Founded in 1936, Forsyth Nature Center is perhaps Kingston’s most beloved institution. The city-owned facility has undergone a transformation in the last eight years, doubling in size, with new fences and animal pens, a heated turtle house, picnic gazebo, and wheelchair-accessible boardwalk around the pond. These improvements wouldn’t have been possible without the support of local businesses, according to caretaker Mark DeDea.
Its interpretative center has more than a dozen animals and gardens and is an important environmental educational resource for school groups. The center also offers a robust program of guided nature walks in the region, as well as kayaking on the Hudson in season.
In 2005, DeDea launched Friends of Forsyth Nature Center, initially as a way to raise money for the new fence, with silver ($250), gold ($500) and platinum ($1,000 or more) levels. The nature center now has more than 25 partners and sponsors, many of them Main Street businesses. One is Barcone’s Music, which has donated financially. “My grandchildren, who live in Stone Ridge, love coming there. I think it’s very important for the children of Kingston to have a place to go,” said Janice Barcone. “Forsyth Park when I was a teenager was a pretty sad little place for animals, but now there’s been a total revamp. They’ve expanded a lot. ”
During the fall festival, Artcraft Camera & Digital, owned by the Fitzgerald family, contributes staff and equipment to take pictures of kids with the animals. “They just take out the cost of film, and in the last festival we raised several hundred dollars this way,” said DeDea. The Fitzgerald family’s membership in the Friends program extends to Blimpie’s, located in Kingston Plaza, whose owner donates and helps with the fall festival, as well as donating subs at the events, he said.
Another loyal supporter is Herzog’s True Value Hardware, which has provided the fencing material and other building supplies and products at very competitive prices. “They are a lot about the kids in this community and are our bread and butter,” said Fred Seeger, Herzog’s general manager. “I went there as a kid, and it’s a gem.”
In fact, the nature center has a broad base of support. The most generous donors are civic groups—the Junior League (which donated $20,000), Rotary Club (donated $10,000) and Heart Healthy Coalition (donated $5,000). Hillside Manor donates their venue for formal fundraisers, while Hurley Avenue Veterinary provided a huge discount on the bill for treatment of a sick macaw. Lucas Avenue Pet Supply “funnels donations from specific local businesses,” said DeDea. Alcoa, the parent company of Huck International, donates volunteers and cash.
DeDea said the center currently has $25,000 of Friends’ donations in the bank, which should cover most of the remaining capital projects. While he hopes the money doesn’t have to go towards operational expenses, if the allocation from the city runs out before the end of the year, as it has in the past, it’s good to have a back up.
Besides donating money and providing discounts on needed materials and services, local businesses also help raise awareness. For example, Forsyth Nature Center sets up a table with a petting turtle at the annual yard sale fund-raiser held by Rondout Savings Bank, according to marketing administrator Gaelen Doughman. “We’ve supported them since 2005,” she said. “They understand the importance of protecting the environment and are one of the cornerstones of our community.”