Eight Capital Region non-profits dedicated to enriching parks just received thousands of dollars in grant awards from the Environmental Protection Fund.
Many New York State-run parks, lakes, preserves and historical sites have volunteer organizations whose members help with trail maintenance, building projects, or community events.
Through the Park and Trail Partnership, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced July 31 that several state agencies would dole out $900,000 to 29 non-profits throughout New York.
In the Capital Region, the biggest grant winners were two historical sites: The U.S. Grant Cottage in Wilton, and the Friends of the Schuyler Mansion in Albany.
Phillip Schuyler was an important general in the Revolutionary War and an Albany native. His mansion, which was completed 1765, would come to host everyone from Benjamin Franklin to Schuyler’s eventual son-in-law, Alexander Hamilton.
The Friends of the mansion plan to use the $28,256 they received, plus roughly $4,500 in funds of their own, to order carpet from a Vermont artist for the huge upstairs ballroom called “the saloon.” They’re also adding carpet protectors so guests can step further into the rooms.
“Restoring this house is really helping people re-envision the past, I think,” said Heidi Hill, site manager at the Schuyler Mansion. “It’s difficult when you step into a mansion that has no carpets, no wallpaper, and no drapes, to envision what that space meant for people who owned the place, for visitors, for workers, for enslaved people and so on.”
Hill said the number of visitors has skyrocketed since the play “Hamilton” opened on Broadway in 2015.
Another big grant winner: $48,000 went to the Friends of U.S. Grant Cottage, a part of a historic hotel where President Ulysses S. Grant wrote his memoirs in the last six weeks of his life.
Other local state parks applied for and received money to help them grow their membership.
Helene Brecker is one of seven board members of the Friends of Saratoga Spa Park. The Friends are yoga instructors, retirees, Albany Med employees – all volunteers that help put on events like this weekend’s Plein Air Art Sale.
“We need more modern marketing, we need help with organizational effectiveness, and acknowledging there’s only seven of us on the board of the Friends, and that’s not enough,” said Brecker.
Brecker said they were expecting to receive the grant in March. Social distancing to combat COVID-19 threw everything up in the air, but they found out last month that they were receiving $12,000.
Their grant is one of 29 distributed to New York volunteer groups this year from the state Environmental Protection Fund. The program began in 2015 with $450,000 in total. This year, Gov. Cuomo announced $900,000 in grants were going out to groups throughout the state.
Nancy Dwyer, a member of the Friends of Moreau Lake State Park, says the program is a good deal for the state because of the hard work of groups like hers.
“It’s really money that’s being leveraged. The stronger you make us, the more you’re going to get back,” said Dwyer.
Friends associations have long been important to state parks, historical sites and nature preserves across the nation. State governments can maintain campgrounds and beaches like those at Moreau Lake, but community programs and smaller projects are the domain of these non-profits.
“We give a lot of manpower where they don’t have manpower to cover all those things. Like with ice fishing, we go and drill holes, then we help the kids learn how to ice fish, then they come in and we serve cookies and milk,” said Dwyer. “The park doesn’t have staff to do that.”
Here’s who won grants from the Park and Trail Partnership this year:
- The Friends of U.S. Grant Cottage: $48,000 to plan updates including more parking, pathways, and a pavilion.
- The Friends of Schuyler Mansion: $28,256 to buy historic floor cloth coverings and floor protectors
- The Olana Partnership: $14,400 for new trailhead with signs, benches, and bike racks
- The Friends of Moreau Lake State Park: $13,500 to hire a consultant for promotional materials and strategic planning
- The Friends of Saratoga Spa State Park: $12,000 to hire a consultant for promotional materials and money management software
- Columbia Friends of the Electric Trail: $10,000 to improve website, communication and promote membership
- Wilton Wildlife Preserve: $4,800 for kiosks and school programs about the Saratoga Sand Plains
- Lake George Battlefield Park (Fort George) Alliance: $3,528 for new signs