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Sunday, Dec 4, 2022

Midd Gone Wild: New Student Environmental Club Takes to the Outdoors

<span class="photocreditinline">COURTESY PHOTO</span><br />Students in the Wild Middlebury Project spend a night outside, getting down and dirty with Vermont wildlife.
Students in the Wild Middlebury Project spend a night outside, getting down and dirty with Vermont wildlife.

“Most Middlebury kids are going to hike, but are they ever going to go out and hold a salamander?” mused Oscar Psychas ’21, co-president of The Wild Middlebury Project, a new and quickly growing environmental club on campus.

The answer to this question, for many students, would most likely be “no.” While hiking and exploring are celebrated activities, the ability to traverse less advertised elements of Vermont may be harder to come by. What about visiting vernal pools or helping amphibians migrate at night? Students who may be interested in engaging intimately with the environment might just not know where to start. It is because of this need to engage more deeply with the natural world and to become familiar with Vermont that Psychas and Jacob Freedman ’21 launched The Wild Middlebury Project.

The club was officially brought to life in Sept. 2018, and it has quickly grown to include 30 active and enthusiastic members. The focus of The Wild Middlebury Project is building a connection with place and rooting people through a relationship with the natural environment.

“This can be done through an activist, educational or hands-on approach,” Psychas said. “We are trying to bring all these elements together to create meaningful experiences for people in the outdoors as well as encourage the protection of our natural lands.”

The club hosts about two events per week, which range from animal-tracking excursions to learning the science behind creating maple syrup. Most recently, The Wild Middlebury Project co-hosted a wilderness survival event with the Community Friends Club. Members and Community Friend mentees built tree forts and made s’mores. Again, the goal was to connect students and young people with their local environment and to deepen their appreciation for nature.

Over the rainy weekend of April 12, the club facilitated a night trip to help aid salamander migration. During this event, club members were able to meet other fellow environmentalists from the community. The participants played a role in helping salamanders safely cross to downhill breeding sites by picking them up and placing them out of the way of passing cars.

While truly a unique hands-on experience, the event is also an example of the emphasis The Wild Middlebury Project places on fostering relationships between environmentalists at the college and environmentalists in the larger community.

“Engaging with people is a big part of this. One of the key parts of our mission is using the things we do outdoors to connect with people in the community — both kids and retirees,” club member Myles Stokowski ’21 said. 

In the near future, upcoming events will include a BioBlitz that will take place on April 27. For those unfamiliar with this event, it is a conservation-focused activity during which participants survey an area and record the number of species found in it for a set duration of time. During this BioBlitz, iNaturalist technology will be used — an app that allows users to upload pictures of their discoveries and to connect and discuss the implications of these findings.

It is through this range of activities offered by The Wild Middlebury Project that a new kind of outlet for environmentalism is offered. Here, a sense of self, engagement with others and a love for nature all intricately intersect.

“It is so important for your place in the environment to be more than just shuffling between classes and the dining hall,” said Psychas. “But rather, a way to think about the life around you and the community around you — something that really grounds you.”

If you are interested in learning more about The Wild Middlebury Project, event information is available on their Facebook page which can be found at go/wildmidd. The club meets weekly at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays in Coltrane Lounge, and all are welcome.