April 7th is annually celebrated as the International Day of the North American Beaver. It is also the birthdate of Dorothy Richards of Beaversprite, which is located in the Town of Oppenheim. This year, the Utica Zoo is celebrating this day by announcing the zoo recently acquired the Florence J. Reineman Nature Center and Beaversprite Wildlife Sanctuary.
Beaversprite was once the home of Dorothy Burney Richards, aka the “Beaver Woman”. In 1935, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released two beavers from Pennsylvania on Little Sprite Creek, approximately ½ mile west of the house owned by Al and Dorothy Richards. This was done as part of a conservation project to restore beavers to the Adirondacks after they were almost extirpated due to over-trapping. Dorothy was soon captivated by the beavers and so began her 50 years of beaver pond sitting. She became an active conservationist and animal rights advocate, devoting most of her life to the study of the American Beaver. In 1938, after one of the original beavers was caught in a trap, Dorothy and Al started buying up land and posting it, thereby creating a wildlife sanctuary – Dorothy christened the sanctuary Beaversprite – meaning “spirit of the beaver”. In 1966, the Richards donated their house and 900 acres to the Erdman trust from Pennsylvania. The trust continued to add to the property and in 1973 opened a nature center.
The Utica Zoo will reopen the nature center, as well as the Richard’s house as Beaversprite; A Conservation Education Center of the Utica Zoo. The Zoo will offer a wide range of STEAM based education programs for school, families, scouts, and learners of all ages and abilities. More information will become available in the near future at UticaZoo.org/Beaversprite.