Tinker Park Nature Center

48 Nature Centers, Preserves, Refuges, and Observatories Around Rochester

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.

Nature Centers

Letchworth State Park Humphrey Nature Centers
Humphrey Nature Center

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.

Nature Parks

nature centers - Corbetts Glen walking trail
Corbett’s Glen

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

nature centers - Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge visitor center
Montezuma National Wildlife Refuge

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

Farm Sanctuary Watkins Glen
Watkins Glen Farm Sanctuary

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.

Bird Observatories

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.

Nature Preserves

30 Day Trips within 30 Minutes of Rochester: MacKay Wildlife Preserve
MacKay Wildlife Preserve

Definition: A nature reserve (also called a natural reserve, bioreserve, (natural/nature) preserve, or (natural/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.

Wildlife Management Areas

nature centers - Braddock Bay
Braddock Bay

Definition: Wildlife Management Areas (WMAs) are protected areas set aside for the conservation of wildlife and for recreational activities involving wildlife.

Unique Areas

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.”

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Where are your favorite nature centers around Rochester, NY?

Share with us in the comments. Your insight and experience is invaluable!


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