By Tara Mae
Something wild is coming to Smithtown. Sweetbriar Nature Center now offers A Wildlife Experience, a unique program offering one hour private guided tours that grant unprecedented access to its buildings, operations, and animals. Located at 62 Eckernkamp Drive, the nonprofit organization provides natural science education and native wildlife rehabilitation services for the community.
The personal tours will allow participants to see the center’s recently renovated wildlife rehabilitation area, now called the Steven Goldman clinic, which is usually off limits to visitors.
“It’s an experience that you’re not going to get anywhere else,” said Veronica Sayers, Sweetbriar’s program coordinator. “It’s not very often that you can see how a wildlife rehab works. You don’t normally get this experience unless you’re in the field.”
Attendees will also be able to explore parts of the main building, which houses some of Sweetbriar’s permanent residents and is generally open for self-guided excursions.
Guests will be able to observe the animals and meet a few of Sweetbriar’s regular ambassadors like Cali, an imprinted Baltimore oriole; Marguerite, an imprinted blue jay; Nugget, a screech owl; and Tulip, an opossum.
The tours give insight into more than the lives of the animals; they delve into the backgrounds of Sweetbriar and the Blydenburgh family, on whose estate the center and preserve now exist. Guides are able to supply greater historical context as well as details about the architecture of the structures and grounds, according to Janine Bendicksen, Sweetbriar’s curator and wildlife rehabilitation director, who came up with the initial idea.
One of four staff members, Ms. Bendicksen noted that she, her coworkers, and the dedicated team of volunteers are constantly brainstorming for ways to keep Sweetbriar operational in the time of COVID-19. The private tours are a way to raise money and benefit the community Sweetbriar serves. “Instead of just asking for money and donations, we are giving back,” she explained.
During the pandemic, Sweetbriar, like many organizations, has had to completely reimagine how it functions. At the peak of the lockdown, the employees were looking after approximately 100 animals by themselves, without the assistance of volunteers, according to Ms. Sayers. In this time of emotional turmoil and economic uncertainty, Sweetbriar has sought to create new ways of connecting with the public and supporting the animals in its care.
As sources of revenue shrunk, animals in need of help were being brought to the center at a higher rate than in years past. “Many rehab centers are experiencing this,” said Ms. Bendicksen. Since the beginning of 2020, the center has treated more than 2,000 animals.
Sweetbriar Nature Center administers comprehensive rehabilitation to wildlife and generates much of its funding from community engagement and outreach programs. Located on 54 acres of diverse woodland, garden, wetland, and field habitats, the center’s grounds are open year-round to the public, free of charge. Since the onset of the pandemic it has been unable to host the events and activities it normally offers, on which Sweetbriar largely relies to support its animals and endeavors.
A Wildlife Experience is available to parties of up to six people by appointment only for $104. People may register and pay the fee online at www.sweetbriarnc.org/animal-encounters. After you purchase your ticket, Sweetbriar will email you to set up a date or they can send you a gift card to book at a later time. Please give them at least 3 days to respond after you’ve purchased your ticket. The tours are mask-mandated and photos are encouraged.
For more information, please call 631-979-6344.
All photos courtesy of Sweetbriar Nature Center.