PORTVILLE, NY — For Joe Schueckler, one of the best parts of volunteering for the Pfeiffer Nature Center & Foundation Inc. is passing along his appreciation of the wilderness to young children.
Those growing years, he said, are "a good time to get the seed planted for nature awareness. This is what guides us in the preservation of the Earth.”
The longtime volunteer said that although the center was not officially established until 1998, the idea for preserving land in the forests of Cattaraugus County began decades before.
In fact, Schueckler said he was acquainted with Wendy Pfeiffer Lawrence, who created the center to honor her father.
Lawrence, born in 1925, spent much of her childhood summers living with her family on land now known as the Lillibridge Property, a few miles outside of the Village of Portville. Schueckler said Lawrence thrived on walking in the woods and staying in the cabin her father built on the property when she was a young teenager, and she continued returning to the location for the next 70 years.
Lawrence willed 188 acres of land located about four miles outside of the village commercial area in order to instill within the community the same appreciation for nature she expressed. About four years after her bequest became a reality, Col. Charles Eshelman, who had been her friend, left another 460 acres to the foundation. The properties do not abut each other.
The land and trails on both properties are open to the public daily from dawn to dusk, according to nature program coordinator Beverly Jones. The Lillibridge Property remains open year round, while the Eshelman Property closes from October through December for hunting season.
While the non-profit foundation, funded by memberships, grants and donations, does have an office in downtown Portville, most of the board members and volunteers spend their time on the center’s grounds, showing off the wildlife and beauty of the sites as well as the old Pfeiffer cabin, Jones said.
Jones, who splits her time between organizing and planning events for the center and serving as a wildlife veterinary technician for the SPCA in Erie County, began her position less than two years ago. When her family moved from the Buffalo area to the Olean area, a friend mentioned the center to Jones, who was looking to help in the community.
“This job is a wonderful opportunity for me to learn, and it’s exciting and challenging,” Jones said. “It’s really worked out well, and I am getting to know so many wonderful people in the community who want to help.”
Among them is Schueckler, who helps with programs and nature walks, she added.
Both Jones and Schueckler count the spring field trips made by schoolchildren as favorite occurences at Pfeiffer.
In addition to providing the land for people to enjoy at leisure, the foundation hosts an average of two programs a month. Some are geared to children; some to adults, and some to the whole family. Volunteers run many of the programs, while experts teach others, Jones added.
In order to raise awareness for the center and its programs, Jones and other board members set up booths at community events in the county. On July 9 and 10, for instance, the center will have a booth at the town’s Heritage Days celebration.
And on July 10 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., the center will host an open house featuring the cabin and stories about its history.
Other July activities include a painting night, a nature field day and a night sky tour.
Membership is not required to visit the properties or participate in the programs.
Both Jones and Schueckler said they hope the center continues to grow as it has over the past two decades.
“It’s a wonderful organization and an asset to the community,” Jones said. “We are not sure how big Pfeiffer will get some day.”
For details on programs and other information, visit the center’s website.