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Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary undergoes $2.5M upgrade

More space will be made for gardens and

More space will be made for gardens and trails at the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary in Oyster Bay.

A Long Island songbird conservation center is undergoing a $2.5 million renovation that will spruce up the entrance, restore a brass fountain and feature more native plants.

Improvements at the Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary and Audubon Center in Oyster Bay, which is near the former home and grave site of the 26th president, will also make more room for gardens and trails.

"People can come here and visit, learn about native plants, and how to set them up in their own backyard," center manager Kathryn D'Amico said. “The final goal is the protection of birds and protecting their habitat.”

The sanctuary, which is run by Audubon New York, attracts birds such as woodpeckers, blue jays, robins, cardinals and warblers, and is a major spot for migrating birds in the spring and fall, she said. 

The project will restore a broken water fountain crafted by American sculptor Bessie Potter Vonnoh and the historic ribbon above the entrance gate. Pathway accessibility will comply with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations.

There are two buildings on the 15-acre site; one will be renovated and one will be demolished.  A 1930s house, called the "White House," has not been touched since it was built, D'Amico said. It will be restored and made into a museum room, gift shop, education wing and offices, she said. A second house built in the '70s will be demolished to create more room for gardens and trails.

The sanctuary is also looking to expand programming and education for visitors, such as new signage with information about the native plants and the birds they feed, D’Amico said.

The sanctuary is currently closed, but the trails will reopen in December. The "White House" and fountain are expected to open next summer. 

Half of the project's cost has been raised so far, said Ana Paula Tavares, executive director of Audubon New York and Connecticut. A $130,000 New York State Empire Development grant and private donations make up the bulk of the fundraising, D'Amico said. The sanctuary is offering donors the option of having gardens, benches, or the fountain named after people.

"Long Island is an ecosystem of global significance," Tavares said. "The Theodore Roosevelt Sanctuary is a hub for this conservation on-the-ground work we do, as well as science research and policy work to build the community, inspiring them, and connecting them to nature."  

The sanctuary was established in 1923 as the country's first National Audubon Society songbird sanctuary. Roosevelt family members donated the land to the society, a nonprofit conservation organization. Theodore Roosevelt's grave site sits at the edge of the sanctuary property. Nearby is Sagamore Hill, the president's former home.  

Honoring the conservation legacy of Roosevelt is important for Audubon, Tavares said. 

"Planning for this moment has been going on for years," she said.

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