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A $119K boost for Saratoga-Washington visitors' center

Saturday, October 27, 2012
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An artist's rendering pictures the proposed Saratoga-Washington Gateway Visitors Center in Schuylerville.
An artist's rendering pictures the proposed Saratoga-Washington Gateway Visitors Center in Schuylerville.

— The Capital Region Economic Development Council has awarded a $191,000 grant toward a new regional visitor center geared to promoting the history and scenic beauty of Saratoga and Washington counties.

The new visitors’ center will be built on the site of the old Saratoga Town Hall on Route 29, not far from the Hudson River, which separates the two counties.

The visitors center will also be the headquarters of the Historic Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson Partnership, a state and local program that seeks to promote historic tourism. It will be run in coordination with the National Park Service, which operates several sites tied to the Revolutionary War’s Battles of Saratoga.

The center will “tell the rich and compelling story of Saratoga and the Capital Region,” said state Canal Corp. Executive Director Brian U. Stratton. The grant is from Canal Corp. funds.

The visitors center will orient people to the Saratoga National Historic Battlefield in Stillwater and several battle-related sites around Schuylerville, Stratton said, appealing to people driving by and those who come through Schuylerville while touring the Hudson River and Champlain Canal.

The new grant gives the project $900,000 in total funding, enough that officials hope to break ground next spring and occupy the building by late 2014.

“The Saratoga-Washington county area has a rich history, providing us with a great opportunity to draw both visitors and residents to explain the Champlain Canal and the surrounding area,” said Jessica Gabriel, the state’s regional economic development director, who spoke at a news conference Friday to announce the project.

The visitors center will be built near the historic site of Fort Hardy, where the British army surrendered its arms after the Battles of Saratoga in 1777.

Plans are to dismantle or demolish the town hall, which has been unused since 2008. Once archeological and environmental studies are complete, plans are to build a new, colonial-style timber building on the site.

Saratoga National Park Superintendent Joe Finan said the International Timber Frame Guild will be providing free labor as part of a training program, and the project will use timber donated from Saratoga County-owned forests.

“It’s really a truly collaborative effort. This is the real value of the partnership,” Finan said.

The National Park Service has agreed to provide paid staff three days a week and will help coordinate volunteer staff and design exhibits for the visitors center.

The plan has also received grants of $350,000 each from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the National Scenic Byways program.

The Historic Saratoga-Washington on the Hudson Partnership was formed in 2006 by communities in Saratoga and Washington counties, with legislation pushed by then-Assemblyman Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga.

“Gov. Cuomo has been pushing tourism and historic tourism throughout the state, and we certainly have that,” said McDonald, now a state senator. “It will be an economic development tool for us.”

The battlefield is about eight miles south of Schuylerville, but Schuylerville was where the surrender took place. The nearby village of Victory has the battlefield monument, and there are other historic sites in the area, too.

But officials said they also want to encourage people to visit the small communities along the Hudson River for their scenic beauty.

“I am confident this region will benefit wholeheartedly and greatly from this project,” said Tom Wood, Saratoga town supervisor.

 
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