The Finger Lakes area has everything you need for an exceptional outdoor experience: our lakes and trails, the changing seasons and wonderful parks that everyone, from youth to senior, can find something to enjoy. One place to explore or learn more about our abundant natural resources is the Montezuma Audubon Center, located not too far away on Route 89 in Savannah.
Dawn DeRoo-Nelson grew up on a fruit farm and loves being outdoors. She and her sister were always outside doing something. Growing up for them included scouting, camping, exploring and just relishing in nature. Throughout her life, Dawn’s appreciation for nature’s bounty has continued to grow. Dawn lives in western New York and she has a summer home in the town of Wolcott. She was delighted when the MAC opened. And she currently chairs the MAC’s Advisory Board.
The MAC is a state-owned facility operated through a cooperative agreement between the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the National Audubon Society. It serves as the northern gateway to the 50,000-acre Montezuma Wetlands Complex, which includes forest, wetland, grassland and agricultural habitats.
“The MAC is just a great place for people in this area,” said Dawn, a registered dental hygienist. Dawn is also a wife, grandmother and devoted ambassador for enjoying and protecting the outdoors.
Her first husband, Bob, was an avid outdoorsman who loved to hunt and fish. Upon his death, the family asked that memorial donations be directed to the MAC. In 2008, Dawn created the Robert F. DeRoo Memorial Youth Conservation Event. The event has grown into a youth conservation dinner as well as a youth conservation pheasant and waterfowl hunt. The event is for those ages 12 to 15.
Dawn reflected upon Bob’s life, saying, “Any day he could be outside was a wonderful day for him, and this event not only honors him but helps to instill important qualities of stewardship, safety and love of the outdoors in our youngsters.”
Dawn wants today’s youth to grow up to enjoy and appreciate their time in the outdoors. She states that it’s important that we teach our children to be ethical conservationists and good stewards of nature. It’s critical that those who use the outdoors make it better for others.
Since it opened, the MAC has embraced the value of connecting youth and families to conservation through the support of sportsman education programming. “Dawn has been instrumental in developing and growing our youth sportsman initiative,” said Chris Lajewski, center director.
The programs and the activities of the MAC are vast. It houses a large exhibit area, classroom, nature store, office area, auditorium and a meeting room. Designated as Audubon’s first globally significant Important Bird Area, Montezuma hosts nearly 300 bird species, including hundreds of thousands of waterfowl and dozens of bald eagles. On its 198 acres, there are five different types of habitat, two restored freshwater marshes, two miles of hiking trails and an all-access observation platform. Audubon New York operates the center, in partnership with the NYSDEC, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Ducks Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy in the planning of educational and interpretative programs and exhibits.
Dawn says that no matter your knowledge or abilities, there are volunteer opportunities at the MAC. You could donate time once a year for an event that you’re particularly fond of or routinely at the center in support of its many programs. “I could think of a hundred different things where we need an extra pair of hands,” exclaimed Dawn.
She said that it’s important to make the time to do what’s important to you, and helping the MAC not just grow, but thrive, is a passion for her. With the help of other advisory board members, the center’s director and the volunteers, they are always looking on what new things to add, how to raise additional funds, grow the membership and engage the community.
The Montezuma Audubon Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays. Trails are open daily from dawn to dusk. Check out the website for the program schedule and volunteer opportunities (ny.audubon.org).