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VIC friends group building a new future

Rebuilding membership

The API is a membership-based organization. While it raises program money through grants and fundraisers, it relies heavily on membership dues. Among its list of accomplishments, the API has funded school programs, the Native Species Butterfly House at Paul Smiths, special events, and publications such as the interpretive trail brochures at the Paul Smiths VIC. But in 2010, despite a letter-writing campaign, the API's membership took a hit.

"Now that our future is more clear, we are able to build membership and attract corporate and foundation funding," Fitts said in an interview at the Adirondack Research Consortium office at Paul Smith's College.

Institutional memory

Fitts now splits his time between executive director positions at the API and the Adirondack Research Consortium. Yet his love affair with the VICs began more than 20 years ago.

When the APA was making plans to build the VICs in the 1980s (actually it was only supposed to open one VIC, but Gov. Mario Cuomo decided to open two instead), Fitts was a legislative coordinator for New York Sen. Ronald Stafford. He helped Stafford find money to build the VICs.

"I remember going out there (in Paul Smiths) when the site was filled with trees," he said.

Fitts' administrative experience includes a 10-year stint as the executive director of the Adirondack Park Agency, from 1995 to 2005, a time that he cherishes mostly for his work with the two VICs.

"The one thing being away from the APA that I missed the most was the VICs," he said.

Volunteer corps

Since the VICs opened, volunteers from the community - seasonal and year-round residents - have helped the staff and the API with educational programs, special events, the front desk, the Butterfly House, trail walks, and special projects. With an ever-dwindling staff count at both buildings, the volunteer corps had been an essential component of public programming. The larger group of volunteers - reaching about 60 - was located at the Paul Smiths VIC.

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