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History of the Discovery Trail

The Discovery Trail partnership of the Cayuga Nature Center, Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell Botanic Gardens, Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art, Museum of the Earth at PRI, Sciencenter, The History Center of Tompkins County, and Tompkins County Public Library celebrated ten years of collaboration in 2009. Established in 1999, the partnership grew out of years of informal collaborations among museums and the public library in Tompkins County, New York, to provide a structure for ongoing synergy. At that time, the partnership received seed funding to hire a part-time coordinator and launch initial collaborative marketing efforts. The Discovery Trail was incorporated in 2007 and became a 501c3 in 2008.

The partnership maintains and promotes the Discovery Trail, a visible public linkage and co-marketing effort among the partnership’s eight members. To date, the Discovery Trail has pursued its goals through collaborative programming; a website (www.discoverytrail.com); development and distribution of more than 30,000 brochures annually in Tompkins County, Southern Tier, Syracuse, and Rochester; participation in community-wide events; a biannual visitor survey and subsequent focus groups with community leaders and local citizens to analyze visitor data; and media coverage through editorial pieces, press releases, public service announcements, and advertising. The partnership carries out joint events, programs, and exhibitions. Examples include "A Special Place: Landscapes of Tompkins County" (2000), "Frankenstein" with community read (2002), "Discovery Month" (2003, 2004), "Light in Winter" (2004), Tompkins County Public Library Avenue of the Friends exhibits (spring 2008-2012), as well as marching in the annual Ithaca Festival parade. The partnership coordinator works closely with the Tompkins County Convention & Visitors Bureau in all aspects of regional marketing.

The Discovery Trail partnership is currently funded through Discovery Trail member contributions and the Tompkins County Strategic Tourism Board. Past contributions from the Triad Foundation and Community Foundation of Tompkins County played a vital role in the beginning years of the collaboration.

In 2005, the Discovery Trail started a collaboration with the Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI) and Ithaca City School District (ICSD) to form Kids Discover the Trail! (KDT!). Then in 2010 KDT! expanded to Trumansburg Central School District(TCSD) with a collaboration with the Trumansburg Central School District Foundation (TCSDF). The Discovery Trail is working to expand KDT! to include elementary students in all six Tompkins County districts. KDT! connects elementary schools with the eight Discovery Trail sites by providing curriculum-based field trips and a site-specific take home book for all pre-K to fifth grade students. This program is funded by gifts from local foundations, businesses, and community members, and is supported by the participating school districts. For more information visit http://discoverytrail.com/planning/kids_discover_the_trail.php.

From time to time, the Board of the Discovery Trail will select an individual, organization or business who has provided exemplary service to the Discovery Trail to receive the Discovery Trail Explorer Award. This may take the form of promoting the Discovery Trail, funding the Discovery Trail or volunteer involvement with the activities of the Discovery Trail. Past recipients of the award include: Terry Byrnes (2007), Kim Fontana and Roy H. Park, Jr. (2009), Donald Rakow (2013), Jennifer Engel (2016), Frank Robinson (2016), Charlie Trautmann (2017) and Susan Curry (2017).

Staff from the partnership’s member sites meet regularly and include the directors, public relations and marketing, and education teams. These meetings give partnership professionals the opportunity to share information, resources, concerns, and new ideas to better serve our visitors.

The Discovery Trail Executive Director organizes marketing, joint events, project development, programming, KDT! administration and projects, website updates, and staff linkages.