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Going stylish and sustainable at Letchworth

The new nature center will have a solar-paneled roof and a dramatic atrium, so it will be both stylish and sustainable when it opens in spring 2016.

An outdoor classroom, meadow, forest and butterfly garden will frame the exterior of the center, and it will be open year round.

What’s more, it will have a spectacular location: Letchworth State Park.

The $6.75 million facility will offer educational and interpretive programming for the park’s 650,000 visitors each year. State and park officials broke ground for the center Thursday.

“As someone who spent my childhood on many family trips at Letchworth State Park, I know that the nature center will enhance this park’s already stellar national reputation,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. “The nature center will provide another destination attraction for tourists to come and discover Western New York.”

The center will feature meeting and classroom space, a research lab and interactive exhibits. It will serve as a welcoming gateway and educate visitors about the park’s natural offerings, geological history and ecosystems.

The funding campaign for the nature center is a public/private partnership spearheaded by the Letchworth Nature Center Campaign Committee. The fundraising goal for private donations is $2.1 million, with $1.75 million raised to date. Private donations will be matched approximately 2-to-1 by public funds from the governor’s state park initiative.

“Letchworth has always attracted millions of visitors to experience its beauty, but thanks to Gov. Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 Plan and our indefatigable partners in the Letchworth Nature Center Campaign Committee, the introduction of this center will even further enhance Letchworth’s standing as one of New York’s greatest tourism and recreational destinations,” said Rose Harvey, commissioner of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The Parks 2020 Plan is a commitment to leverage $900 million in private and public funding for state parks from 2011 to 2020. The 2015-16 state budget allocates $110 million toward this initiative.

In March, SUNY Geneseo joined forces with Letchworth in a partnership that will provide students educational and research opportunities at the nature center. The five-year cooperative agreement allows the college to develop research and environmental restoration projects, programming and exhibits.

Geneseo and Letchworth have worked together on projects in recent years using the park as an outdoor classroom for the college’s environmental studies program. In addition, students have interned at Letchworth and participated in work-study programs.

As part of the agreement, the college will provide up to $75,000 in educational and research equipment for the nature center. An advisory committee comprised of state and college officials will facilitate the joint effort.

“SUNY Geneseo is delighted to be a partner in the new Letchworth Park Nature Center, and students and faculty are eager to learn and work with the community in this beautiful facility,” said Carol Long, Geneseo’s interim president.

The $6.75 million project includes $1 million for an endowment to ensure the ongoing operation of the facility. In addition to the Parks 2020 Plan funding, state grants were secured from the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council in 2013 and 2014.

The park – largely defined by 17 miles of the Genesee River, three major waterfalls and gorge cliffs – draws day-trippers and vacationers. Guided walks, tours, a summer lecture series, whitewater rafting, kayaking, swimming and hot air ballooning are popular summer activities. Winter activities include snow tubing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling.

email: jkwiatkowski@buffnews.com