Williams College Launches a Berkshires Natural History Website

Media contact: Noelle Lemoine, communications assistant; tele: (413) 597-4277; email: [email protected]

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass., Nov. 2, 2005 – Thanks to Williams College students and Professor of Biology Hank Art, a new website titled “Natural History of the Berkshires” (http://cdm.williams.edu/nhb/) offers an environmentalist’s view of the biological, botanical, and geological processes underlying the local environment, and you don’t even need to get your feet wet.

The website details 12 environmentally unique local areas such as the acid bogs in Pownal, defined by their floating, spongy mats of sedge and sphagnum; Petersburg Pass, where Route 2 slices through the Taconic Range in New York, which hosts over 40 species of mammals, 70 species of birds, and 30 species of reptiles and amphibians; and the beloved Mt. Greylock, which once captured the imaginations of Melville and Hawthorne, now a symbol of environmental vitality for the northern Berkshires and Massachusetts.

The site is also a cornerstone of a new course that Art is offering to students, also called “Natural History of the Berkshires.” Each of the 12 ecosystems represented on the main page of the website corresponds with a class field trip to that area. Moving forward, student data, new pictures, and other information will be added each semester.

Art envisions the site as a growing “virtual field guide to the common species of these areas,” one that can be used not only by his students but also by other professors, high schools, naturalist programs, and curious individuals everywhere. Different sections of the new site already offer photographs, videos, maps, directions, links to other online resources, and descriptions of the various habitats and how they evolved into what is seen today.

“Natural History of the Berkshires” is a collaboration between Art, who has taught at Williams for more than 30 years, and Williams Information Technology (WIT), a summer program managed by the Office of Information Technology which matches teams of Williams College students with faculty sponsors seeking technology-based curricular development solutions across academic disciplines. WIT projects can include interactive websites, databases, video, 3-D modeling, and audio, along with other technologies. WIT originated in 1997 through a three-year grant from the Mellon Foundation, and Williams College has continued to support the program.

Art says the WIT students, “were absolutely wonderful. Their time management skills were excellent, and they really kept after me to provide them with what they needed to stay on schedule.”

Future additions to the site could include adding the ability to digitally overlay soil and vegetation maps over topographical maps, allowing a three-dimensional view of the land and the geological layers below.

The website can be located by visiting http://cdm.williams.edu/nhb/ or by typing “Natural History of the Berkshires” into Google, where the Williams College site will be the first result displayed. Be sure to bookmark the site, as it will be changing frequently to provide new information about Berkshire-area habitats.

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Williams College is consistently ranked one of the nation’s top liberal arts colleges. The college’s 2,000 students are taught by a faculty noted for the quality of their teaching. The achievement of academic goals includes active participation of students with faculty in research. Admission decisions are made regardless of a student’s financial ability, and the college provides grants and other assistance to meet the demonstrated needs of all who are admitted. Founded in 1793, it is the second oldest institution of higher learning in Massachusetts. The college is located in Williamstown, Mass. To visit the college on the Internet: www.williams.edu

news: Neil Bibbins

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