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HELPING OTHERS: Nature-Based Charities and Non-Profits in Your Own Backyard

By Alicia Dziak

Giving back isn’t just a need during the holidays. It’s a year-round commitment for numerous organizations. Whether you are generally on the giving end or on the receiving end of charity work, take some time to pay it forward by helping out with a cause that’s meaningful to you.

Nature lovers in western New York are lucky to have many places to enjoy. The Enchanted Mountains region is home to New York’s largest and one of its most beloved state parks, Allegany State Park (ASP), boasting hundreds of cabins for year-round camping, numerous tent and trailer sites, and miles of trails meandering through and around lakes, meadows and dense woods. Maintaining this beautiful park takes a lot of work, and while the park has employees who do this work, there is always more work to be done.

That’s where the Friends of Allegany State Park comes in. The volunteer group meets at the park once a month in the warmer months to tackle various projects throughout the park, such as trail cleanup, painting cabins and building picnic benches. For more information on upcoming events, visit www.facebook.com/FriendsOfAlleganyStatePark.

Some people who enjoy nature focus their efforts on finding ways to enjoy it more, and that’s where the creators of the new Ellicottville-Great Valley Trail come in. The trail, commonly referred to as the EVGV Trail, will be an all-season transportation and recreation trail for hikers and other non-motorized vehicles, connecting scenic points, schools, resorts and businesses in both EVL and Great Valley, and providing numerous opportunities for trail users to explore their surroundings while getting some fresh air. The trail committee is always looking for volunteers to share their time and talents, as well as monetary donations to make the trail a reality for area residents and visitors. For more information, like them on Facebook (www.facebook.com/EVLtrail) or contact Jennie Acklin at (716) 699-4062.

Wild Spirit Education, based in Delevan, is dedicated to enlightening others to the wonders of the natural world through conservation, preservation and environmental education. The not-for-profit offers a variety of free and small fee programs for the general public, and across WNY and Northern Pennsylvania each year in schools, eldercare facilities and other venues. For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.wildspirit.org.

Nature education is also a priority at Reinstein Nature Preserve, based out of Depew but serving all of WNY. Reinstein also offers a wide variety of nature programs for any size group of any age. In-school programs address topics like recycling, animal tracks and skull science, with nominal associated fees. Additionally, Reinstein offers free educator workshops and resources, such as free rain barrels to benefit K-12 students. For more information on program topics and volunteer opportunities, visit www.dec.ny.gov/education/1837.html or call (716) 683-5959.

Pfeiffer Nature Center, located in Portville, is a private not-for-profit, and is home to over 600 acres of hiking trails, a historic American Chestnut log cabin, great birding areas and more. The center offers year-round education programs on a variety of topics. Volunteers are always needed for everything from leading nature hikes and teaching programs, to helping as a citizen scientist to band birds, take tree measurements, count frogs and collect water samples.  For more information, call (716) 933-0187.

In addition, approximately two-thirds of Pfeiffer’s annual budget comes from donations, with all locally received funds supporting their four-pronged mission of preserving the old-growth forest, providing an area for scientific research, promoting nature study programs and advancing natural resource stewardship. For more information, or to make a donation, visit www.pfeiffernaturecenter.org.

When it comes to helping non-profits, every little bit counts. Even if you have only one hour or one dollar to spare, your time, talents or monetary donations add up and make a huge difference in the end.

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