Naturalist Programs


Each and every Saturday and Sunday at 10:30 AM you can join one of our Naturalists for a guided snowshoe trek tailored to your interests in the ecology and wildlife of Stark Mountain! Our outings and content vary each week, depending on snow conditions and participants. Learn about the hardwood forests of the Green Mountains, as well as our resident moose, bear, deer, fisher, coyote, red fox and more! Snowshoe rentals are available for only $15 with the program!

Please note: Advanced registration is required. To request a reservation please fill out the Reservation Request Form prior to your visit. Naturalist Programs start at 10:30 AM. They are approximately 2 hours in duration and are easy to moderate in terms of difficulty. 

Program Fees

  • Two-hour programs
    • $39 per person 
  • Tubbs Snowshoes are available in the Mad River Glen Rental Shop.
    • Snowshoe Rental with a Naturalist Program – Only $15!
    • Snowshoe Trail Pass (without a program) – $5
  • For more information call (802) 496-3551 x. 125 or




Mad River Glen’s Naturalist Program seeks to educate the public about the ecology and conservation of our unique alpine environment and to advocate the stewardship of Stark Mountain for recreation, healthy forests, and wildlife habitat. Our education program provides alternative recreational activities at Mad River Glen and strives to inspire young people to become involved in the Cooperative mission and the protection of our natural world.


The program was founded in the fall of 1996, by Sean Lawson, Program Director, as an integral part of the Cooperative’s mission “to preserve and protect…” the forests and mountain ecosystem of General Stark Mountain. Mad River Glen’s unique effort has evolved over the years to include seasonal weekend snowshoe treks, full moon outings, seasonal hikes, group and school programs.

Our team can develop a special program just for your family or group. We offer guided family adventures, snowshoe treks, school field trips, ecology hikes, wildflower walks, bird watching and slide show presentations on a variety of topics. Our award-winning staff includes several Naturalists available to lead trips for all age groups!


Our staff are experienced environmental educators who enjoy working with people and provide excellent leadership and fun outings at the mountain.

Sean Lawson, Naturalist Program Director

Sean developed a love of the outdoors at an early age and got hooked on Vermont through visits to family and skiing. That led to studies at the University of Vermont (UVM) where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies and a Master’s Degree in Forestry. He has experience as a wildlife educator with Keeping Track, a Park Naturalist for the State of Vermont, and a Forest Scientist for the State of Vermont and UVM. In 1996, Sean founded the Naturalist Program at Mad River Glen inspired by the Cooperative’s mission to “Preserve and protect” the forests and mountain ecosystems of General Stark Mountain.  Sean has prior experience as a Mad River Glen Ski Patroller, first responder and wildlife educator. Sean is known as a family man, he and his wife Karen have two daughters. He has gained recognition widely by crafting exceptionally tasty beverages at Lawson’s Finest Liquids (LFL). You can usually find them on tap at Stark’s Pub, where LFL was first tapped in 2008.


The Kent Thomas Nature Center, located at the base of Slalom Hill, houses interpretive displays focusing on the ecology, wildlife, geology and other natural wonders found on General Stark Mountain. The goal of the center is to help educate the public and further Mad River Glen’s mission of protection and preservation of the land under the Co-op’s stewardship. The center is open year-round and is linked to Mad River’s existing snowshoe trail network.


We can develop a special program just for your group or family. We offer guided family adventures, snowshoe treks, school field trips, ecology hikes, wildflower walks, bird watching and slide show presentations on a variety of topics.


Mad River Glen’s Naturalist Program has been recognized with the Vermont Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in Education, as well as the National Ski Areas Association Silver Eagle Award for Excellence in Environmental Education. The Naturalist Program has also been featured in many articles including SKI magazine, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Hartford Courant and many other digital and print media.

Mad River Glen Naturalist Programs
are generously sponsored by:



What’s going on with the gnarly-looking beech trees? 

At Stark Mountain, the forests have many large stands of American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia). Beech nuts are a favorite food for our resident American black bears (Ursus americanus), as well as turkey, grouse, and a variety of other mammals. Beech stands are important to the health of our bear populations. However, the health of our beech forests has been on the decline for over a century.

Beech bark disease represents a unique relationship between an insect and a fungus. Beech scale (Cryptococcus fagisuga) was introduced to America in the early 1900s and has been slowly progressing through the United States. The insect feeds on nutrients by accessing the tree’s phloem cells with a needle-like mouthpart, in turn damaging the bark. The damaged bark allows several types of fungus to move in, primarily the fungal pathogen (Nectria coccinea). As the fungus gets established, it will produce red fruiting bodies (usually seen in late summer and fall), and the wounds, appearing as black cankers, can be detrimental by girdling the tree. A weakened tree is also liable to being wind-blown, a condition known as beech snap.

Many of the beech trees are able to live productive lives despite the destructive cankers and some are resistant to the scale insect and will reproduce resistant saplings. Forest management is complicated yet there are a few measures that homeowners can take to prevent further spread of the disease. Contact a local professional forester or the UVM extension service for more information. We hope that disease-resistant beech will continue to thrive and provide the annual crop of beechnuts that our resident wildlife at Stark Mountain relies upon.

Learn more about our forests and wildlife by joining us for a Naturalist Snowshoe outing on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 am. Book your custom snowshoe adventure today!

Porcupine Ponderings

The “Thorny Pig” of the woods, also known as the Porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), is famous for its sharp barbed quills that are often lodged in domestic dogs’ snouts. Quills are an ingenious form of self-defense. They are not able to “throw” their quills but will swat an aggressor with their quill-filled tail if provoked. Most animals will respect the porcupine and give them a wide berth to go about their business.
Winter is a great time to look for evidence of porcupine dens and feeding areas. Hemlock stands with rock outcrops are a good place to search for signs. Once a den is located, you will find large amounts of scat inside the den and should be able to follow a trough-like trail leading from the den to the food source. Look up – as they are excellent climbers and spend a good deal of time up in trees, eating or just resting.
Besides the obvious problems with dogs getting “quilled”, porcupines can get into trouble from time to time due to their desire to chew on salty objects or their ability to destroy cherished fruit trees. Taking preventative measures to protect valuables is the best way to cohabitate peacefully.
Why do porcupines curl up and hide their face when attacked?
What animal is known to be a successful predator of the porcupine and what makes them successful?
Who might benefit from their sloppy eating habits, i.e. hemlock branches they drop from their dining table high in the tree branches?
Can you cuddle a baby porcupine, also known as a porcupette?

Bear Essentials for the Winter

While we are reveling in the deep snow during the heart of winter, it is hard to believe that our resident black bears are tucked away in makeshift dens, and sows are currently nursing their newborns. These winter homes are often made up of cavities dug into the ground, about 5’ wide and 3’ high, underbrush piles, uprooted trees, hollow trunks, or in rock crevices. Rock caves are actually not a typical bear hide-out. They will line the den with surrounding leaf debris for bedding material. Winter denning is not typically triggered by the weather, but by a decrease in available food sources.
Black bears spend at least five months without eating, drinking, or going to the bathroom! As denning approaches, bears lose their appetite due to the increase of the hormone Leptin that aids in preventing bone loss during hibernation. Bears live off the accumulated calories of body fat that they have acquired from food frenzies in early fall when they devour large amounts of beechnuts, found in the American beech stands of Stark Mountain, as well as a variety of other fruits, nuts, and plant materials.
As their metabolism rate decreases, heart rate also decreases from a normal of 50 – 90 beats/minute to about 8 beats/minute. Although black bears hibernate, they will awaken for brief periods (especially females while nursing). It just takes them a while to get moving. Once they emerge from this snug environment in late March/early April, bears will slowly gain their appetite back, seeking emergent greens and sedges around wetlands as their first spring foods.
What human conditions might benefit from studying these physiological phenomenons?

Black-Capped Chickadee Survival

The black-capped chickadee is one of our most popular winter residents, especially welcomed at bird feeders. They are a non-migratory songbirds found year-round in our local forests and throughout North America. Besides being downright adorable, chickadees have evolved remarkable adaptations to withstand freezing cold weather.

Their active daytime behavior consists mostly of frantically collecting and eating seeds, berries, and insects. They are extremely proficient at storing food and remembering where the cache is. They spend each day eating enough high-fat food to gain at least 10 percent of their body weight.
The chickadee is one of the few birds that are capable of controlled hypothermia in order to reduce their body temperature and metabolism on cold nights. Shivering through the night to generate heat, they rely on daily accumulated fat reserves. By morning, these birds will virtually have no body fat left. This is equivalent to a 150-pound person gaining and then losing over 15 lbs every day. Talk about a yo-yo diet.
They often roost in birch trees where they can excavate holes in soft, rotting wood. Finding a proper roost is just as important as finding food. Chickadees can literally squeeze themselves into a tiny cavity for maximum insulation and sometimes exhibit bent tail feathers when they emerge in the morning.
Chickadees have certainly mastered a very basic formula for winter survival. Don’t freeze and don’t starve.
How much does a chickadee weigh?
What seeds do they eat in the wild?
Why don’t their legs and feet freeze?

Signs of Deer

When hiking in the woods of Stark Mountain, a common wildlife sign is the evidence of whitetail deer rub. Usually, about waist high, you may see a tree damaged by the bark shredded on one side. If it is not a recent event, it may be a scar healed over from past damage.
One of the greatest ways whitetail deer communicate with each other is by the scent they leave behind. Throughout the year bucks are constantly marking their territory with scent. Rubbing behavior is one of the chief ways for male deer to declare their presence. The marks and scents convey social status, suppress the sex drives of younger bucks and stimulate does. Signpost rubs, or community rubs, serve as message boards, often where trails intersect. Rubbing behavior starts in late summer when they are shedding the fuzzy-looking skin, known as velvet, that protectively covers their growing antlers.
Through specialized forehead skin glands, a buck deposits pheromones on the bark of a small tree by pushing against it. This behavior is most aggressive in the fall when testosterone levels are highest. The bigger the diameter of the tree that is rubbed, the bigger the buck. Large bucks will rub both small & large trees, but younger bucks will usually only tackle saplings up to 3” in diameter.  Male deer in the Northeast favor conifers, poplars, and maples as their pushing posts.
Rubbing continues until they cast their antlers. From spring to late summer a growing antler is actually bone. It is protected and nourished by the velvet covering. When the antlers are fully formed, the velvet sloughs off or is rubbed off by the buck. It is even possible to encounter some of the shredded bloody velvet hanging from tree branches. Potentially a gory site but indicates there is a buck in the area ready to start courting a local doe.
What other ways do deer communicate?
Do whitetail does play a role in scent marking?
How do the bucks shed their antlers?