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WORLD FOCUS: The Wild Center

July 31, 2014
By FRANK SHATZ , Lake Placid News

Significantly, America's historic, cultural and natural heritage is often saved and preserved by individuals with imagination, dedication, and the ability to gain the support of people who have the wherewithal, to realize the dream.

A prime example of such a person is Rev. W.A.R. Goodwin, the former rector of the historic Bruton Parish Church, in Williamsburg. His effort of preserving and restoring the 18th century capital city of Colonial Virginia resulted, with the financial support from John D. Rockefeller, in what today we experience as Colonial Williamsburg.

A similar scenario played out in creating the Wild Center, the Natural History Museum of the Adirondacks, in Tupper Lake, NY.

"The Wild Center," states the introduction to the museum, "in the heart of New York's Adirondack Mountains, with its live animals and hand-on interactive exhibits is dedicated to telling the story of nature in the place journalist and best-selling author Bill McKibben calls the most important experiment in nature conservation anywhere on the planet."

Visitors to The Wild Center learn that the Adirondacks are bigger than Yosemite, Glacier, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Great Smokey National Parks combined. And that the scale of the Adirondacks makes this a place where nature has a good chance to run wilder and where forces of nature can be seen on a grander scale than most places.

All those things made Betsy Lowe, a former Regional Director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, determined to find a way that would showcase the natural world of the Adirondacks in a comprehensive way.

She recalled, the idea of the Wild Center was fist discussed in 1998, while sitting around with friends in her cabin on the shores of Long Lake, NY. The surrounding forest was scarred by the latest big natural event a huge ice storm. She supervised a small exhibition on the storm and the level of public interest impressed her. She sensed that there was a thirst of public interest to learn how people can live in a wild place without damaging its biodiversity.

Over the next six months, volunteer committees were organized, public meetings held and more than 100 regional organizations endorsed the Museum concept. Donald, "Obie" Clifford, a descendant of one of the original Tupper Lake lumbering families, who was then on the Executive Committee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, read about the nascent project and joined the effort. The voters of Tupper Lake agreed to donate a 31-acre site along the Raquette River to house the Museum. The Master Plan envisaged thousands of live animals and dozens of interactive exhibits that according to a New York Times report, "is a new kind of museum where the wild world opens before your eyes ... a beautifully executed facility where you can see more of the Adirondacks than ever before possible."

When than Gov. George Pataki of New York state, spoke at the 2004 groundbreaking ceremony, he said that the project was not about the building, but about the "future of the Adirondacks."

Indeed, the mission statement of the museum states, "The Wild Center has focused on one of the world's critical issues: the coexistence of people and nature. The Center uses the Adirondacks as a base for exploring that relationship and the ways it can be improved. It directly works on behalf of education, the environment and the economy of this important region."

When the museum opened in 2006, eight years after that first conversation in Betsy Lowe's cabin, it has raised $28.3 million from 5,237 donors who had given 14,808 separate gifts.

The parallel between the story of Colonial Williamsburg and The Wild Center couldn't be more telling.

Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from the Virginia Gazette.



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