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Nature Center staff looks forward to site additions

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MASSENA - There’s not yet be a replacement building for the Robert Moses State Park Nature Center, but there will be a new structure in the near future.

Thanks to a $15,000 grant from St. Lawrence River Valley Redevelopment Agency, the Friends of Robert Moses Nature Center, Inc., are able to purchase a new covered gazebo that will be built to specification and hopefully in place by the end of August or beginning of September, according to Nature Center Director Mary A. Danboise.

The money will also be used to provide programming, she said Thursday night following the group’s annual meeting at the Massena Public Library.

“It will be a big rectangular gazebo. We’re going to get it through the same company we got our storage building through. They build to order,” Mrs. Danboise said.

The gazebo will allow them to have cover for their programs and participants in case of inclement weather until they have a new Nature Center built in the future. They’re working with the New York Power Authority on that endeavor.

“We had nothing last year unless the park was able to let us use their tent. It’s going to be such a blessing just to be able to go under a roof if it’s raining. It’s going to be fantastic. I’m just really excited,” she said.

The gazebo will be located off the handicapped trail and will be handicapped accessible.

“There will be benching all the way around inside and picnic tables inside,” Mrs. Danboise said.

She also hopes to apply for another grant that will allow them to create a children’s discovery area near the gazebo.

“I’ve only done the concept on paper part,” she said, noting it would be a nature-oriented play area for children.

“Ideally it will be fenced in to keep the animals out,” she said.

While both of those are plans for the immediate future, the rebuilding of the Nature Center itself to replace the building severely damaged by a fire may take some time yet.

Fire tore through the storage building next to the Nature Center in March 2010, causing severe damage to the 60-year-old steel building.

A popular tourist destination in the Robert Moses State Park, the building connected to the Nature Center was set ablaze after a state employee accidentally discarded a leaking container of linseed oil into a wastebasket containing paper, rags and sawdust, causing the concoction to spontaneously combust.

Portions of the facilities, including the park’s administrative and police offices, sustained severe smoke and water damage, while the fire destroyed the carpentry shop.

Now, Mrs. Danboise said, there appears to be movement on construction of a new building as architects recently met with representatives of the New York Power Authority.

Still, even without the physical structure, on-site programs have continued, as have off-site visits to schools - and there have been plenty of those recently, according to Education Specialist Linda M. Besio.

“We had over 900 students off-site just this month,” she said.

They visited Edwards-Knox this week, where they presented for nearly 200 students. They have also been to other schools such as Colton-Pierrepont and Sherman Elementary in Ogdensburg.

“We’ve been all over,” Mrs. Danboise said. “We definitely did over 900 kids off-site last month.”

The visits provide not only an educational experience for the students, but also allow the Nature Center staff to remind teachers that, even though there’s not a physical Nature Center, the trails are still available at the site.

Today they’re welcoming three groups from Jefferson Elementary School to the Nature Center for on-site programming. They also have two off-site programs to do.

“I try to work with NYPA whenever I can. If two or three classes come at a time, we split them up. Half of the group goes up to NYPA (Visitor’s Center) and half of the groups stays with us to go on the trail. Then we switch. We usually eat lunch at our picnic tables,” Mrs. Danboise said.

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