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Paul Smith's College keeps VIC open, thriving

(Editor's note: This is Part Two of a five-part series on the current status of the Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs), which were operated by the Adirondack Park Agency from 1989 to 2010.)

PAUL SMITHS - May 24, 1989 was such an important date that Gov. Mario Cuomo opened the Adirondack Park Agency's first Visitor Interpretive Center (VIC) himself, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a speech in front of hundreds of onlookers and swarms of blackflies.

After a ride from Paul Smith's College on a restored 19th century stagecoach with college President David Chamberlain, the governor sealed a 100-year "environmental time capsule," filled with artifacts from North Country schoolchildren. The mystery objects are still there - encased in concrete and stone - underneath the "Tree of Peace," a white pine tree, planted by Mohawk Chief Jake Swamp on opening day.

Having the governor in town was a big deal, and Paul Smiths resident Jack Burke has fond memories of that day.

"I remember shaking his hand," Burke said with a smile.

Burke is now the vice president of business and finance for Paul Smith's College, which took over the building from the APA on Jan. 1. The college has always had a role in the property, leasing the land to the Agency and using the trails and building for student projects. In May, Burke will retire and oversee the trail system, becoming what his friends jokingly call the "trail czar." On Jan. 28, he met with the college's director of communications, Ken Aaron, and director of human resources, Susan Sweeney, in the building's Great Room. With a view of snow-covered Heron Marsh and St. Regis Mountain at his back, Burke and company spoke about the history of the VIC and the college's plans for re-inventing the center.

Ultimately, the college's goal is to expand events, programs, exhibits and the trail system, make considerable improvements, and find creative ways to pay for it all.

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