Wild Center, school agree on ‘parking meadow’

Excavation equipment sits idle as workers take a break from clearing a 2-acre parcel of land the Wild Center is turning into a so-called “parking meadow.” It will be decidedly more “parking” and less “meadow” when it first opens, which is expected by July 1. (Enterprise photo — Ben Gocker)

TUPPER LAKE — The Wild Center is expanding its parking options with a new, so-called “parking meadow” to be built on Tupper Lake Central School District land.

In a lease agreement for zero dollars, the nature museum will gain an additional 2 acres of land next to its grounds.

The school district will still own the land, but the Wild Center will be responsible for maintenance. Should the Wild Center itself cease to exist, the land would revert back to the school district. The school board agreed unanimously to the agreement.

David St. Onge, facilities manager at the Wild Center, said the need springs from the popularity of the museum’s treetop-level walkway, which opened in 2015.

“When we built Wild Walk, all of a sudden we had a very good problem: We ran out of parking spaces,” he said. “We were always working with the school, and they allowed us to work with the ball field for excess parking.”

The Wild Center had formerly been using a nearby school baseball field when in need of overflow parking.

“The reason we had to come up with another solution is that they were using (the baseball diamond), and as part of our capital project, we were reconditioning that field, and it’s no longer an available option for parking,” said Dan Bower, business administrator for the Tupper Lake Central School District.

The baseball field is close by the new parking area. Asked if a home run would have the potential of landing on any cars parked in the meadow, Bower said, “If it does, it would be a really good hit.” Bower said there will be a buffer between the field and the parking meadow.

“This way it works out well because they have a new ball field that they’re going to use more,” St. Onge said. “So in the springtime when they’re playing ball, they’ll have that parking space up there, so they can park next to the ball field.

“And then July and August, when we need the spots and the school isn’t using it, it works out. So it’s kind of a win-win situation.”

The meadow isn’t a standard, paved parking lot. Kentile Excavating of Tupper Lake, with whom the Wild Center contracted for the job, has cleared 2 acres of land, removed boulders and will soon prep the area with gravel before spreading durable, athletic-field-grade grass seed over the entire space.

State Adirondack Park Agency and Department of Environmental Conservation approvals were secured before construction began, and the Wild Center has been mindful of the environmental impact throughout the process.

“Probably 98 percent of (the cleared area) was Scotch pines,” St. Onge said. “They’re invasive species, and they’re kind of low on habitat for animals. So now we’ll have the field which actually gives you more edge, more territory between the trees and the meadow, so that’s really good habitat for animals. So it works out well.”

Though the plan is to make the new overflow parking area as integrated into the existing landscape as possible, it will take time to execute. It will be decidedly more “parking” and less “meadow” when it is up and running, which is expected by July 1.

“What’s happening right now is they’re laying a base to support the cars,” St. Onge said. “So it’ll be stone underneath and gravel on the top for the summer, because it’s too late to start growing grass now.”