Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

May 16, 2014

Randy Simons
Dan Keefe
(518) 486-1868

Community and State Partners Launch Campaign to Build Nature Center at Letchworth State Park

Funding to build the new four-season facility will be a public/private partnership

Community encouraged to support effort to raise $1.6 million

The Letchworth Nature Center Planning Committee and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation announced a capital campaign to build a destination nature center in Letchworth State Park to attract visitors to the park with state-of-the-art space housing new programming and technology, along with an increased number of educational and recreational activities. Lt. Governor Robert Duffy helped kick off the capital campaign Thursday with an event at the park's Glen Iris Inn.

"The Letchworth Nature Center will enhance the park with a much-needed new year-round educational, recreational, and tourism destination for its visitors from around the world," said Lt. Governor Robert Duffy. "I applaud the commitment and persistence of all those involved in this grassroots effort to make the Letchworth Nature Center a reality – and the State Park an even stronger part of the Finger Lakes economy and way of life."

"Under the leadership of Governor Cuomo and Lt. Governor Duffy, the people of New York are working in partnership with state government to turn the state's economy around. The Letchworth Nature Center project is a great example of New Yorkers coming together to help shape their own future and economic prosperity," said Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "What's more, it will be an exceptional and much-needed addition to this flagship park."

"For generations, families like mine have been great supporters and patrons of Letchworth State Park, said Peter Humphrey, chair of both the Genesee Regional Parks Commission and the Letchworth Nature Center Capital Campaign. "We are excited to support this project that will enrich this special place and help visitors better appreciate and understand the magnificence of Letchworth."

The fundraising efforts are being spearheaded by the Letchworth Nature Center Campaign Committee, and includes representatives of the Genesee Regional Parks Commission, the Open Space Institute's Alliance for New York State Parks, and the Natural Heritage Trust. Private donations are being matched 2 to 1 by public funds. The campaign aims to raise $1.6 million in private funds to enhance and endow the facility. The private funding is being matched with $3.2 million from Governor Cuomo's economic development initiatives.

Humphrey and his wife Sally Humphrey made a lead donation of $300,000 toward the project. Cash and pledges to date exceed $900,000, including gifts from Five Star Bank, M&T Bank, the Bank of Castile and the Friends of Letchworth State Park. In addition, local colleges and foundations have pledged their support for the Letchworth Nature Center. The overall cost of the project is $4.8 million, which includes $1 million for an endowment to ensure the ongoing operation of this facility. The public fundraising campaign plans to raise at least $1.6 million in private donations.

The State's two-third share includes funding from Governor Cuomo's New York Works Park initiative and a $288,000 design grant secured by the Open Space Institute from the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council in 2013.

"Letchworth State Park is unquestionably a premier natural treasure; deserving of a first-class nature center to deepen the visitor experience and enhance the park's standing as one of New York's greatest tourism and recreation destinations," said Erik Kulleseid, executive director of the Open Space Institute's Alliance for New York State Parks program, a sponsor of the Nature Center project. "I am confident the public will rally their support for this project and that it will soon become a reality."

"Known as ‘the Grand Canyon of the East,' Letchworth is visually stunning, geologically significant and critically important to the region's tourism sector," said Allen Payne, the executive director of the Natural Heritage Trust and member of the planning committee. "In setting out to construct a state-of-the-art nature center at this iconic state park, I am particularly excited that we have put together a true public-private partnership dedicated to its future."

"The Regional Council is pleased to support the Letchworth Nature Center as it will strengthen the state park's role as one of our region's premier tourism destinations," said Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council Co-Chairs, University at Rochester President Joel Seligman and Wegmans Food Market CEO Danny Wegman. "Tourism and arts are key sector strategies of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and this project enhances the public's understanding of the park's scenic and natural resources, while drawing additional tourists to one of the most picturesque areas in the United States."

"Roughly 62 percent of all visitors that enter Letchworth State Park on an annual basis enter through the Livingston County-Mount Morris gate," says Lisa Burns, Vice President of the office of tourism and marketing at the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce. "That number represents huge business for our local innkeepers and retailers. The addition of the Nature Center is not only a great value to the park, it has the potential to bring a much larger number of visitors to the area."

Letchworth State Park receives over 750,000 visitors each year and is a major driver of the local economy. A recent study found that State Parks in the Genesee, Livingston, Monroe, Orleans and Wyoming Counties had an annual economic impact of $58 million.

The result of nearly five years of planning, the Letchworth Nature Center will be a 5,000 square foot, year-round, sustainable facility that will offer educational and interpretive programming to its visitors. Meeting and classroom space, a research lab, and state-of-the-art exhibits are included in the design of the center – all of which will enhance the visitor's understanding of the unique history, geology, and environment found in Letchworth State Park. A spring 2015 groundbreaking is expected and the Nature Center is planned to open in 2016. To learn more about the Letchworth Nature Center or to donate to the project, visit: www.letchworthnaturecenter.org.

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