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Institute of Ecosystem Studies

The Institute of Ecosystem Studies combines research and education in fulfillment of its scientific mission. Central to the Institute's mission is the creation, dissemination, and application of knowledge about ecological systems. A society with a basic understanding of ecological systems and an appreciation of their role in the quality of human life is essential if natural areas are to be sustained.

Founded in 1983 by the eminent ecologist Dr. Gene E. Likens, the Institute is one of the largest ecological programs in the world. More important than size, however, is the quality, range and influence of this program. Scientific books and articles published by Institute ecologists influence scientists and policy makers in the United States and abroad. Innovative curricula developed by Institute educators and scientists provide new ways of thinking for teachers and students throughout the country. International conferences and workshops at IES provide a forum for today's and tomorrow's leaders in ecological research. Institute leadership will enable students, policy makers and the general public alike to have a better ecological understanding and will better equip them to make sound ecological decisions.

Dr. Gene E. Likens' vision as the founding director of the Institute of Ecosystem Studies was to build an ecological center of excellence, free of the red tape and distractions so inhibiting to creative thought and productivity. He wanted to incorporate the best qualities that universities have to offer and to discard the worst. With E.F. Schumacher, Dr. Likens believes that small can be beautiful. Excellence at IES is an enduring goal and has several components:

  • Promotion and nourishment of creative thoughts and ideas
  • Innovative interaction among bright people
  • Academic freedom to express and debate ideas
  • Cooperative pursuit of new ideas, based on Dr. Likens' experience that several bright and inquisitive minds often achieve major insights beyond the reach of a single individual
  • Time and support to pursue important ecological problems in depth

At the start, the Institute was an experiment. With funds from the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust and administrative freedom from The New York Botanical Garden, Dr. Likens assembled a team of remarkable scientists and support staff, guided by a few simple, but essential policies. The experiment got off to an excellent start and the Institute has had many successes on its way to becoming an acknowledged, center for innovative research and education in ecology.

The Earth's environmental systems increasingly are assaulted at all levels. Ecological understanding and education offer tangible hope for addressing such multifaceted and potentially devastating environmental problems. Thus, the maintenance of a vibrant, intellectual environment at IES can contribute imaginative ideas and creative approaches to help solve these complex environmental problems. Unraveling ecological complexity and communicating the results to decision makers in a useful way are monumental tasks, yet these are the challenges Dr. Likens and his scientific staff have accepted.

Visiting the IES

The Institute of Ecosystem Studies is dedicated to the creation, dissemination and application of knowledge about ecosystems. Toward this end, many of the Institute's 778 hectares (1,924 acres) have been set aside for scientific research. Specific trails and roads have been designated for visitors, and IES grounds provide visitors with a unique opportunity to connect with nature and view local wildlife. When planning your visit to IES, please reference our hours as they change seasonally.

Attractions include:

Hiking Trails - The Institute's hiking trails take you through a number of ecosystems, these varied habitats allow for great bird watching and nature observation. Look for signs of ecosystem disturbance, examine the lichens on a fallen tree, or just relax and enjoy the soothing sounds of nature.

The Gifford Garden - Situated behind the Gifford House Visitor and Education Center, the Gifford Garden is a perennial garden that is both educational and beautiful. Dedicated in 1987, the garden's history dates back to past ties with the New York Botanical Garden. The garden's plant collections are grouped to convey themes or design concepts. Among the Gifford Garden attractions, visitors can expect to see plants that are preferred by pollinators, such as butterflies and hummingbirds, plants known to have poisonous qualities, and hearty plants that are resistant to deer browse. Many beds feature educational brochures that enable visitors to take information home and apply it in their own yards and gardens.

The Fern Glen - It appears to be a plain pond with a simple bench, a quiet place for a minute's rest. Yellow daisies line the shore and ripe elderberries hang heavy over the banks. The glossy black shell of a turtle slips from a log into the water. Camouflaged in a patch of algae are three tiny striped faces, baby painted turtles concealed from predators. Dragonflies and damselflies swoop, dive and chase each other through the cattails. Some are slender needles of vivid blue, iridescent teal, or tomato red. Others are remarkably large, with striped wings and thick torsos.

The Greenhouse - For the thousands of people who visit each year, the Institute of Ecosystem Studies greenhouse is a lush tropical paradise. The array of botanical beauty is a sensory feast- from prehistoric looking cycads and Venus flytraps to fruit-laden trees and delicate orchids. For IES researchers, educators and gardeners, the greenhouse complex offers more than beauty. It is a controlled environment for ecological research about plants, a living classroom where students explore plant growth and biodiversity, and a plant propagation site for public displays.

The Institute of Ecosystem Studies is open to visitors year-round, with each season offering its unique beauty. In spring, wildflowers abound along our hiking trails, and native plants enliven the Fern Glen. Gifford Garden is a living tapestry of form and color from early summer into fall (see Garden Highlights), when the glorious shades of autumn come to the Hudson Valley. In the depths of winter, the IES Greenhouse is an oasis of tropical splendor. Please see the weather and what to bring page for more information.

Groups are welcome to visit IES for self-guided tours. Groups larger than 10 are asked to notify the Education Office (845-677-5359) prior to their visit; the group leader will be responsible for assuring that all Institute rules for visitors are followed.

Guided tours are also available for groups. Arrangements must be made with our Visitor Services Office (845-677-7600, ext. 317). Guided tours should be scheduled well in advance, and are dependent upon the availability of our garden and greenhouse staff.

For the safety of visitors, hiking trails and roadways are closed from November 16 - April 14 due to deer hunting season and the fact that internal roadways are not cleared of snow and ice cover. During this time, visitors are welcome to visit the IES Greenhouse.

Picnicking is permitted behind the Gifford House Visitor and Education Center, with a few tables available for this purpose.

Please remember: Parts of the property are set aside for long-term research on ecosystem disturbance and recovery. There is no public access to these areas.

Please do not collect any plants, animals, rocks, etc. during your visit. These things are all part of the Institute's ecosystem.

Visitor Attractions - grounds, gardens, roadways: Open: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., April 15 - November 15

Please note: for the safety of visitors, hiking trails and roadways are closed from November 16 - April 14 due to deer hunting season and the fact that internal roadways are not cleared of snow and ice cover. During this time, visitors are welcome to visit the IES Greenhouse.

Greenhouse: 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., every day year round

Specifics on visiting the Institute of Ecosystem Studies were correct at time of publication. We would suggest that you confirm dates and times prior to your visit.
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