ALBANY, NY: The August Save the Pine Bush vegetarian/vegan
lasagna dinner was the setting for Mike Venuti, the new director
Pine Bush Discovery Center, to describe what the Pine Bush Discovery
Center will be and the progress on the Discovery Center.
Mr. Venuti began by briefly describing his background.
He has worked with New York State Parks for 27 years, including
working on a
park in the Long Island pine barrens, and most recently working
at the Saratoga State Park. He has two master’s degrees,
one in natural resource management and one in clinical psychology.
He is very excited about the Discovery Center.
It will be located in the building currently known as the SEFCU
building (the State
Employees Federal Credit Union). It is planned that SEFCU will
leave the site in the summer of 2004. There are 24,000 square
feet of space in the building; 6,000 square feet will be used
for the Discover Center.
Currently, much work has been done to plan and
prepare for the Discovery Center. An interpreted planning document
has been prepared
for the Center. This document was developed internally by the
Albany Pine Bush Commission, and no public input was sought.
Two staff members of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve
Commission, Erin and Wendy, have made many visits over the past
to look at other nature interpretive centers to discover what
type of exhibits work and what exhibits don’t work. Their conclusions
were that children love interactive displays, and that often, the
simpler and less technical the exhibit, the more popular it became.
Mr. Venuti outlined discovery-based learning.
It is informal, interactive, self-directed, and has a place for
the visitor to
In other words, “one learns by doing.”
There will be four themes at the Discovery Center,
themes that hopefully visitors will come away understanding.
The first is
that the Pine Bush is a globally unique ecosystem and an endangered
The second theme will be details about wildlife,
plants, the landscape, the ecological communities and how they
The third theme will emphasize the management
techniques, such as the use of burns, mowing, logging and clearing
The forth theme is to make the Pine Bush known
to more people.
The overall goal is to develop stewardship and
a sense of ownership in the visitors. Visitors will also have
an opportunity to help
by learning about the Pine Bush, volunteering, and to teach others
about the Pine Bush.
The target audience for the Discovery Center is
schools, families, volunteers, individuals.
Of course, funding for the Discovery Center is
an essential aspect. To date, the Office of Parks and Recreation
gave a $300,000 Environmental
Protection Fund grant. These funds were used for the design phase.
Currently, the Discovery Center has a request for proposal for
the design of the building and exhibits. In addition, TrustCo.
Bank donated $1 million to the Discovery Center.
Mr. Venuti estimated that the cost to renovate
the building would be about $1.3 million. The Discovery Center
may lease a portion
of the SEFCU building to help cover costs.
Audience members asked Mr. Venuti about how the
Discovery Center will handle the history of Save the Pine Bush,
an obviously important
part of the history of preserving the Pine Bush. After all, Chris
Hawver, Executive Director of the Albany Pine Bush Preserve Commission,
was quoted in the Altamont Enterprise (1/11/01), “Without
Save the Pine Bush, there would probably be no Pine Bush Preserve.
Without sombody carrying the flag, it probably would have been
developed.” One attendee described his visit to Los Alamos,
and how the controversy of nuclear bombs was handled at the site.
He said that both the history of the nuclear bomb program, and
given equal space, were the citizen protests of the bomb-making
Save the Pine Bush is hardly as explosive as the
US nuclear arms program. Yet, the history of Save the Pine Bush
may not be included
as anything more than a footnote at the Discovery Center. As
one of the four themes of the Discovery Center is to emphasize
citizens can take action, it seems the Discovery Center should
use Save the Pine Bush as one example of a group of average
citizens who will not give up until their goal - preservation
of all of
the remaining Pine Bush - is met.