Hamilton initially seemed daunting.

A few weeks into the semester, I found there were some unexpected benefits to the travel restrictions. I walked all over campus more in those first two weeks of outside time than I normally have in the past. I also biked more on campus and on the surrounding roads than I had in the previous years. Road biking became a means to get off-campus in a safe, socially-responsible way. I got to see more of the surrounding countryside and run into a couple of bovine friends. Ultimately, this led me to feel more connected to my immediate surroundings and to the rural character of Hamilton, NY.

I had unintentionally been working to develop my sense of place in Hamilton, NY. Sense of place is a practice commonly taught on NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) hiking trips, which essentially refers to your personal connection to a particular location. For many of us, we experience a deep connection to the place we call home based on the long-term presence it’s had on our lives. Other times, we might have a profound connection to a location that we have traveled to based on the activities and memories that we’ve come to associate with it. Each of us develops a unique sense of place in the environments we have visited. Although the sense of place is commonly spoken about in relation to the outdoors, we connect to many different places that do not necessarily involve the wilderness.

Our sense of place matters because it fosters a sense of stewardship to a place. Studies have suggested that when people develop an emotional attachment to a location, they are more motivated to care for that place. Sense of place matters in the wilderness to promote the preservation of our natural areas, but it also matters in our local communities to promote a sense of care and respect for our surroundings. In order to develop our sense of place in new or interim places, it is helpful to create resources that allow individuals to explore their local area.

To promote awareness of local, outdoor recreation areas in Madison County to the student body and Hamilton community, I photographed local areas and compiled them into a public, digital

Storymap using ArcGIS software. Each location on the map includes information on the length of the trail, parking availability, hours, and a link to the trail’s website. Users can also use the ‘location’ tool to find their current position on the map. The map contains hiking and biking opportunities so users can choose from both options to interact with the local town.

I hope this map is useful to Colgate students on campus during the spring and beyond.

I’d like to encourage everyone to explore and find their own sense of place in Hamilton.

And I finally found that towpath trail. Even if it took me until senior year to get there.