Funding from Erie County has been allocated to support the Friends of Knox Farm organization and its efforts to continue upgrading the mansion and the stables within the park grounds.
Leaders of the Friends group said the money was a welcome surprise and will be used to fix long-standing issues within both buildings.
“We thought we were getting maybe $50,000 and we got a very generous $150,000,” Kathleen York, the executive director for the friends group, said.
The $150,000 was directed to the friends group by Erie County Legislator Joseph Lorigo. He said it is coming directly out of the Erie County surplus funds.
“We were fortunate enough in Erie County to have a huge surplus…And I was proud and honored to be able to put some of that money towards these real needs here at Knox Farm,” Lorigo said during a tour of the park.
Because Knox Farm State Park is managed by New York State, the funding in this situation is going to the non-profit Friends of Knox group. The group will then redirect the money back into projects within the park.
“While it sits in the heart of my legislative district, people from all over Erie County use it. Not only for the dog park but also for events. Everybody knows Borderland Music Festival is held here,” Lorigo said.
York said she toured the area in April with Lorgio to highlight some essential needs within the grounds. The Friends of Knox Farm manages both the mansion – using it to host events like weddings – and the stables. The stables were a recent addition to the group’s responsibilities, taking the building on in 2021. Events hosted by the friends, such as weddings, raise money that is then directed back into the park to make additional improvements. Over the years the group has been able to leverage its fundraising to support improvements at the mansion, the guest house and the red barns.
About $50,000 will go towards renovating a first-floor room in the mansion. Located off a side room near the entrance is something of a sunroom that is normally locked to keep out the public. Right now it has ground-to-ceiling supports and much of the ceiling has been exposed to the beams. Almost no work has taken place within the room in almost a decade, and it is one of the last rooms in need of renovation within the mansion. York said that once fixed, this would be another resource for people who rent out the building.
She estimated that this work would not take place until the fall of 2023 at the earliest. And it will likely cost more than $50,000, but the state would cover additional expenses.
A large portion of the county funding, $80,000, will be directed toward fixing the main floor within the stables and horse stalls. York said that it is the original floor, installed in the 1920s out of corked brick.
“The masonry in there has deteriorated to the fact that the bricks now lift up. We’ve had some patching done, but it’s time. It’s a pretty uneven flooring and we’re working with the state to figure out what the best way to either preserve this or replace it,” York said.
The stables have been used for many events over the past few years, from the Borderland festival to craft shows. Vendors often take a spot within the many horse stalls throughout. To continue hosting events in a safe manner, the Friends want to see that floor fixed.
“You can’t have people walking through here very easily. Especially if someone is unstable,” Jerry Irving, president of the Friends board of directors group, said about the stables. “If you don’t take care of the infrastructure, the park wouldn’t be able to be maintained, because then it would become too dangerous to the public. So that’s why we were spending money on this.”
There is no set timeline for this project plan. York said much more work needs to be done throughout the entire stables to address safety and basic heating and plumbing, but that will be completed over time. While the organization will present New York State Parks with ideas for making improvements, she said the state will have the final determination.
As for the remaining $20,000 of county funds, that will go to purchase something like a UTV for the volunteer garden club at Knox park. York said she showed Lorigo how much work the club volunteers do for the park, meeting there on a weekly basis to take care of the gardens and it was thought the vehicle would make things more efficient for the members. She said many volunteers are older and they often have several piles of brush and weeds collected each week or need to move tools around the grounds. Right now, they get help, when it’s available, from the state employees. Having the vehicle will mean they can do it on their own and free up the state employees to focus on other work.
“[The garden club volunteers] do an awful lot of work with just a verbal ‘thank you’ from us,” York said. “And so to really be able to say we really do appreciate what you’re doing and here’s a little something behind that is huge.”
She said that could be purchased either this year or early next year. It might be an electric vehicle with a trailer. The idea is to be both environmentally conscious while also knowing it would be easier than asking the volunteers to bring in their own gasoline to fill up a vehicle. She said that would also make it easier to keep the Friends separate from state operations and not use those onsite gasoline tanks.
Lorigo’s office said that the Friends already have the money in place, and if it realizes some savings from purchasing the vehicle, it can move the savings to support one of the other proposed projects.
For more on the Friends of Knox Farm State Park, visit www.friendsofknoxfarm.org/.