Lime Hollow Beginnings
by Charles Yaple
The concept of preserving a unique wetlands ecological area (called Lime Hollow) just south of the City of Cortland was conceived by a group of SUNY Cortland faculty members in the late1960s and early 1970s. The dream took on embryonic form in 1978 when the Cortland County Environmental Management Council (EMC) learned that Cortland County was going to become the recipient of the abandoned Lehigh Valley Railroad corridor stretching to the county line where it would join a similar portion being donated to Tompkins County. Under the leadership of council members George McDermott, John Gustafson, Charles Yaple, Alan Christopher and others, the grand overview was to create a natural area preserve and green-belt linear park stretching from the southern boundaries of the City of Cortland to Ithaca. That dream was short-lived when the Tompkins County Legislature decided to let the railroad corridor revert to land owners situated along the former Lehigh Valley railroad. Showing more foresight, the Cortland County Legislature decided to maintain ownership of its portion of the railroad corridor.
A concept booklet, Lime Hollow: A Natural Preserve Summary and Plan, was prepared by the EMC and members began to contact land owners adjacent to the abandoned railroad regarding donation or sale of properties abutting the old railroad line. Despite an earnest attempt, lack of financial support made this effort unsuccessful and the project went dormant for a number of years. Meanwhile two efforts (4H Camp Owahta in the town of Solon and High Vista in Scott township) were made to create a nature center in Cortland County. They both failed, in part due to their remote locations and inadequate funding.
Like a beech tree stump that may appear dead (see The Secret Life of Trees), fifty years may pass before conditions are right and a new sapling is birthed. Favorable conditions for a nature center at Lime Hollow finally materialized in 1993. SUNY Cortland had recently created a Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education charged with developing new curriculum, improving campus life to reflect greater environmental commitment, conducting environmental and outdoor education research and reaching out to the local community to spearhead relevant projects. In the spring of 1993, the director (James Meade) of what was then called the Tunison Lab of Fish Nutrition contacted the SUNY Center seeking help developing a video about the important environmental research being conducted at Tunison. A meeting ensued between the SUNY director and Tunison’s James Meade to discuss the video project. Having finished deliberation on the video project, a lull in conversation ensued. It was a warm, sunny day and an open window let the bubbling and babbling sounds of a nearby brook enter the office. Those conditions and a view of the extensive surrounding hemlock/hardwood forest captured the attention of the two men. Some might call what happened next a harmonic convergence or an epiphany, when director Meade said, “Tunison’s research work only requires clean water and over 100 acres out there goes unused. Do you think the community might want to develop a nature center here? We also have two former staff houses that are available and there is a new federal grant program to assist cooperative projects between government agencies and local communities.”
"Like a beech tree stump that may appear dead, fifty years may pass before conditions are right and a new sapling is birthed." Favorable conditions for a nature center at Lime Hollow finally materialized in 1993.
A “perfect storm” had just arrived. Those who dreamed of preserving the ecologically unique Lime Hollow area were still around, as were those who had tried to create a nature center elsewhere in Cortland County, the SUNY Cortland Center could justify donating staff time to help organization and there was funding available to support initial operating costs. Additional good fortune also existed in the misfortune of the failed High Vista Nature Center endeavor in that they had completed the formal incorporation process to become a legal not-for-profit organization in New York State. Getting its name changed to Lime Hollow Nature Center was not complicated. All that remained was finding a way to match the roughly $35,000 funds available from the federal grant. Good luck continued to flow and the money issue got resolved rather quickly thanks to friends and officers of the Cortland County Bird Club. In addition to some reserve funds and a willingness to sell some donated property, the Bird Club provided the “lions share” of the local funds needed.
In retrospect it seems hard to believe, but by early summer 1993 Lime Hollow Nature Center’s Board of Directors (BOD) was able to hire its first executive director (Danny Markus) and begin developing facilities and trails. A two-bay Tunison garage on Gracie Road was converted by all volunteer help into a classroom and an adjacent house became an interpretive building and temporary home for the new director. Prisoners from the NYS Department of Corrections at Camp Pharsalia were bused in daily and worked with great passion to complete the initial trail system.
Relying mainly on a volunteer teaching staff of retired teachers (SUNY Cortland and local school districts) and others, a school field trip program got “off the ground.” Complemented by a calendar of nature-oriented public programs and an open house or two, The Lime Hollow Nature Center at 3091 Gracie Road became operational in the fall of 1993. It was, however, far from financially stable necessitating developing revenue streams in addition to what programmatic offerings could contribute.
It was a warm, sunny day and an open window let the bubbling and babbling sounds of a nearby brook enter the office. Those conditions and a view of the extensive surrounding hemlock/hardwood forest captured the attention of the two men. Some might call what happened next a harmonic convergence or an epiphany, when director Meade said, “Tunison’s research work only requires clean water and over 100 acres out there goes unused. Do you think the community might want to develop a nature center here?"
A membership and public relations initiative was developed and the new director and BOD members went into the community to tell Lime Hollow’s story. This is perhaps the most difficult stage, one called “The Start-up Stage: The Labor of Love” referred to in Susan Kenny Stevens’ book, Nonprofit Lifecycles (See Glenn Reisweber’s article elsewhere in Woodland Whispers). Indeed, it takes time, dedicated leaders and opportune conditions for new cultural movements and organizations to develop a support base. Two things, among others, played into Lime Hollow’s favor during the 1993-2007period. 1) Growing public consciousness about the need to protect Cortland County’s natural resources (e.g. recent defeat of a federal proposal to make the county a site for disposal of radioactive nuclear waste) and, 2) awareness that too much time spent indoors contributes to poor physical, mental and spiritual health (e.g. publication of Richard Louv’s best seller, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder).
Blessed with a location close to the City of Cortland, easy access to a system of nature trails, and quality nature-based programs led by well-trained educators ( SUNY Cortland graduate students), Lime Hollow was poised to be recognized, make friends and gain financial support for its mission. This enabled success in obtaining grants and substantial private donations to acquire additional properties to preserve the ecologically unique Lime Hollow area and offer the public a growing array of nature based experiences (e.g. an enlarged trail system, more outdoor recreation opportunities, and the beginnings of what would become a vibrant and much in demand camp program for children). Perhaps the crowning achievement in this stage was the creation and opening of the Lime Hollow Center for Environment and Culture Visitor Center in 2007.
Space limitations in this issue of Woodland Whispers prevent further embellishment on Lime Hollow’s beginnings. Many additional comments, for example, could be made by naming and detailing the contributions of hundreds of individuals and staff members. Their commitment and love will live on as Lime Hollow begins its second twenty-five years of existence.
The previous comments are the thoughts and memories of a most fortunate man. One is blessed in their earthly journey to have experiences that bring a sense of purpose and meaning to life. Involvement with the creation and beginnings of the Lime Hollow Center has done that for this writer. Thank you.
Note: Yaple was the SUNY Cortland Center for Environmental and Outdoor Education director from 1992-1996, Lime Hollow BOD president from 1993-1997 and executive director from 1997-2007.