Atlas Revival

The Roger Tory Peterson Institute is taking a 21st-century approach to environmental education.

In 2001, RTPI published a regional environmental resource book. However, after 12 years, the book finds itself out of date and out of print. RTPI made great strides in updating the atlas over the summer, adding new plant and animal life native to the region as it gets ready to present its progress Nov. 1 at 11 a.m. at Audubon’s First Friday Lunch Brunch.

“The atlas has just been unavailable,” said Twan Leenders, president of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History. “Some of the information was on our website, but it was buried, hard to get to. We decided to revive it under the 21st-century version.”

The new “Natural History Atlas to the Chautauqua-Allegheny Region” will be digital in nature. According to Leenders, the atlas will make use of cellphones and other mobile technology to guide people to points of interest and provides them with constantly updated information about each site, such as the Dunkirk Harbor on Lake Erie Plain and the Clay Pond Wildlife Management Area in Cassadaga Valley. At each site will be a small sign with a QR code and a special phone number. Eventually Leenders wants people to give information back to the RTPI about anything interesting they may see while on the sites.

“The ultimate idea is that this will be a resource for people in the area to be more engaged, more interested,” he said.

Some of the new fauna found include species of dragonflies and spiny softshell turtles in downtown Jamestown. New York state considers spiny softshell turtles a species of special concern, and Jamestown is one of the last few remnants of marginally suitable habitat where the turtles can lay their eggs.

“We are doing a very quick first pass and the number of new species we are finding in different groups … it gives you a pretty good idea of what we may be able to find if we start looking in more detail and get more people involved,” Leenders said.

Part of the atlas currently can be found online. Originally intended as a tool for educators, the atlas became a highly popular environmental education resource for the general public. It generated unprecedented visitations to natural reserves with many readers declaring they will visit all the locations named in the book.


The fee for attending the program will be $8 or $6 for Friends of the Nature Center. Reservations will not be required, and following the program, coffee and tea will be provided for a bring your own brown bag lunch. The Audubon Center and Sanctuary can be found at 1600 Riverside Road in Jamestown.

Before coming to Western New York, Leenders was the lead conservation biologist for the Connecticut Audubon Society. As president of the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, he now applies his experience to our region and develops new conservation research and education initiatives that aim to spark increased interest in the area’s unique natural history while providing economic incentives to promote good environmental stewardship.

Founded in 1984, the RTPI seeks to carry on the work of Roger Tory Peterson, a pre-eminent American naturalist who illustrated and chronicled the natural world to the public in the 20th century, by fostering understanding, appreciation and protection of the natural world.

For more information on Friday’s program, call 569-2345 or visit