ROOTED: Immersive Experiences in Middleburgh: The Genesis of the Schoharie River Center 

 Immersive Experiences in Middleburgh: 

 The Genesis of the Schoharie River Center  


In a cozy corner of Montgomery, Schoharie, and Schenectady Counties resides a nexus of intellectual curiosity and environmental stewardship – the Schoharie River Center 

Amidst the ambiance of bubbling fish tanks, skeletal remains of mammals, and the occasional presence of a friendly ginger feline named Bruce, SEEC (Schoharie Economic Enterprise Corporation) had the privilege of sitting down with John McKeeby, the Executive Director of the Schoharie River Center, on a crisp February morning.  

As John graciously spared a few moments from his bustling schedule, he shared reflections on the center’s humble beginnings and its visionary trajectory for the future. 

Rewind to the late 1980s, where John and his wife, Ellen McHale, found themselves navigating the winding back roads en route from Pennsylvania. Drawn by the allure of Burtonsville’s serene landscapes, they decided to grow roots in a quaint abode nestled near the shores of Schoharie Creek. It was during their settling in this picturesque property that their attention was captured by a historic Methodist Church only two doors down, standing desolate and abandoned since its construction in 1857. 

Driven by a shared vision of community preservation, John and Ellen embarked on a journey to breathe new life into the neglected structure. After conversations with neighbors and community stakeholders, it became evident that their aspirations were shared by many. With the stroke of a pen and the exchange of a symbolic sum of $100, the Schoharie River Center was born, utilizing the newly acquired space to launch transformative programs that would leave an undeniable mark on the region.  

During this time, John was also running youth programs while working within the Family Court system in Schenectady County. Frustrated at times and wondering if his work was making a difference in the lives of the children or adults, a kismet moment happened one day as he walked along Schoharie Creek. 

Before Hurricane Irene rearranged the waterways of Schoharie, there was a large swimming hole where a lot of young people often gathered. As he stood on the shore a young man came swimming over to chat and it took little time for John to realize this young man had profound knowledge of the Creek and surrounding area.  

The bugs, fish, flora, changing of seasons was an obvious passion for the young man who looked familiar to John. After an engaging conversation, the boy looked at John and said “you don’t remember me, do you? I was in your Family Court this morning.” 

It was an “aha” moment for John.  

From this chance encounter blossomed a commitment to experiential-based learning through innovative programs such as the Environmental Study Team (EST), the Middleburgh Advantage After School Programs and last year the first Mayfly Film Festival was announced. These initiatives provide participants with immersive experiences that transcend traditional classroom boundaries.  

There is something for everyone at the Schoharie River Center says McKeeby, “experiential based learning – outdoors as much as possible with skill building opportunities that grow with them. We have folks that come in as kids on a regular basis and they grow from play-learning to acquiring skills that will help them as they grow and find employment.”    

At the core of SRC’s philosophy lies the belief in the interconnectedness of all living beings. John reflected on how everything in our environment is connected, “we are not separated from the planet but integrally involved because it will be something kids will face as our climate changes. There are challenges they will have to face that their parents did not.” 

One of the ways SRC fosters this understanding is through their water quality monitoring programs. As children eagerly learn about bugs and larvae, they also gain a firsthand experience of the significance of these programs in tackling pressing conservation and biodiversity issues. Participants are equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to address the challenges of a rapidly changing climate.

John emphasizes environmental literacy is as important as math and science and should be taught on every level in every school.  

“Encourage the positive” are words taken out of the Schoharie River Center’s mission statement and help to sum up the progress that started with the purchase of a church almost 25 years ago. Integrating life through real life research feels as important today as it was in the early days of the Schoharie River Center. 

Rooted in a commitment to environmental literacy and community empowerment, SRC stands as a beacon of hope and resiliency. With each passing day, the Schoharie River Center reaffirms its dedication to fostering a deeper connection between humanity, the planet, and the County we call home.

Interviewed and Authored by SEEC Associates, February 2024






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