Our nature centers, wildlife preserves, management areas, etc., all serve to protect and sustain life, while making nature accessible to people to enjoy and learn from. There are many groups throughout New York State, including the state itself, that care deeply about protecting the land and the wildlife that inhabits it.
While they all have similar goals, there are distinct differences in the names each area takes on: center, park, preserve, refuge, sanctuary, management area, or observatory among many others. Understanding the difference will help you understand the kind of environment you will interact with once you get there.
Definition: A nature center is an organization with a visitor center or interpretive center designed to educate people about nature and the environment. Usually located within a protected open space, nature centers often have trails through their property.
Nature centers are the places of childhood. I went to summer camp for years at Helmer Nature Center in Irondequoit. They host family-friendly events that bring people and nature close together in a learning environment.
- Mendon Ponds Nature Center
- Helmer Nature Center
- Hanson Nature Center at Tinker Nature Park
- GCVM Nature Center
- Cummings Nature Center
- Sterling Nature Center
- Blue Cut Nature Center
- Humphrey Nature Center
- Cayuga Nature Center
- Lime Hollow Nature Center
- Beaver Lake Nature Center
- Montezuma Audubon Center
- Beaver Meadow Audubon Center
- Chip Holt Nature Center
Definition: A nature park or natural park is a landscape protected by means of long-term planning, use and agriculture. These valuable landscapes are preserved in their present state and promoted for tourism purposes.
National Wildlife Refuges
Definition: National Wildlife Refuge System is a designation for certain protected areas of the United States managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service. The National Wildlife Refuge System is the system of public lands and waters set aside to conserve America’s fish, wildlife and plants.
Wildlife & Animal Sanctuaries
Definition: A wildlife sanctuary, is a naturally occurring sanctuary, such as an island, that provides protection for species from hunting, predation or competition; it is a protected area, a geographic territory within which wildlife is protected. An animal sanctuary differs in that the animals have been rescued from a dangerous environment and transported to a place of sanctuary.
Sanctuaries act on behalf of the animals, and the caregivers work under the notion that all animals in the sanctuary, human and non-human, are of equal importance. A sanctuary is not open to the public in the sense of a zoo; that is, the public is not allowed unescorted access to any part of the facility. A sanctuary tries not to allow any activity that would place the animals in an unduly stressful situation.
- Castle Road Wildlife Sanctuary
- Wild Wings Inc. – dedicated to rescuing birds of pray–raptors like hawks, eagles, falcons, owls
- Watkins Glen Farm Sanctuary
- Alasa Farms – also home to Cracker Box Palace farm animal rescue and rehabilitation.
Definition: A bird observatory is a center for the study of bird migration and bird populations. They are usually focused on local birds, but may also include interest in far flung areas. Many bird observatories conduct bird banding.
- Kaiser-Manitou Beach Banding Station & the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory
- Rochester Birding Association has monthly recommendations on the best places to observe, as well as a map of hot spots.
Definition: A nature reserve (also called a natural reserve, bioreserve, (natural/nature) preserve, or (national/nature) conserve) is a protected area of importance for wildlife, flora, fauna or features of geological or other special interest, which is reserved and managed for conservation and to provide special opportunities for study or research.
- Mackay Wildlife Preserve
- Gosnell Big Woods Nature Preserve
- Whiting Road Nature Preserve
- Thousand Acre Swamp Preserve
- Island Cottage Woods Preserve
- Hipp Brook Preserve
- Salmon Creek Preserve
- Eva and Harlan Braman Preserve
- Manitou Beach Preserve
- Kraai Preserve
- Ganargua Creek Meadow Preserve
- Christine Sevilla Wetlands Preserve
- Brookdale Preserve
- Owasco Flats Nature Preserve
- Wesley Hill Nature Preserve
- Tifft Nature Preserve
- Reinstein Woods Nature Preserve
20 Monroe County Parks
Wildlife Management Areas
Definition: Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are protected areas set aside for the conservation of wildlife and for recreational activities involving wildlife.
- Braddock Bay Fish and Wildlife Management Area
- Honeoye Inlet Wildlife Management Area
- High Tor Wildlife Management Area
- Tillman Road Wildlife Management Area
- Lake Shore Marshes Wildlife Management Area
- Three Rivers Wildlife Management Area
According to The Nature Conservancy, “Rush Oak Openings Preserve is the easternmost remaining oak opening in the country and the last known intact oak opening in New York State. In New York, oak openings were historically restricted to sites with droughty soils and were maintained by grazing and periodic wildfires. Today these habitats are managed through periodic mowing and prescribed fire.
“Oak openings (also called “oak savannas”) are grassy, savanna-like landscapes that are increasingly rare in North America. Prior to European settlement, oak openings used to be common in the Midwest (where the prairie met eastern forests), but over time, development and fire suppression eradicated more than 99% of this habitat nationwide.
“This site, which also supports wetlands and a rich, limestone woodland, is the focus of a collaborative effort between The Nature Conservancy, the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, the Town of Rush and private landowners.”