Castile, N.Y. – April 22, 2014 – Letchworth State Park has announced an effort to build a new, four-season nature center. The Letchworth Nature Center will help the state park enhance its visitor experience by adding a state-of-the-art space to house new programming and technology, along with an increased number of educational and recreational activities.
Letchworth State Park welcomes roughly 750,000 visitors each year and has a huge impact on the local economy as a tourist destination and local natural resource. Known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” the park is the largest environmental facility in the area, spanning 14,000 acres and offers an outlet for many types of outdoor enthusiasts from hiking to camping to white water rafting. In addition, the park offers a top-rated interpretive program that draws 35,000 participants each year, including 50 school groups and 60 bus tours. Letchworth Nature Center will provide an avenue to expand interpretive programs and cater to a larger number of park visitors.
“Roughly 62% of all visitors that enter Letchworth State Park on an annual basis enter through the Livingston County-Mount Morris gate,” says Lisa Burns, Vice President of the office of tourism and marketing at the Livingston County Chamber of Commerce. “That number represents huge business for our local innkeepers and retailers. The addition of the Nature Center is not only a great value to the park, it has the potential to bring a much larger number of visitors to the area.”
As a year-round ADA compliant and sustainable facility, the center will provide a venue where patrons will be able to learn about Letchworth’s natural history and existing environmental conditions. Visitors will also learn about the park’s spectacular geology and unique flora and fauna with extended programming and observational tools. Designs for the center include spaces for local colleges to hold classes for environmental studies with designated research, exhibition and classroom spaces planned.
New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has already announced his support for the project, by awarding Letchworth a $288,000 design grant through the New York Works Park Capital Improvement fund and various State grants. As part of his support, the state will also match any funds raised by the park in a two-third share. In total, the project will cost an estimated $4.8 million, including a $1 million endowment that will cover ongoing operational costs of the new facility.
“Letchworth State Park is one of the crown jewels of our state park system,” said State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey. “Providing a year-round facility where our patrons can learn more about the unique geology and history of this park is long overdue. So we are grateful to Governor Cuomo for his support of this project through the New York Works program and Regional Economic Development Council.” Harvey went on to say the project also has the full support of the NYS Office of Parks. “We look forward to helping make the Letchworth Nature Center become a reality.”
The idea for the Letchworth Nature Center is not a new one. It first took shape in 1975, when the Audubon Society made the case to build a year-round facility on the property. At the time, funding was not available, but the idea of the center remained a priority for Letchworth park staff. In 2011, a private donation to the park went towards funding a Conceptual Scoping Study Report – once again determining the need for a year-round center on Letchworth State Park property. The study identified potential partners, stakeholders, and a site location, with plans to move forward with building the structure.
A Letchworth Nature Center Planning Committee formed late last year to oversee the project and fundraising efforts. Through the efforts of this committee, a final location for the center has been determined and floor plans for the structure designed. The committee members include both public and private supporters from organizations such as the NYS Office of Parks, Friends of Letchworth, Genesee Region State Parks and Recreation Commission, Open Space Institute (OSI), and the Natural Heritage Trust.