For most people, the natural world is a place to disconnect. For Sarah Hoffman, the Lake George Land Conservancy’s Communications and Outreach Manager, it’s the place where connections are made: connections people make with each other and with the land and with the water, with the natural world itself.
“People love the land and the lake, and they want to see them protected,” said Hoffman. “That was true of the people who were here when I first arrived and it’s true today. A new generation of people are thinking about what they want to leave for their children.”
Hoffman’s abiding interest in connecting people with each other and with the landscape began at an early age, even before entering college, when her mother persuaded her to become a volunteer at an environmental education center in her native Pennsylvania.
While exposure to that work and her jobs with Americorps and Scenic Hudson may have prepared her for a career in conservation, Lake George was not necessarily her destiny.
“I’m a Pennsylvania girl. I went to the Jersey Shore and the Poconos,” says Hoffman, who arrived at the Lake George Land Conservancy twenty years ago, in the fall of 2003, without, as she says, ever having heard of either.
What Hoffman may have lacked in knowledge about Lake George in 2003, however, has been more than made up for by her contributions to its conservation in the twenty years since she arrived.
“For me, it comes down to people; that’s what drives my work,” said Hoffman. “If you’re not engaging with people in the right way, if you’re not getting kids involved, you’re not going to be able accomplish much.”
Among the many ways that Hoffman seeks to engage people is to encourage them to look more closely at what surrounds them, through more detailed trail signage, for example.
To cite but one example: at the East Brook Preserve in Lake George, which the Lake George Land Conservancy acquired in 2017, the organization has installed signage that explains the role that hemlock forests play in protecting a watershed – a role now compromised by the spread of hemlock wooly adelgid. Another series of signs will explicate the indigenous peoples who inhabited the area.
“A large part of our mission is to encourage people to see what’s here; my role is to make that as easy as possible,” she said.
Hoffman said her goal is to engage people other than just the hardcore or habitual hikers: “we want to reach people at whatever level they find themselves and get them involved. We try to make sure that people have fun. You don’t have to do much more if you want them to have an experience that will encourage them to return.”
“Making sure people have fun” – that was among the inspirations for the Lake George Land Conservancy’s Round the Lake Challenge, which directs people to sites around the lake – from the easily accessible to the challenging – in pursuit of a patch that can be earned only by completing the challenge.
It is also a driving force behind the annual July 5 Hike-a-Thon, when hikers, paddlers and ramblers assemble at selected sites to pose for group photographs, the Discovery Series, which consists of field trips with Up Yonda’s naturalists, and the Living Lands lecture series.
At these events, people not only connect with the landscape but with each other – with members of their own family, with new acquaintances, with the community.
“The connections and the relationships that Sarah has fostered among our supporters and within the community are critical to our success,” said Mike Horn, the Lake George Land Conservancy’s executive director. “And after twenty years, the depth of her knowledge is invaluable.”