By Tom Grace
Cooperstown News Bureau
CHERRY VALLEY — On 200 acres in Cherry Valley and Roseboom, Ricardo Sierra is living his dream.
As a boy growing up in the Hudson River valley, Sierra, 42, loved the wilderness.
"I read wilderness stories and I liked nothing better than to be out in the woods," he said Thursday morning, sitting at a desk inside the lodge at Hawk Circle, his wilderness camp.
"When I was growing up, we didn’t have iPods and instant messaging, and I was always drawn to the outdoors. I liked hiking and fishing."
As Sierra grew up, his love for nature didn’t diminish. As a young man, he studied with trackers and teachers of tr[an error occurred while processing this directive]aditional skills, including Tom Brown Jr. and Jake Swamp.
In the mid-1980s, he was a nature counselor at a summer camp, and by the end of the decade, he launched his own camp, Hawk Circle, on a farm in the town of Chatham.
"When I was counselor, I found that the kids really responded to the program, and that I liked teaching them," he said. "After a while, I had a little reputation, and I thought I’d try my own camp."
Sierra started with just 11 campers for one week in 1989. But by 1994, Hawk Circle had expanded to a full summer with programs with young children, teenagers and adults.
Three years later, Sierra and his wife, Trista, who is from the Cooperstown area, purchased a 200-acre hillside that straddles Roseboom and Cherry Valley, and the camp moved to Otsego County.
"This is such a beautiful area without any major commercial development, and it seemed just right for what we had in mind," he said.
Hawk Circle now draws campers from Pennsylvania and New Jersey as well as from the area.
"We have about 60 to 70 campers a summer, and we offer other programs, too," he said.
The staff of Hawk Circle works in local schools, teaching about nature, about surviving in the wilderness and subtly imparting a sense of self-esteem, he said.
"We’ve found that when you’re talking about survival, that really gets the kids’ attention. They may not care about the Pythagorean theorem, but they want to know how to survive when it’s 28 degrees out and they don’t have shelter, or how to start a fire without matches," he said.
Youths who master survival skills gain confidence in themselves and find that some of their worries are not so important, he said.
Hawk Circle also has programs for adults, including one that Leadership Otsego, a group based at the State University College at Oneonta, will soon take advantage of, he said.
Sierra said the fee for attending Hawk Circle is $650 a week.
"That puts the experience beyond the means of many people, and we’re trying to do something about that," he said.
Organizations that help defray the cost of other activities for youths may help send kids to wilderness camp, he said.