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Volunteers revamp Wellesley Island State Park

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With all of the maintenance involved, cleaning up a state park can take a whole summer’s worth of work. But when enough people pitch in, the work can be done in a day.

Doing just that, more than 50 volunteers showed up Saturday morning at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center at Wellesley Island State Park to pick up trash, rake leaves, paint signs and walking bridges, weed flowerbeds and stack firewood. It was the first of what park officials hope will be an annual “I Love My Park Day” cleanup.

Cuts in state funding have made it challenging for small parks to keep up with all of the work, but Saturday’s event showed that volunteers can bridge that gap, said Kimbrie M. Cullen, environmental educator at the nature center. To host the cleanup day, the center partnered with the Thousand Islands Land Trust, Parks & Trails New York and the New York State Zoo, which offered a live animal exhibit.

“This shows what you can do with strength of numbers,” Mrs. Cullen said. “Because we have such a small staff, this work would have taken us all summer. Now, we’ll be able to spend time helping people and hosting programs instead of maintenance work.”

Volunteers enjoyed Saturday’s sunny skies while donning their gloves for a hard day’s work. Kevin C. Rarick of LaFargeville brought his 15-year-old daughter, Alexandra G., and her friend, Shyanne L. Weston, to help. The girls, who were busy adding a fresh coat of brown paint to a sign in front of the center, also volunteered to work at the park Friday for LaFargeville Central School’s “Red Knight Pride Day.”

“It’s important for volunteers to pick up the slack,” Mr. Rarick said. “With funding being cut by the state and county, people in the community need to step up and help. Who else is going to do it?”

Asked how long they planned to work, Shyanne joked, “It depends how long he keeps us here. We’re having fun, however.” The two girls added that they planned to cash in on the free lunch offered at the center afterward.

Boy Scouts from Alexandria Bay, Clayton and Cape Vincent also got their hands dirty working Saturday. Ten-year-old Conner H. Willix, a member of Boy Scout Troop 65 of Alexandria Bay, said giving back to the community brightened his day.

“Today we went down to the boat dock and cleaned up the garbage,” he said. “I think the community does a lot for us, so it’s important to help out. It makes me feel good.”

Perry J. Golden, an assistant for the Clayton-Cape Vincent Boy Scout Troop 46, spent the day staining a walking bridge with three Boy Scouts. The group started at 9:30 a.m. and finished at 1 p.m.

“The bridge was in rough shape, but it’s now almost finished,” said Mr. Golden, who has served as a volunteer at the park for the past eight years. “I’ve taken my sons camping here at the park since they were young, so helping out has been a tradition for us.”

With state funding dwindling, parks across the state now have to come up with creative public-private partnerships to complete work projects, said Kevin A. Kieff, regional director for the Thousand Islands Region Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. He hopes the event, which drew a record number of volunteers, will become annual at the park.

“Staffing is down at parks, but organizations like this have the opportunity to work together and get a lot of work done,” Mr. Kieff said. “We’d really like to make this a tradition.”

On a positive note, parks in Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence and Clinton counties garnered $1.6 million in funding for capital projects from the state’s New York Works program this year, Mr. Kieff said, which will be used for several renovation projects.

“That’s been a real bright spot for us this year,” he said. “We’ll take any money we can get.”

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