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Audubon celebrates accomplishments

Safe social distancing was maintained when the Audubon Community Nature Center held its recent annual meeting virtually.

Leigh Rovegno, Audubon Community Nature Center executive director, welcomed everyone with a reminder of Audubon’s new vision statement: “ACNC envisions a future where every child within our community has a real and healthy connection to nature.”

After a break-out session and report back on the celebrations and successes of the past year, Rovegno recognized outgoing board member, Joe Rollman.

Andrew Harrington, board chair, welcomed returning board members Willow Fodor and Tim Smeal of Jamestown and Tim Piotrowski of Busti, as well as new board member Elisabeth (Beth) Hall. Hall, who lives in Sinclairville with her husband and two children, is the owner of Miller Hall Financial Professionals and is in her final semester at University of Buffalo School of Law.

Robert Klebacha, ACNC treasurer, reported a clean audit for the previous fiscal year and solvency for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2020.

In lieu of the event’s traditional “door prize,” Louise Boutwell won the zoom prize competition, a gift certificate to Audubon’s Blue Heron Gift Shop.

Rovegno discussed the accomplishments of the past year, despite limitations imposed by the coronavirus epidemic.

The major addition to the grounds was the completion of the beautiful Stephanie Frucella Education Pavilion in the back yard of the Nature Center building. Available for meetings and rentals, it has been invaluable in being able to maintain safe social distancing for children’s programming.

Other completed works outdoors include a new swing in memory of Rose Stark, the raising and leveling of Spatterdock footbridge, the installation of a Little Free Nature Library, new trail maps and a trail kiosk station, trail counters funded by the Lenna Foundation grant that capture visitor information, a shelter on the Yellow Trail, and a “mud kitchen” used during Audubon’s new Nature Play Care Program.

Indoors, the Nature Center building has updated toilets as well as upgrades to the indoor nature play area, including air conditioning, new carpeting and additional play items paid for by the Ralph C. Sheldon Foundation. The space is now available by reservation for family groups of up to 10 people by calling the Nature Center during business hours.

Much of Audubon’s programming had to be reimagined to ensure safety during the pandemic. Three thousand student contacts were made through 165 virtual presentations to Chautauqua County schools between April and May after schools were closed due to COVID-19. By limiting capacity and interaction and taking daily temperature checks, ACNC was able to offer 24 different day camps to 250 kids, with no cases of COVID-19.

COVID-19 also inspired new programming at Audubon. Four- to six-year-olds can now enroll in Nature Play Care, available to families from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. most Tuesdays through Fridays. Seven- to 10-year-olds can participate in a full day of programming through The Outdoor Classroom, with outdoor lessons in the morning that revolve around state educational standards in both New York and Pennsylvania and free-choice activities in the afternoon.

Finally, Halloween night will be the first Trick-or-Treat at Audubon, when participants can dress up in Halloween costumes and follow the trails to see what animals and other magical woodland creatures have in store for Halloween.

Rovegno generated enthusiasm when she described some of ACNC’s upcoming projects and priorities. Plans are to break ground in November for an expanded wildlife enclosure that will provide a home for up to four more birds near the current habitat of Liberty, Audubon’s non-releasable Bald Eagle. There are also plans for a roadside prairie wildflower installation and a new enclosure for Ebenezer, the Wood Turtle.

Within the coming year, Audubon will also be taking a look at diversity, equity, and inclusion as an organization, both internally and externally. Hopes are to engage with a broader audience in its programming and develop a membership that more accurately represents the diversity of the region.

Rovegno noted that with the combination of creativity, determination and adaptation, Audubon is ending its fiscal year in a good place. She gave high praise to the dedicated staff for making it all possible.

Audubon Community Nature Center is located at 1600 Riverside Road, one-quarter mile east of Route 62 between Jamestown, N.Y., and Warren, Pa. The first floor of the Nature Center building, including the Blue Heron Gift Shop, is open to the public Mondays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Because not all of the building is accessible, admission is by donation only.

Visitors are welcome to visit the 600-acre nature preserve from dawn to dusk daily. Enjoy the native tree arboretum, gardens, six miles of trails, and view Liberty, Audubon’s non-releasable Bald Eagle, while practicing safe social distancing measures.

To learn more about Audubon and its many programs, call 569-2345 during business hours, visit AudubonCNC.org, or find Audubon Community Nature Center on Facebook.

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