The Adirondack Land Trust recognized two scientists as 2021 Volunteers of the Year for their work to engage people in conservation through natural history.

Friends Ray Curran and Dan Spada are volunteers together in many endeavors, including the Northern Forest Atlas, Adirondack Botanical Society, Adirondack Orchid Survey, New York Flora Association, Northern Current music festival, and the Adirondack Land Trust.

Both were introduced to the Adirondacks as students at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where they studied plant ecology and bryology with educator and conservationist Dr. Edwin H. Ketchledge. Later Dan and Ray worked together as scientists and leaders of the Adirondack Park Agency natural resource technical division. Ray retired in 2004 after 34 years of state service; Dan followed in 2012 after 28 years.

For many years, but especially during the Covid pandemic, Ray and Dan helped the Adirondack Land Trust scout, plan and lead natural-history field trips to get people excited about conservation through knowledge of the Adirondack landscape.

“To me it is so very important to connect people with ‘the place,’ to ensure long-lasting conservation and preservation,” Ray said. “I like to lend my technical knowledge to help people of all skill levels understand and appreciate nature in all its complexity and beauty. It’s very enjoyable for me and keeps my knowledge up to date, my mind and body young, as I interpret for others.”

“We all develop skills throughout life; sharing them with others is socially important and personally and professionally satisfying,” Dan said. “Learning about the natural history of the land is an endlessly fascinating quest for understanding of the natural systems within which we are embedded.”

Ray and Dan have also helped land trust staff better understand the places they protect and consider management options. With the Adirondack Botanical Society, they located a candidate for state champion white spruce on a land trust property in the town of Jay. The record has been submitted to New York State’s Big Tree Register.

White Spruce is an ecologically important and often overlooked native species found in the High Peaks region only in scattered stands in a few valleys. Farther north, white spruce is a common circumpolar species and one of the last trees at timberline, where the boreal forest grades into arctic tundra. One way to tell white spruce from more common red and black spruce: look at the twigs with a hand lens. They are a pale gray color and smooth, not minutely hairy like red and black. Also, crush some needles and take a sniff. You’ll understand why woods workers call it cat spruce.

To learn about volunteer opportunities with the Adirondack Land Trust, please see or contact

Caption: Dan Spada (left) and Ray Curran explore a first-growth Adirondack forest. Photograph by Mary Thill/Adirondack Land Trust