Birders may nest but not pay rent in Whitehall Visitor Center

B y Lee Tugas

A Washington County birding group may nest in the Whitehall Visitor Center, but it’s unlikely they will pay any rent.

Supervisor George Armstrong told the town bard that Washington County Grasslands Important Bird Area will nest seven days a week in the Canal Corp Visitor Center.

But the expectation that the bird watching group would pay rent to offset winter heating costs was premature.

Armstrong reported to the board that the birding group would occupy the Visitor Center without charge.

“They’re going in there and not paying?” Councilman Farrell Prefountaine asked.

Armstrong said that since Washington County Grasslands IBA has the backing of both Canal Corp and Lakes to Locks Passage in Crown Point, there is a possibility that grant monies may be secured in place of rent from the group.

Numerous advantages listed

Despite the fact that the town continues to pay the winter heating bill on the Visitor Center, numerous advantages were cited for occupancy of the center by group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of and protection for endangers short-eared owls and other at-risk birds.

For example, as soon as winter ends, the visitor center opens. Ideally, it is full not only of tourist informational brochures, but also, in the past, by brochures from Whitehall businesses.

All of the board members agreed that last summer the center had been victimized by teenage vandalism, discouraging local businesses from placing their brochures in the center.

The fact that Washington County Grasslands IBA would be on the site seven days a week would considerably cut down on even the threat of vandalism, the board members agreed.

The board agreed that Whitehall is an important wildlife area and that “birding” is an enthusiasm of millions, both in the United States and Canada. Locating a birding center in Whitehall, a birding center with the potential for national recognition, could bring tourism dollars to the cash-strapped town and village that would offset any lack of monthly rent.

“The worse case is,” Armstrong said, “if we get no money, it still will be tremendous.”

The town supervisor reported to the board that both Sharon Leighton, director of community relations for Canal Corp, and Janet Kennedy, executive director of Lakes to Locks Passage, would visit the visitor center this Thursday, Feb. 20, tour the facility at 1 p.m. He invited all other board members to meet and greet the two officials.

Armstrong did not say whether or not Laurie LaFrond, an official with the birding group would also attend. But the supervisor made it clear that he believes the birding group would take up occupancy in the Canal Corp Visitor Center.

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