We at Rensselaer Youth Outdoors are focused on helping you stay healthy, both physically and emotionally, while dealing with the effects of COVID-19 disruptions on your daily life.  

While the situation continues develop, we will be postponing programs and outings, and practicing responsible Social Distancing.  Instead of interacting face-to-face, RYO will be posting guides and suggestions for activities you can you can enjoy on your own or with you family.  Follow our Facebook page for daily updates, which will also be collected and shared on our Activities and Resources tab.

Governor Cuomo has asked that all New York State residents limit time outside the home to essential trips for groceries and medicine. Walks outside are allowed, as long as people stay 6 feet apart.

Nature is here for you 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Your favorite businesses may be closed, but the green spaces that we all love and care for together are a tremendous resource.  Whether in your local park, backyard garden, at any of Rensselaer County's many public lands, or your favorite local spot, we encourage time outside while maintaining distance from others using these spaces.  If you see other visitors on the trails or in the parking areas, please maintain 6 feet between you and other guests not in your family group. 

Remember to maintain safe hiking practices as well.  Always bring water, check the weather and dress appropriately, tell someone where you will be and when you expect to return, wear sunscreen and bug spray, tuck pants into long socks, and don't forget to do regular tick checks during and after your hike.

Stay happy and healthy, and use this time to study up on the natural world.

Update about Forest Conservation Corps 2020

Hello friends and fellow nature lovers,

I am sorry to have to announce that Rensselaer Youth Outdoors will not be running the Forest Conservation Corps (FCC) this year.  2019 was the first year RYO offered the program, and we had hoped to improve and expand it in 2020.  Unfortunately, that will have to wait for 2021.

RYO works to foster nature connections for the youth and families of Rensselaer County, and ensuring the health and safety of all our participants is our top priority.  We worked with our partners over the past few months to modify FCC this year,  but due to safety concerns and additional external factors related to COVID-19 we are unable to run the program.

We know that many of you were looking forward to participating this year.  We are working on developing alternative programs and activities to offer, and will be sharing details of them soon. 

Remember, many hiking trails, parks, and community forests throughout Rensselaer County are still open for exploration and recreation.


Thank you,


Amanda McCreary

RYO Program Coordinator

At Rensselaer Youth Outdoors we focus on fostering meaningful connections to nature for youth and families throughout Rensselaer County.

Forest Conservation Corps 2019

A Rensselaer County Teen Summer Program

Rensselaer Youth Outdoors ran a FREE environmental education summer program for youth aged 14-17.  The program combined recreation and education experiences while teens worked on valuable conservation projects protecting Rensselaer County's parks, waters, and natural resources.  

The Conservation Corps program seeked to:

  • Promote conservation, education, and community service

  • Educate, train, and develop the value of respect for others and the environment in young people

  • Provide worthwhile work and community service experiences for young people in a nature setting 

Thank You!

Thank you to the 35 youth who participated in the 2019 Forest Conservation Corps.  Your dedication and enthusiasm have made a huge difference to our partners and the Rensselaer County community. 


Congratulations on becoming Forest Conservation Corps Alumni!


Upcoming Events

Check back soon for more events.


Rensselaer Youth Outdoors at a Glance

Students Question, Explore and Discover Nature

Rensselaer Youth Outdoors is a network of partners that introduces and engages the children and families of Rensselaer County in the wonder, science, and adventure of nature in an effort to create a healthier, more sustainable community in an increasingly complex world.

Students Question, Explore and Discover Nature

            Haley shrieked with excitement as she peered at a thumb sized predacious diving beetle in her net. “What IS that?!”, students asked.  That spark experience fueled a discussion about water quality, a topic that’s hard to teach in a classroom.  It’s all part of a pilot program in a few Rensselaer County schools to teach curriculum through rich outdoor experiences. 

            “Our students loved collecting and finding living things in the pond.  It was amazing.”, said Jennifer Brown, a third grade teacher at West Sand Lake, after a field trip to the Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center.   


What We Do

Making A Difference

These Schools are Taking it Outside!

Averill Park and Berlin School districts have partnered with RYO on a new, two year pilot program to get more children investigating and connected with the outdoors.  During the Spring of 2018, third graders investigated fish ecology, animal adaptations and the water cycle in class and during field experiences at Grafton Lakes State Park and Dyken Pond EEC.

Working in Partnership to Get More Kids Outside!

Teacher Training

Continuing Education workshops and classes give classroom teachers the tools they need to bring place based environmental education into their classrooms.

Schoolyard Naturalist Teacher Kits

Thanks to a generous grant from the USDA Forest Service, the following classroom kits are available for loan to all Rensselaer County teachers.  The kits are geared towards K-8 students.   Please contact us to borrow one today! 


The trees we walk by every day can transform into fascinating, year-round outdoor labs!  This kit includes lesson plan ideas,  class sets of tree identification guides, hand lenses, tree cross sections and measuring tapes.  We’ve also included a few non-fiction books to inspire further investigation.    


This kit encourages students to focus on the fascinating ‘backyard birds’ that share our schoolyard and neighborhood habitats.   In addition to a variety of lesson plan ideas, we’ve included class sets of kid friendly bird guides, feathers, binoculars plus a few fiction and non-fiction books.  


From the tiniest sidewalk crack to the slightly overgrown lawn, it’s hard to find a place where insect life doesn’t abound!   This kit includes lesson plan ideas, class sets of bug boxes, sweep nets and common insect identification guides, plus a few fiction and non-fiction read aloud books.


From the Private Eye Website The Private Eye is a program about the drama and wonder of looking closely at the world, thinking by analogy, changing scale and theorizing.  This kit includes the 'Private Eye' curriculum guide, activity sheets and a class set of jewelers loupes. 

We receive funding from the New York State Conservation Partnership Program (NYSCPP) and New York's Environmental Protection Fund, as well as the 'Northern Research Station, Forest Service, USDA', Ann Allen Cetrino Family Foundation, Kelly Family Cuidiu Foundation, NYS Connect Kids to Parks Program, and the Friends of Dyken Pond.

Working in Partnership to Get More Kids Outside!

The average American child spends 7 hours a day in front of a screen and less than 10 minutes a day playing outside. We’d like to reverse that trend!  Research shows that getting people into the outdoors and bringing the outdoors closer to people increases access to opportunities for physical activity, reduces stress, fosters community and social relationships, and improves air quality. 1

Rensselaer Youth Outdoors (RYO) was born when concerned schools, parents and organizations joined hands across the Rensselaer Plateau in an effort to get more children and families out exploring and protecting nature in their backyards. 


RYO is a network of partners that introduces and engages the children and families of Rensselaer County in the wonder, science, and adventure of nature in an effort to create a healthier, more sustainable community in an increasingly complex world.  Our current partners include Grafton Lakes State Park, Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center, Rensselaer Plateau Alliance.  Additionally, representatives from Siena College, Cornell Cooperative Extension, the Children's Museum of Science and Technology, various Rensselaer School Districts, and the USDA Forest Service - Northern Research Station assist in advising and implementing RYO programs.  Interested in becoming an RYO partner?  Contact Amanda McCreary, Rensselaer Youth Outdoors Program Coordinator, to learn more.

Rensselaer Youth Outdoors Partners

Dyken Pond Environmental Education Center

Grafton Lakes State Park

Rensselaer Plateau Alliance

Contact Us

PO Box 790, Averill Park, NY 12018

Program Coordinator

Molly Freiberg




The fiscal sponsor of Rensselaer Youth Outdoors is the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance, Inc., a nonprofit organization that is federally tax-exempt under section 501 (c)(3). Contributions are tax deductible to the extent provided by law. A copy of the latest financial report filed with the NYS Department of State may be obtained by writing NYS Department of State, Office of Charities Registration, Albany, NY, 12232 or the Rensselaer Plateau Alliance. Your gift is tax deductible to the extent allowable by law. EIN: 94-3444825; for more information see the RPA annual report online. It is the policy of the RPA to provide equal opportunity in employment for all persons and to prohibit discrimination because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, handicap, age, sexual orientation or status as a parent.

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AFCFW4 group photo