Central New York is home to sprawling forests, deep ravines, and beautiful lakes. They provide a refuge for those seeking to escape concrete walls, traffic jams, and the hustle and bustle of the city. No one recognized the importance of nature and green spaces quite like Dr. Robert J. Vitkus. A local oral surgeon, Vitkus was deeply in love with the outdoors. He applied himself to various trades, such as fly fishing and hunting. Vitkus’ connection to nature ran deep, and he felt compelled to give back to the places that had defined his life.
After a 17-year battle with pancreatic cancer, Vitkus passed away, leaving behind $10 million dollars to the Central New York Community Foundation in order to establish an outdoor parks and recreation protection fund. Recently, the Community Foundation distributed first-ever grants from the Dr. Robert J. Vitkus Fund, awarded to five organizations totaling $301,000.
Grants distributed from the fund included $64,000 to the Cazenovia Preservation Foundation to purchase a 27.5-acre property in Cazenovia, NY, for habitat and open space conservation, $150,000 to the Central New York Land Trust to support enhanced outdoor recreation and water quality at the Albanese Preserve at the R.J. Vitkus Conservation Area of Skaneateles Lake, $10,000 to the Charles N. Gordon Wildlife Rehabilitation Center to construct a plumbed building to assist with wildlife rehabilitation efforts, $2,000 to Friends of Wildlife to purchase a new security camera at the Webster Pond and $75,000 to Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today (TNT) to replace a spray fountain at Washington Square Park.
Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today is made up of volunteers in the Washington Square neighborhood, who work alongside neighbors to improve the neighborhood through park renovations and programs, improving daily life by working with partners to reduce crime, assist with housing needs, and to hold community events.
TNT’s current endeavor is to replace the current spray fountain in Washington Square Park. The fountain is decades old, a single stream of water, and it only allows one or two children to use it at a time. This is the only recreational water source for this neighborhood, and is often used by residents as a drinking fountain. However, the fountain is not approved for drinking, and the only other recreational spray fountain is a mile away, and is often incredibly busy.
Parkitects representatives relayed that 10 to 12 children could use a new spray fountain at a time, and with the new courts, the soccer field, the playground, ping pong table and the new spray fountain, Washington Square could have 75+ people that can take advantage of it. The aforementioned $75,000 from the Robert J. Vitkus Fund is intended to replace the fountain, and supplant a safe, effective water source for the community.
Funding from Dr. Vitkus’ fund will allow the residents of Washington Square Park to improve their community and environment. The Community Foundation is proud to support his legacy, and to assist Tomorrow’s Neighborhoods Today in their endeavors.