Like the many trees that surround it, the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center has firm roots planted in Northern New York.
Part of Wellesley Island State Park in Fineview, the MAC Nature Center is named after Minna Capron Anthony Common. According to information on the website for the Friends of the Nature Center, Mrs. Common was a leading authority on birds, flowers, trees, animals and grasses in this region.
Aug. 14 will mark the MAC Nature Center’s 50th anniversary. It will celebrate its founding from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.; this also will give the Friends of the Nature Center the opportunity to showcase the renovations to the facility. The group helped raise nearly $900,000 for the project.
“Friends of the Nature Center initiated the project to update the center in the fall of 2015 and, after months of planning, the parks office’s regional maintenance staff and other workers began renovations in 2016,” according to an Aug. 10 story in the Watertown Daily Times. “The state allocated $750,000 toward renovating the center’s interior and exterior and expanding it with more activity, storage and office space along with improved heating and cooling systems.”
Mrs. Common’s love of nature and talent for educating others was well known. For more than two decades, she contributed articles and illustrations on natural history to the Farm and Garden section of the Watertown Daily Times.
How did she secure this privilege? Well, she had a key connection!
Her daughter Catherine married John B. Johnson Sr., who served as editor and publisher of this newspaper from 1949 until his death in 2001. Following in her mother’s footsteps as a naturalist, Catherine Johnson helped found the Friends of the Nature Center in 1979, 10 years after the facility was named in Mrs. Common’s honor.
“The site for the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center was purchased in 1962 by the Thousand Islands State Park Commission from the Thousand Island Park Association. A feasibility study for the center was conducted by the National Audubon Society in 1966,” the Times story reported. “The center’s founders decided that it should be dedicated to conserving natural resources, promoting environmental awareness and providing recreational programs. The first guided trail walks were given to park campers on Memorial Day 1968. The nature center building was dedicated Aug. 14, 1969.”
Mrs. Common was not the only one whose family would maintain strong links to the MAC Nature Center.
Matthew B. Elliott is president of the board of directors of the Friends of the Nature Center. Both his father and grandfather also served on the board. The new C. Michael Elliot Terrace, named after his father, came about as a result of the renovations; it offers a wonderful view of Eel Bay as well as Sargent and Flatiron islands along the St. Lawrence River.
“Families have been a backbone to the center’s success. Mr. Elliott’s grandfather, Charles J. ‘Chuck’ Elliott, who died at age 90 in 2016, retired as regional director of Thousand Island State Parks in 1991 and began his career with the parks in 1953,” according to the Times article. “Charles J. passed his love of the river onto his son Charles Michael Elliott, who died at the age of 63 in 2014. One of the reasons that Matthew Elliott joined the board of the nature center was to honor his father and grandfather’s dedication to the river and the love for it that was passed on to him.”
For half a century, the MAC Nature Center has been a refuge for those who share this adoration of the natural surroundings of the Thousand Islands. The public/private partnership that has maintained the facility is unique, and we look forward to many more years of activities at the center featuring the wild treasures of this area.