The transition of the VICs is almost complete. Now it's time for the public to put its money where its mouth is and help keep these facilities going strong.
A year ago, supporters of the Adirondack Park Agency Visitor Interpretive Centers (VICs) were scrambling to fight the possible closure of the centers at Paul Smiths and Newcomb. It was budget time for the state, and the APA was faced with shutting down its Interpretive Programs Division. Tensions were high. It was an emotional time for everyone, especially those, like me, who love the VICs.
You see, I worked for the VICs for eight years - as the public relations guy from 2001 to 2009. My friends were faced with layoffs. More importantly, I had seen firsthand how beneficial the VICs were to educating the public about the Adirondack environment. So I fought to keep the VICs open along with dozens of other supporters, writing my fair share of letters to our elected representatives, who were more intent on saving prison jobs than saving the VICs. It seemed like a losing battle, even as a VIC Transition Steering Committee was formed to find new owner/operators for the centers. But there was a happy ending.
A year later, now that SUNY-ESF and Paul Smith's College have "saved the VICs" and are running the buildings, the future seems bright. The trails are open. Programs will continue. The Adirondack Park Institute -the VIC friends group since 1989 - will still be educating the public about the natural wonders of the Adirondack Park. And both centers will be open to the public with expanded missions that will explore the natural and cultural assets of the region.
I give credit to the APA for keeping its word and finding new owners for the VICs, now called the Paul Smiths VIC and the Adirondack Interpretive Center in Newcomb. It wasn't an easy process, but the results were positive. I applaud SUNY-ESF and Paul Smith's College for making the commitment to keep the centers open to the public. And I thank the API for continuing its mission to "teach a generation to care." After all, this is what the public was fighting for in March 2010.
But at what cost? The colleges are now faced with operating the centers, and it's not cheap. They have to find money that wasn't in their budgets to staff and maintain the facilities. Plus, the Adirondack Park Institute needs to raise money for educational programs, including the popular Native Species Butterfly House at Paul Smiths. They are all taking big risks for our benefit.
Now that the public's prayers have been answered, it's time for people to step up and support the colleges and the API to keep the centers open. They can't do it alone.
Find ways to volunteer. Become a member of the API. Donate money to the colleges and earmark those funds for the buildings' staff and/or maintenance. Maybe there is equipment they need that can be donated. The roof needs to be fixed at the Paul Smiths VIC; it would be nice to see some donations of labor and supplies reach the college for that important project.
This is the time for the "friends of the VICs" to rally once again and show how much they care about these places. The VICs are still open, but they need your help now more than ever.
Andy Flynn is assistant managing editor at Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org