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$39,000 GRANT STARTS BOND LAKE ENHANCEMENTS

Things are changing at Bond Lake Park. The Warming House has been brightened by a fresh coat of paint and new landscaping is under way.

These are the first of many changes to come, thanks to a $39,000 grant recently awarded to the Bond Lake Environment and Beautification Committee by the Niagara County Environment Fund.

Committee Chairman Mark Gray said the money will be used to convert the 545-acre park into a year-round environmental education center.

He said the application for funds qualified under three of the four criteria for funding. "The criteria for grant applicants were environmental cleanup projects, environmental education projects, which we fall under, enhancement of public use, which we also fall under, and environmental restoration projects, which we also fall under. The only thing we didn't have was problems with cleanup," he said.

Gray expects the project to be completed in one to two years.

Carol A. Schmeltz, also a member of the committee, which is composed of volunteers dedicated to the environmental education center project, said the Warming House will eventually become a nature center.

Gray said, "We're in the process of converting the ski rental area. It will be set up somewhat like Tifft Nature Farms or like the Buffalo Museum of Science, with wildlife displays, different things about habitat, ecosystem displays. We have several taxidermy animals and things like that we've acquired."

The education center will also include a display of how the area was formed -- "The geology of the area. Because it is on the escarpment, it is a geological phenomenon," said Gray. There will also be information about farming, which is currently done in one section of the park, and, said Gray, "it's a big part of Niagara County."

Ms. Schmeltz refers to Bond Lake Park, with its eight lakes, sledding hill and cross-country ski trails, as a "diamond in the rough."

The committee hopes that the environmental education center project will draw visitors all year. "What we're trying to do is make the park four-season usable, more through awareness than anything," Gray said. "It's heavily used in the winter for cross-country skiing and sledding, but we'd like to promote it for bird-watching and nature walks, fishing and canoeing and that kind of stuff."

To achieve that goal, the cross-country ski trails will be opened as nature trails. "They kind of are already," said Gray, "but not many people are using them that way. There are birders that go up there and walk the trails, but we'd like to see more people get involved in that type of thing."

Bond Lake Park is larger than Tifft Farms and the committee hopes it will eventually attract the same volume of visitors. They hope to set it up to be self-guided except for one staffed area.

"As part of the education center, we're going to do a nature theater," said Gray. "It will be able to handle most classroom sizes and we will have a video library of videos that are reflective of what goes on in the park. Those will be available to the public."

The environmental education center will be accessible to the handicapped. A slate patio is being built to serve as a wildlife viewing area, complete with new landscaping "to attract wildlife, birds and butterflies," said Gray.

"That's going to be out in the front. The handicapped will have a place to watch birds and butterflies without having to go out onto nature trails, which usually aren't conducive to handicapped travel."

The Bond Lake Environmental and Beautification Committee is always open to volunteers. To join, write the Bond Lake Environmental and Beautification Committee, P.O. Box 172, Ransomville, N.Y., 14131.