Full Steam Ahead

One of the museum's goals is to feature the largest freshwater fish aquarium in the Northeast. Photo by Bill Banaszewski

It’s not merely an idea anymore: In just four short years we have formed a board of trustees and an advisory board, which together with the help of nearly a hundred dedicated volunteers and outside organizations, have moved rapidly to transform the idea for The Finger Lakes Museum into a reality.

The State Education Department awarded us a museum charter just 10 months after our first organizational meeting was held in July 2008. Soon afterward, we received not-for-profit tax status from the Internal Revenue Service, which enabled us to raise funds. Next, we undertook an exhaustive 8-month evaluation of 19 site proposals before selecting Keuka Lake State Park.

To pay for market and feasibility studies and fund startup operations, the board launched and initially funded its Founders Campaign in July 2010 and set the goal of raising $1 million by December 31, 2011, a goal exceeded by almost $14,000! Nearly 1,500 donors contributed gifts that ranged from $5 to $100,000, and their names will be permanently inscribed on the Founders Wall in the museum’s main entrance.

Other milestones include the selection of design and construction management teams that are already working together. The design team includes architects Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, exhibit designers Christopher Chadbourne & Associates, and Ithaca landscape architects Trowbridge & Wolf. LeChase Construction Services teamed up with Gilbane Building Company to form the LeChase/ Gilbane Partnership. All are award-winning firms that have expertise in museum and natural habitat exhibit design and construction.

We’ve formed some valuable partnerships, the most important of which is our alliance with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation. We’re working closely together – both regionally and in Albany – to carefully plan the museum’s development. And, we have established academic affiliations with Cayuga Community College, Cornell University, Finger Lakes Community College, The Finger Lakes Institute, Keuka College, and Wells College, and institutional associations with the Rochester Museum & Science Center, The Strong Museum and the Glenn H. Curtiss Museum.

Last December, the museum was awarded $2.3 million in New York State economic development grants as one of 10 Finger Lakes Region Economic Development Council-recommended transformational projects. Those funds will be used to convert the Branchport Elementary School, which the museum purchased a year ago, into The Finger Lakes Research & Education Center.

That part of the project is shovel-ready and will serve as the museum’s operations center and a place where regional academic institutions can collaborate in the study of issues like water quality, invasive species and sustainability. It will become a permanent adjunct facility to the museum and serve as a hub for community gatherings as well.

One feature that will redefine the word museum is the largest freshwater fish aquarium in the Northeast, which will replicate a cross-section of a typical Finger Lake and display the various species of fish that inhabit the lakes today. Quarantined sections will show the impacts of invasive species. Another redefinition will come in the form of a 19th century winery, designed and built to operate without power generation of any kind, and a vineyard, which will produce native and hybrid species of grapes. These exhibits and more are part of a planned 2014 opening of the first of several phases of development at Keuka Lake State Park.

Later this year, our second educational program, “Dreams into Nectar: The Finger Lakes Wine Story,” will be presented at various venues around the Finger Lakes and will include a video production combined with wine tastings. We are currently looking for sponsors for this program and more – because it’s not just an idea anymore.

Visit www.fingerlakesmuseum.org for more information.


by John Adamski