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Promoting the 'First Wilderness' of Western Warren County


A year ago today, Warren County Department of Planning and Community Development unveiled a new effort to let people know about all of the wonderful things to do and see in the small communities in western Warren County, a region known as the "First Wilderness Heritage Corridor."

That project led to a unique content alliance established by the Department of Planning and Community Development with Cliff & Redfield Interactive (CRI), a local creative agency employing college students learning new forms of digital media, which is embarking today on a second year of storytelling in support of heritage tourism in western Warren County.

Over the last year, the First Wilderness Story Collaboration (FWSC) -- a group of local historians, other experts, students, and CRI editors who create content together in online workspaces -- has published more than 30 features at, as well as a four-page feature, "Exploring Cabin Country," in the bimonthly magazine of the Adirondack Mountain Club.

The FWSC is now moving into "spatial storytelling," aiming to spotlight dozens of points of interest in the First Wilderness on interactive maps with point-and-click narratives and in audio GPS tours visitors may download to their phones and enjoy while driving and hiking.

"Spatial tools like ArcGIS StoryMaps and STQRY make history more accessible to the public," says Sara Frankenfeld, Warren County GIS Administrator, chair of the First Wilderness Story Collaboration. "We're grateful to the many authors, historians and other experts who are working with us to convert the rich histories they've written into forms that connect their stories to specific Warren County places.

"Collaborating as they are with our students, they're simultaneously creating opportunities for young people to get an early start in careers in which collaborative and spatial media are  emerging as vital tools."

The eight-member Smartacus Spatial Storytellers team is made up of area college students who have a passion for combining history with advanced communications technologies. Thanks to their Planning Department grant, CRI is able to pay them stipends of $15 per hour to produce ten projects in support of heritage tourism in 2023.

CRI Founder and President Dan Forbush has been growing this student-driven agency since 2015, when he stepped down from his position as Skidmore College's chief communications officer to devote his full energies to it. Two years ago, he was joined by Bill Walker, who brought a half-century of experience in academic public relations and storytelling to the collaboration.

Forbush and Walker go way back. They met in 1978 when Walker was Skidmore's chief communications officer and Forbush was working for a PR agency that specialized in national media relations for colleges and universities. In 2007, Skidmore offered Forbush the same job in which Walker had served from 1978 through 1985. By coincidence, Walker also returned to the Capital District in 2007 to accept a position as vice president for strategic communications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

"The Planning Department's grant is making a huge difference as we head into our second year," says Forbush. "With the stipends we're offering, we're able to employ an outstanding team of student content-creators -- and we're still growing." 

Forbush's interest in expert crowdsourcing goes back to the early days of the Internet when email was considered "new media." On February 1, 1993 -- exactly 30 years ago today -- Forbush launched ProfNet, an expert network that a New York Times reporter hailed as "the global village's matchmaking service for academia and news organizations."

"Content evolves," says Forbush, who started his career on a manual typewriter.

"We had to pound the keys hard in those days."