Tag Archives: Peebles Island State Park

You Gotta Have Friends (Groups) … And Parks Does!

There are 90 years of history separating Bob Emerson and Dave DeMarco, but a common cause uniting them.

Emerson is the executive director at Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site on Lake Erie, where a not-for-profit association was formed in 1927 to protect the then-decaying 18th century fort, making the organization the oldest “friends” group in the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

DeMarco is the president of Parks’ newest volunteer group – The Friends of Peebles Island State Park – that just formed in 2017 to help at a park in the Capital Region with its own Colonial-era military history.

Their groups bookend a statewide array of 76 such local organizations filled by everyday people who provide critical support and stewardship in partnership with State Parks. More people are deciding to help out at their favorite park, as more than 20 such groups have formed during the last two decades.


Use this map to find a Friends Group at a State Park near you…


Understanding the value of Friends groups, the state helps by offering up grants for key projects. Last year, the budget for such grants could be doubled to $1 million..

While such groups are mostly volunteers, like Peebles, there are some organizations with paid staff that raise funds and manage budgets for operations and renovations, like the Old Fort Niagara Association.

No matter the size, these volunteer groups have a large impact, accounting for more than $17 million in fundraising to benefit their respective parks in 2018, according to a recent report released by the advocacy group Parks & Trails New York. That was on top of nearly 132,000 hours of work by more than 5,100 volunteers that was valued at more than $3 million.

It doesn’t take a big checkbook to make a big difference. The majority of such groups do it all on $10,000 a year or less, according to the Parks & Trails report. The Old Fort Niagara Association, which has a full-time paid staff of more than a dozen people to run the historic fortress, also has historically had one of the largest budgets at more than $5 million annually.

“We are kind of unique here at Old Fort Niagara, in that we came into existence when this was still an Army base, before State Parks took it over. So, we were used to running this site,” said Emerson, who has overseen the historic site and its French-era fortresses as the facility’s executive director for 22 years.

DeMarco, a Waterford resident and retired administrator for SUNY Central, had been visiting Peebles Island State Park for years, bringing his kids there when they were young.

“Some years ago, I started leading an informal group of volunteers, who helped with trails and cleanups,” he said. “About four years ago, I was asked by the park manager to consider forming an official friends group. So that is what we did.”

DeMarco started with about a dozen members, and now that is up to about 45 people who volunteer their time to help maintain some five miles of trails in the 190-acre park, located on an island in the Hudson River that has a historic former bleach works.

During the Revolutionary War, the Continental army encamped at Van Schaick and Peebles Islands with the intent to engage the British army heading south from Montreal. Colonel Thaddeus Kosciuszko designed earthwork fortifications on Peebles Island that still exist.

“Our members can also function as ambassadors to the parks, for when people come in. We can greet them, and tell them a bit about the park and its history,” said DeMarco. Members also help out on First Day Hikes on Jan. 1 and “I Love My Park Day” in the spring, and sponsor wildlife and naturalist programs at the park’s visitors center.

“I think our location here at Peebles is one of our advantages. We are easy to reach for a lot of people,” he said.

See Friends Group members at Peebles Island State Park involved with activities like First Day Hikes and trail maintenance.

At Old Fort Niagara, the not-for-profit association has more than 700 members, making it the largest such friends group in State Parks. Members were part of more than 32,000 hours of volunteer labor at the site last year, said Emerson.

The group is responsible for running programs at the fort, as well as overseeing research efforts and a collection of historic objects related to the site. It handles a food concession, a gift shop, and the hiring of up to 60 seasonal workers to run the operation during the primary tourist season.


Volunteers perform a range of roles at Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site.


Emerson has advice for those thinking about forming a friends group for their park. “First, have a relationship with your park manager and the regional manager,” he said. “Keep it up. Reach out to your local tourism promotion agency, too.”

DeMarco said he learned the “identifying your active core” of volunteers is a key step to setting up a friends group. Parks staff helped in the paperwork requirements, which include incorporation as a not-for-profit organization, and filing of appropriate paperwork with the state Attorney General’s Office and the U.S. Internal Revenue Service

“You then need to identify your purpose,” Demarco said. “Finally, collaborate with Parks & Trails New York. They have all the resources that you will need to help get you started.”


Cover Shot- Members of The Friends of Peebles Island State Park roll up their sleeves during some trail maintenance there. (Photo Credit- Dave DeMarco)

All photos courtesy of The Friends of Peebles Island State Park and Old Fort Niagara Association.


By Brian Nearing, Deputy Public Information Officer, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Learn more about how to start your own Friends Group.

Read about what Friends Groups have done in other parks across the U.S.

Explore the Parks & Trails New York webpage on Friends groups.

Parks Goes Solar

As we celebrate Earth Day we’d like to tell you a little bit about some of the projects our Energy & Sustainability Office is working on that benefit the environment. Particularly we’d like to tell you how they are developing renewable energy projects all across the state. State Parks has developed several solar arrays over the last few years. Solar arrays use panels to catch sunlight. You’ve probably seen them on the roofs of houses in your neighborhood or maybe even your own house. The panels catch the light from the sun and turn that into electricity for use in the house or building.

NYS Parks has completed 13 solar installation projects to date. Our goals is use the sun to power part or all of our Parks. As a result of their work State Parks is recognized as the leading renewable energy agency in the state. Most installations were completed by trained in-house State Parks employees after they went through a solar power training course at HVCC. By training employees to install solar arrays, Parks is able to save money and give employees the opportunity to learn valuable skills that give them a better understanding of the project. State Parks currently has about 50 staff members with this training and continues to train more each year.

Beginning in 2012 with the construction of the rooftop array on the Niagara Falls Discovery Center State Parks renewable energy projects have grown in number and size. State Parks Staff have installed arrays in several parks across the state including, Niagara Falls, Letchworth, Robert Moses, and Grafton Lakes.

The 13th solar installation was at Robert Moses State Park in Long Island, and will become the first energy neutral State Park in the United States. The nearly 700 kilowatt solar array will save more than $100,000 each year. Built with 2,432 panels, this pole-mounted array is located in the back of parking field 4 of Robert Moses State Park. The solar panels are made in the United States by SolarWorld and supplied by National Solar Technology in Buffalo. This is the largest solar installation by State employees in the State’s history.

Currently Parks is installing a new solar system with a 144 kW capacity at the headquarters of the Historic Preservation Office, Peebles Island State Park in Cohoes. The array will account for more than 20% of the electricity used by the complex. Parks is also constructing a solar array on the roof of the Bathhouse at Lake Taghkanic State Park.  This 40kW solar array will provide more than 25% of the buildings electric need.

Happy Earth Day!

Niagara
Niagara Falls Discovery Center System Output: 8.74 kW Annual Output: 10,940 kWh, photo by State Parks
Letchworth
Letchworth Visitors Center System Output: 25 kW Annual Output: 29,200 kWh, photo by State Parks
Robert Moses
Robert Moses State Park, Field 4 System Output: 693.12 kW Annual Output: 920,000 kWh, photo by State Parks