Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

June 19, 2018

Randy Simons | Dan Keefe
518-486-1868 |

New York State Parks Announces Reopening of Minna Anthony Common Nature Center at Wellesley Island State Park

Public-private partnership will help draw more visitors to Thousand Islands destination

Revitalized center complements Connect Kids initiative to nourish a new generation of outdoor enthusiasts

The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (State Parks) today announced that State Parks and the Friends of the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center have completed a $1.75 million project to renew the nature center named after a pioneering female environmentalist in the North Country. The project, part of Governor Cuomo's NY Parks 2020 initiative, is the first major renovation of the Wellesley Island State Park facility in its 50-year history.

"Minna Anthony Common is an inspiration to all who want to be good stewards of environment, especially our young park visitors," said State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey. "I am grateful to Governor Cuomo and the Friends of the Nature Center for their work to improve and modernize one of the state park system's first and oldest nature centers. Their commitment to environmental education in the Thousand Islands is a fitting tribute to Minna Anthony Common and her daughter, Catherine Johnson."

The 50-year-old facility underwent a complete $750,000 structural renovation funded by the NY Parks 2020 initiative. The improvements included a new main entrance with a gift shop and waterside building additions as well as the restoration of the great room riverside viewing wall, along with roof repairs and energy efficiency upgrades. In addition, The Friends of the Nature Center raised more than $1 million in private donations and grants to renew the exhibits and interior features. Updates include:

  • Interactive map table describing and illustrating the trails and their natural features;
  • Exhibit dedicated to Minna Anthony Common, an accomplished naturalist who was ahead of her time in calling on local schools to teach nature studies and her daughter, Catherine Johnson; a 40-year member of Thousand Islands State Park Commission who was the force behind creating the Nature Center
  • "On the River" exhibit to inspire a new generation of young anglers with a fishing boat that visitors can sit in, against a St. Lawrence River backdrop. This exhibit will educate visitors on the specific role that the St. Lawrence River plays in the Great Lakes system, and provide practical safety and recreational information.
  • Bird-themed meeting room highlighting the local bird species and provides a learning space for school groups.
  • "Forest Area" exhibit informing visitors about forest ecosystem and featuring a replica of a canvas tent that was used in the original Thousand Islands Park settlement.

Friends of the MAC Center President Matthew Elliot said, "The Friends of the Nature Center are excited to continue our almost fifty year partnership with New York State. Today marks the beginning of an exciting new chapter in our story and we are thrilled to support the Parks for many years to come."

Former Friends of the MAC Nature Center President Kerry Roberge said, "The Nature Center's amazing renovation is another fine example of our Friends group and NYS Parks collaboration."

State Senator Patty Ritchie said, "The Minna Anthony Common Nature Center is one of the beautiful, scenic spots in our region. It helps get people outside to enjoy the St. Lawrence River while learning about the importance of protecting the environment," Senator Ritchie said. "I was pleased to provide $100,000 in funding for this project and I look forward to seeing how it helps the promote both the center and the beauty of the North Country."

Assemblywoman Addie Jenne said, "The renovation and opening of the nature center is great news. Wellesley Island state park is a jewel within our state park system and the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center helps visitors fully enjoy the special qualities of the Thousand Islands region. The Governor's leadership that has spurred investment in this and similar attractions supports our shared commitment to preserving and sharing our environmental treasures. As we transition this week from the school year to the summer recreation season, it is great to have the nature center open for visitors."

Chairman of the Thousand Islands Regional State Park Commission Harold B. Johnson said, "It gives me great pleasure to see this state of the art renovation of the nature center named to honor my grandmother. Dedicated fundraising work by the friends of the nature center coupled with a matching grant from the state made this all possible. New York state parks look forward to many more years educating generations about our natural world.

The Nature Center improvements complement New York State's efforts to encourage more environmental education programs and school field trips to parks, historic sites and public lands for hands-on learning. New York State Connect Kids to Parks program offers grants to schools in Title 1 public districts throughout New York State to fund field trips to state parks and historic sites for environmental, historical and physical education programming. The program has funded nearly 1,500 field trips, serving 75,000 public school children from Title 1 schools throughout the state. Nearly 4,500 students from North Country schools have taken field trips to Minna Anthony Common Nature Center in the last two years.

The project was funded through Governor Cuomo's NY Parks 2020 program, a multi-year commitment to modernize state parks and historic sites, including creating or renewing 30 nature and cultural centers across the state. The 2018-19 state budget includes $90 million toward this initiative.