Field Trips

We use the natural curiosity of schoolchildren to teach basic ecosystem concepts during mini field research investigations and guided walks on our trails.

Forest Ecology

Cary scientists study a variety of forest ecology topics including nutrient cycling, forest succession, invasive species, and disease ecology.

Our current forest ecology program offerings include:

New this yearInvasion! Hemlock Wooly Adelgid in our Local Forests (grades 5-12): The tiny but devastating invasive hemlock wooly adelgid is wiping out hemlock forests in the Eastern United States. Classes participating in this program will learn about invasive forest pests and help Cary educators survey our property for hemlock wooly adelgid, which may help contribute to future management of this pest.

Hotspots: Tracking Lyme Disease in Upstate New York (grades 3-12): Our Lyme ecology education programs build on current and historical Cary research to debunk "tick myths", help students understand why Dutchess County is a hotspot for tick-borne diseases, and share strategies for future disease prevention. Participants use animal track plates and animal camera footage to study small-mammal movements through the Cary forest and learn how disturbances in habitat and mammal communities can contribute to the spread of Lyme disease through human populations.

This program also includes access to our online Lyme disease learning module, which can be effectively substituted for a pre- or post- classroom visit.

Stream Ecology

Come visit our living laboratory: the Wappinger Creek! Visitors experience the creek firsthand through stream chemistry testing, biotic sampling and more. 

Our current program offerings include:

Water Life (Grades K-12): Help us collect data on macroinvertebrates, which are small aquatic animals that play an important role in the stream food web and are used as water quality indicators. Students will participate in ecological research as they collect, identify, and then compare these organisms from two different habitats within the Wappinger Creek.  

Stream Life Cycles (Grades K-12): Learn about the life cycle of macroinvertebrates that hatch in streams and emerge on land as adults. Students will spend time searching for larvae in the Wappinger Creek and investigate tools for studying adult macroinvertebrates like mayflies, caddisflies, and mosquitoes.

Salt Pollution (Grades 6-12): Road salt is one of the most pervasive and abundant pollutants in local streams. Students will learn about the effect of salt on aquatic ecosystems, test water quality in the Wappinger Creek, and learn about salt pollution research that Cary Institute scientists have been working on for the past 25 years.


The local water cycle comes to life on our trails as students participate in mini-investigations that include stops along our creeks, wetlands, and forests.  Our educators use watershed models and groundwater wells to illustrate the sources of our drinking water and the impacts that humans have on this valuable resource.

Our current program offerings include:

Water on the Move! (Grades K-5): Students discover the processes of the water cycle through this interactive exploration of trees, soil, air, and the Wappinger Creek. This program is also adaptable as a schoolyard exploration.  

Groundwater Mysteries (Grades 6-12): By testing groundwater wells and using a 3-D groundwater well students can visualize the unseen but powerful ways that groundwater contributes to the water cycle. We also discuss environmental issues related to groundwater, including contamination and aquifer depletion.

Ecosystem Discovery Walk

Younger students are challenged to use all of their senses to discover their local landscape through a guided walk on our trails.  Students will also participate in mini-investigations that use their natural curiosity to explore basic ecosystem concepts such as food and interaction webs and the living and non-living components of an ecosystem. This program can be structured to enhance your current science curriculum. Recent Ecosystem Discovery walk topics include: decomposition, water cycle, stream life, and eco-scavenger hunts.


Each field trip is scheduled for 3 hours of instruction with Cary educators. Most groups also choose to stay for an extra 30 or so minutes to eat lunch at our outdoor picnic tables.

Trip fees are calculated based on the number of students attending:

  • Up to 30 students: $100
  • 30-60 students: $200

There is a maximum of 60 students per visit. Chaperones and teachers are not charged for attending.

If these costs are prohibitive for your school, please consider contacting us about working together to apply for a science program grant.

Additional Classroom Visits

Pre and post programs in your classroom are available for all field trips. These visits help to give background information and connect what students have learned to your current curriculum.

45 min visit: $100 first class; $50 each additional 45 minute class on the same day
90 min visit: $150 first class; $75 each additional 90 minute class on the same day


What do I need to bring?

Not much! We provide all science supplies and writing materials, but students should remember to wear appropriate clothing for outdoor field investigations. This usually includes sneakers/hiking boots, a spare change of clothes, and a jacket. There is always a chance that students can get wet and/or muddy! Field trip organizers will receive a letter outlining trip logistics well in advance of their visit. Many groups bring picnic lunches to enjoy during or after their program.

Should we bring chaperones and other guests?

We welcome teacher and parent chaperones, and recommend that classes come with at least one adult per 15 students. Chaperones may either go out in the field with the class or remain at the Carriage House “home base”, but we ask that those chaperones who stay with the group remain respectful during the program and do not distract from the students’ learning.

Our group is coming in a bus. Can we drive on the Taconic Parkway?

No! The Taconic Parkway does not permit commercial vehicles or buses, unless authorized under an agreement with the NYS Department of Transportation. The Taconic Parkway is closely patrolled by NYS troopers, and it is very likely that buses traveling on the Parkway will be ticketed. 

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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