Friends of Thacher gets $4K from state to attract more members

Enterprise file photo — Saranac Hale Spencer

Protests to save Thacher Park in 2008 brought the Friends of Thacher park some notoriety, says the group’s president, John Kilroy. Now, the Friends have secured a grant to publicize itself further.

The Friends of Thacher Park is looking for more members and just received $4,080 from the state to help with recruitment.

The local grant was among $450,000 awarded to 21 organizations dedicated to the stewardship and promotion of New York State parks, historic sites, and public lands. This is the first time grants are being awarded to DEC Friends groups, according to a release from the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation.

“Our big issue is that, outside of our membership and people who frequent the park, we’re not too well known,” said the group’s president, John Kilroy.

The group was founded in 1997 before he became involved, said Kilroy, when “folks got together to help the salamanders find a little romance.”

The tradition continues today and young members of the Friends of Thacher Park particularly enjoy it. Both spotted salamanders and Jefferson salamanders live in the park, he explained, and in the late winter — “some years as early as March 15” — on the first rainy night above 40 degrees, the salamanders migrate to vernal ponds.

“When they cross the road, a lot of them get squished,” said Kilroy.

To prevent that, volunteers, with buckets and flashlights, walk up and down the road, scooping up the salamanders and depositing them safely near the vernal ponds where they mate.

“It’s rainy and cold,” he said of the weather on those nights. “But it’s really cool,” he concluded of the activity.

The Friends of Thacher Park also works to maintain trails and remove invasive species. And its members help with educational programs, with weekend staffing at the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center, and with ongoing nature programs like nest-box monitoring.

The monitoring involves citizen scientists in Cornell’s Nest Watch program, said Kilroy. There are 20 bluebird boxes near Thompsons Lake, Kilroy explained, and volunteers keep track of “when the birds go in, the eggs they lay, and how many chicks fledge.”

The information is reported to Cornell University, which tracks songbirds, he said.

Kilroy is a popular science teacher at Colonie Central High School who lives in Berne, in the Helderbergs not far from the park.

He said the Friends obtained not-for-profit status in 2003, and got some publicity eight years ago when then-Governor David Paterson, faced with a large budget gap, announced he’d close Thacher Park, and the group objected.

But, Kilroy said, the Friends group needs more publicity and so applied for the grant, getting nearly exactly what was requested. The money will be used to design and produce brochures and banners to publicize the group at events.

Further, a now-blank wall in the park’s new visitors’ center will be used to set up a display, letting people know about the work of the group.

The Friends now number 180 dues-paying members and, if the grant money’s publicity brings in another 50 to 100 members, “that would be absolutely fantastic,” said Kilroy.

Annual dues are assigned on a sliding scale from $5 for seniors up to $100 for a benefactor. Family membership is $20 a year.

“We love everyone but we love getting families involved the most,” said Kilroy. “It’s great when families join and bring kids to the park and foster a love of the park. The kids take ownership and become stewards of the park … It carries into future generations.”

Kilroy’s concluding message: “Come up to the park. Remember, it’s a four-season park. It doesn’t close in the winter.”

Partnership Program

The Park and Trail Partnership Program grants, funded through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund — which is at $300 million this year — will be matched by almost $200,000 in private and local funding to support projects, according to a release from the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The Park and Trail Partnership Program grants are designed to:

— Enhance the preservation, stewardship, interpretation, maintenance, and promotion of New York State parks, trails, historic sites, and public lands;

— Increase the sustainability, effectiveness, productivity, volunteerism, and fundraising capabilities of not-for-profit organizations that promote, maintain and support New York State parks, trails, and state historic sites; and

— Promote the tourism and economic development benefits of outdoor recreation through the growth and expansion of a connected statewide network of parks, trails, and greenways.

The grants are administered by the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and Parks & Trails New York, a statewide not-for-profit group.

Two other Capital Region groups received awards:

— Friends of Clermont: $4,000 to create a planned giving program to raise funds to provide more programs, including marketing materials, a planned giving and named endowment policy, and training for the board of trustees; and

— The Friends of U.S. Grant Cottage: $19,500 to provide critical administrative support and focus on acquiring and maintaining sustainable income sources for the organization.

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