Discovery Center

ALBANY, NY: The August Save the Pine Bush vegetarian/vegan lasagna dinner was the setting for Mike Venuti, the new director of the 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 exhibits 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 three years 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 take action. 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 landscape.

The second theme will be details about wildlife, plants, the landscape, the ecological communities and how they relate to each other.

The third theme will emphasize the management techniques, such as the use of burns, mowing, logging and clearing in managing the ecosystem.

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 program.

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 that 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.