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Asbury Woods Announces Completion of Capital Campaign and Nature Center Rededication

Posted Oct 10, 2018
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Asbury Woods is pleased to announce the successful completion of the Preserving a Legacy Capital Campaign.  The campaign was launched in 2015 and raised $5.2 million, surpassing the goal of raising $4.5 million to protect Asbury Woods now and into the future.

Photo credit: Jack Hanrahan, Erie Times News

Asbury Woods’ Preserving a Legacy Capital Campaign, which began in 2015, was launched with the goal of raising $4.5 million to fund the acquisition of Asbury Woods from the Millcreek Township School District, to fund much needed capital projects, such as the replacement of the Boardwalk by the Nature Center, and to fund an endowment to help offset the annual costs of becoming the direct stewards of the Woods.  With the help of Millcreek Township, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania through DCNR and DCED, the County of Erie, the Erie Community Foundation, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, widespread corporate support from entities such as Erie Insurance and numerous contributions from private foundations, such as the Peterson Foundation and the Kern Family Foundation and individuals, the Asbury Woods Partnership, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, has ensured the preservation of Asbury Woods for generations to come. 

 “The generosity of our supporters is amazing!  We are grateful to the many donors who shared our vision for Asbury Woods and who believed that preserving Asbury Woods for generations to come was important for this community," said Mark Shaw, Esq., a partner at the law firm of MacDonald Illig, who served as Campaign Chair. “Thanks to the dedicated work by our capital campaign committee, our Honorary Chair Nancy Kern, and our board members, we not only reached our goal,  but have exceeded it.  As a result of the selfless dedication of our donors and those working on the campaign, the Asbury Woods Partnership ensured the preservation of Asbury Woods for the community and is well-positioned to deliver its mission for generations to come.”  

Major gifts to the campaign include $1.5 million in government grants from DCNR, Millcreek Township, Erie County, DCED and Erie County for the land purchase and a gift in excess of $1 million from Andrew J. Conner, which constitutes the largest private gift in Asbury Woods’ 61-year history. The rest was privately funded by leading philanthropists, foundations, corporate donors and individuals.

“When we first met with Andy to discuss his interest in Asbury Woods, it was obvious that he understood the important role that Asbury Woods plays in the education of thousands of students throughout the region.  Our subsequent discussions have simply served to reinforce Andy's belief in the important role Asbury Wood plays in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education.  We were overwhelmed by his generosity and obvious love of Asbury Woods.  The community should be indebted to Andy, whose unmatched generosity will transform the lives of thousands of visitors who come to Asbury Woods each year,” says Shaw. “Andy's gift will enable Asbury Woods to strengthen its mission, especially through the enhancement of our environmental and science-based learning programs and ability to increase our capacity to reach more students.”

The Nature Center at Asbury Woods was rededicated during the Preserving a Legacy Capital Campaign celebration reception on October 9, 2018. During the reception the new signs purchased from the campaign were unveiled, honoring the benefactor’s gift. The Andrew J. Conner Nature Center at Asbury Woods is the cornerstone of Asbury Woods’ educational programming, providing animal exhibits, a touch-and-learn Discovery Classroom, student access to scientific instruments and free public access.

“I consider being able to make this gift to Asbury Woods one of the luckiest days of my life,” remarks Andrew Conner.  “My father was the Chair of the Millcreek School board and instrumental in the conversations with Otto Behrend about the donation of his property to the Millcreek Township School District.  My father believed the Asbury Woods property to be the crown jewel of Northwestern Pennsylvania and through Otto’s generosity it could be utilized forever as a nature center for teaching science.  I am deeply passionate about science education and believe it is imperative for children to engage in hands-on science learning.  Asbury Woods delivers those experiences to thousands of children each year and I’m pleased to help them deepen those experiences and broaden the ways they engage children in science-based programs.”

Andy Conner is a retired trial attorney who helped found the Erie law firm Conner Riley Friedman & Weichler.  Andy is a graduate of McDowell High School where he was a standout athlete as quarterback on the football team, guard on the basketball team and a part of the District 10 champion golf team.  He was inducted into the Millcreek School District Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013 for his accomplishments.  Andy continued his athletic and educational pursuits at Princeton University, graduating with a B.A. in Economics and being a key member of the football team in various positions during all four years.  After a year of post-graduate study in Economics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, he attended law school at the University of Pittsburgh, graduating with a juris doctorate in 1966.  Andy was honored with the Chancellor of the Bar award from the Erie County Bar Association in 2010, the highest award for distinguished services by one of its members to both the civic and community life of Erie, PA.

Contributions to the Preserving a Legacy Capital Campaign enabled Asbury Woods to purchase the Asbury Woods property from Millcreek Township School District in June 2016 at a total cost of $1,557,876. Additionally, projects that have been completed using the capital campaign funds have enabled Asbury Woods to make the transition to full ownership of the property and to better position Asbury Woods to continue serving our mission. Completed projects include:

  • Repair and upgrade to the historic farmhouse adjacent to Brown’s Farm.  This house was built in 1910.  Upgrades to plumbing, electrical and gutters along with repairs to the foundation has allowed Asbury Woods to use this as an Intern House.  The ability to offer housing to long-term interns has allowed Asbury Woods to expand their internship program. 
  • Purchase of a truck, snow plow and salt spreader to handle snow removal which was previously handled by the school district
  • Purchase of a phone system, IT hardware and computer server which was previously taken care of by the school district
  • Maintenance of the Nature Center’s Geothermal system, a key part of the overall green building design
  • Overall marketing plan that included new logos for branding and new website
  • Various maintenance projects such as parking lot sealing, systems repairs, reflashing the chimney, and other items that had been neglected

Additional improvements are in the works for 2019.  To better serve the needs of all members of the community, Asbury Woods plans to replace a 1,700-foot stretch of the boardwalk, which has not been renovated in more than 25 years. As part of the 4.5 mile trail system, the boardwalk provides access to field, forest, and wetland habitats. It’s a favorite site for visitors of all ages to observe a variety of wildlife.   All individuals will be able to experience full accessibility with the expansion of the boardwalk, which will comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.    In addition, a new wetland science teaching pavilion will give Asbury Woods educators better access to a variety of habitats in order to deliver Asbury Woods’ award-winning Environmental-STEM curriculum.  The wetland pavilion will be connected to the main boardwalk with a new section of boardwalk to ensure accessibility.  In the coming year Asbury Woods will continue to use campaign funds to upgrade systems, maintain the buildings and property and improve the visitor experience.  Highlights of 2019 include maintenance to the outside of the historic cottage portion of the Nature Center to replace siding and window frames; new trail signage and interpretive materials; and improvements to the Little Woods.

The success and completion of this campaign will position Asbury Woods for an even greater future. The campaign joined many diverse community members together under the unifying goal of protecting Asbury Woods now and into the future. Although the capital campaign is concluded, potential donors are still welcome to make naming gifts to link their names to gardens, trails, programs and staff positions that are important parts of Asbury Woods.

About Asbury Woods

The mission of Asbury Woods is to provide all members of the community with meaningful environmental, educational and recreational experiences that inspire a greater sense of environmental awareness, sustainability and stewardship.

Asbury Woods achieves this mission through a diverse array of educational, environmental and recreational programming for schools, community groups, families and individuals of all ages.  In addition, they manage and maintain 205 acres of preserved property which includes native species, old-growth forests, landscaped gardens, wetlands, boardwalk trails and dirt trails.

The Andrew J. Conner Nature Center at Asbury Woods is the cornerstone of the educational programming, providing animal exhibits, a touch-and-learn Discovery Classroom and free public access.  The Brown’s Farm Barn located on Sterrettania Road provides additional programming space for summer camps, school visits and community programs.  The Greenway Trail at Asbury Woods consists of adjacent tracts of land which provides a network of trails connecting Browns Farm and the Nature Center.  The Greenway Trail provides ample recreational opportunities for hiking, running, biking, skiing, snowshoeing and wading in Walnut Creek.  Trail users will find peaceful spots to rest and relax to take in the serene vistas.

Asbury Woods is an independent, non-profit organization whose mission is made possible by funding from program and service fees, grants, special events and generous donations from members and patrons. Annually, Asbury Woods positively impacts more than 100,000 people who use the trails, attend festivals or participate education and community outreach programs.

In the News

Erie Times News, October 10, 2018

WJET 24 / FOX 66 / YourErie.com, October 10, 2018

WICU 12 / WSEE 35 / ErieNewsNow.com, October 10, 2018