My Liberal Arts in Action

Elizabeth (Davidson) Dunn '99

The friendly smiles of people I had never met, a sense of community, and natural beauty beyond compare—the things that welcomed me to Camp Little Notch as a child were the same things I felt when I first stepped on campus at St. Lawrence University. It’s the kind of feeling that lets you know you found a home. 

So in 2008, when Little Notch alumni learned that our beloved camp was to be sold, we knew something had to be done. It was in the shadow of this impending loss of that Friends of Camp Little Notch was formed. We enlisted the help of the Open Space Institute, and together we purchased the 400-acre camp parcel as well as ensured the remaining 2,400-acre wilderness parcel would be covered with a permanent conservation easement and managed sustainably. Knowing the property would be preserved, our founding board began the arduous task of learning how to operate a successful summer camp.

I’ve always known my liberal arts education at St. Lawrence made me something of a “Jill of all trades” and at no time was this more apparent than when starting this enterprise. Launching a not-for-profit is no easy task, especially when your passion greatly outweighs your experience. To be successful I had to think as an economist, environmentalist, engineer, and educator. With my degree in economics, I was able to handle the practical aspects of the decisions that must be made when starting any business. The course work in my First-Year Program “Knowing Nature,” gave me insight into the work of those who came before me in land conservation efforts, as well as opportunities to actually spend time outside, immersed in the beauty of the Adirondack Park. Two years working with power tools as a Stagecraft Teaching Assistant came in handy when we took possession of the property after three years of neglect, and the semesters I spent in the Ogdensburg School District as a reading tutor gave me the skills to create imaginative and engaging programming when we were finally able to host our first summer campers in 2012.

With five successful seasons behind us, I often find myself reflecting this amazing journey, which has been full of incredible victories and daunting challenges. Each time a new challenge has arisen, I am able to meet it by thinking back to something I’ve learned, an experience I’ve had, and most times I find it was something I learned at SLU. I am not alone in my love for both St. Lawrence and Little Notch, as at least ten members of the Little Notch community are SLU alumni.

Just as Little Notch campers place their candle-lit wish boats on our beloved Lake Pond at each final campfire, I am reminded of (and grateful for) the candle in the wilderness that has illuminated my path.

Elizabeth Dunn '99 dug deep into the resources of her liberal arts education and combined it with an entrepreneurial spirit and childhood passion to reinvigorate operations of a non-profit Adirondack camp for girls.