While our program has taken us to the mountains in years past, this year we ran a modified one-week program on the water. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, Avalon participants had a safe and educational paddling program on our local waterways.

“Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.” -Joseph Campbell

Our ethos in Avalon Natural Connections is that we sometimes need to disconnect from our busy, scheduled lives in order to unlock and connect with the leaders and strong individuals waiting to emerge in all of us. The natural world provides us with the perfect backdrop to explore what we truly value; through exploration we can return home to a more grounded version of ourselves.

Successful candidates will demonstrate an earnest interest in exploring the outdoors (regardless of experience) and in learning about their own leadership potential in a unique and cooperative setting.

The program was created in 2007 by Avalon Nature Preserve director Katharine Griffiths and local educators Doug Elliot and Steve Gessler. While Avalon Natural Connections has evolved during the past decade, our mission has remained constant-a deep commitment to help teens connect with the natural world surrounding them.

Week One: Paddling Long Island (July, 2022)

The week will take us adventuring through our varied local waterways. While our island can certainly seem overcrowded and confining at times, being water-bound certainly has its advantages; Brookhaven has hundreds of miles of shoreline and we will take you exploring in several of our favorite harbors, and perhaps even the Long Island Sound if the weather cooperates. Each day we will meet up and explore a waterway in the Stony Brook and Port Jefferson Harbor complexes. With our focus on water safety and padding instruction, Avalon’s instructors will help you gain confidence and proficiency in your own abilities to go out on your own aquatic travels. Our instructors have decades of paddling experience and intimate knowledge of local waters-and they are eager to share it with the next generation of paddling enthusiasts. Participants will have the opportunity to develop both kayaking and stand-up paddling proficiency. Our hope is that you will not only learn to explore our waterways, but that you will also be inspired to become stewards in protecting these local natural gifts.

Week Two: Off-Island

Unfortunately, due to the logistical challenges of COVID-19, we could not run the second week of the program this year. Trust us, nobody wants to go hiking more than we do. Look back here for 2022 updates during fall/winter.



T.S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” As you return to Long Island from your mountain travels, Avalon is sure that you will come to see your own environment with new appreciation and respect.

Applications for 2022 will open in March.


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What are the important dates for this program?

  • Online application opens: March, 2022
  • Online application closes: May, 2022
  • Acceptance letters mailed: TBD

What gear do participants need?



  • Swimsuit
  • Shoes that can get wet-not flip-flops
  • T-Shirt
  • Shorts
  • Sunglasses
  • Hat
  • Waterproof sunblock
  • Small drybag


Where can I purchase the gear needed for the program?

Gear needed for the program can be found online and in-store at the following retailers:

Meet Steve

Steve Gessler has been teaching high school science since 1999. He is an avid conservationist and outdoor enthusiast. Mr. Gessler has been teaching Earth Science and AP Environmental Science at Smithtown High School East. At school Mr. Gessler is the leader of the Earth & Outdoors Club, a club devoted to hiking and outdoors activities centered around environmental awareness.

In 2007 he co-founded the Natural Connections program along with Katharine Griffiths and Doug Elliot.

Meet Doug

Doug Elliot has been teaching and coaching in the Three Village Central School District for 27 years. Doug co-founded our Natural Connections program with Katharine and Steve over a decade ago and has enjoyed sharing his passion for the outdoors with Avalon’s campers.

An avid hiker and paddler, Doug’s travels have taken him far and wide, but he has never lost his true connection to Long Island’s natural landscapes-a connection he strives to foster in all of our Natural Connections participants. You may even hear him play his bagpipes when we travel to the mountains!

Meet Katharine

Katharine Griffiths is the director of Avalon Park and Preserve in Stony Brook, NY. Originally from Canada, Katharine has spent the last 20 years working on the design, construction and maintenance of the park. She has served on numerous village and community environmental boards and enjoys the challenge of balancing conservation efforts with economic and development needs. Katharine is an avid traveler and has hiked extensively though New Zealand, Australia, Africa and the Himalayas. She hopes to inspire young minds to travel and be active members in their communities.

Email Kathy