History of Five Rivers
Over a century ago, much of the vicinity around what is now the Five Rivers was covered by extensive orchards. As the Great Depression took hold, many hard-scrabble farms could no longer make ends meet. In 1933, the New York State Conservation Department purchased two of these farms to develop the Delmar Experimental Game Farm. At the time, populations of upland game birds and waterfowl were in serious decline. The primary mission of the facility was to learn more about the propagation and management of these game species.
Tarzan Baker releasing Canada Geese
From 1933-36, enrollees at the site's resident Civilian Conservation Corps Camp S-72 put up buildings, erected fences and developed access roads throughout the property to prepare the site for game farming. CCC crews also created ponds by damming the Vlomankill, using limestone blocks salvaged from the abandoned Watervliet Lock of the old Erie Canal. In succeeding years, CCC crews created several additional duck-rearing ponds and erected several additional buildings for brooding, hatching and rearing upwards of 100,000 grouse and pheasant chicks per year. Each fall, the upland game birds and waterfowl were released on state lands throughout New York. The Canada geese that nest at Five Rivers today are thought to be descended from birds originally raised here.
In 1941, the Department established a Wildlife Research Center on site to expand on-going pathology studies, as well as to field test innovative theories in wildlife management. Techniques developed on site such as aging deer via dentition, perfecting the cannon-net and modeling wildlife populations via biometrics revolutionized the wildlife management profession nation-wide.
So as to re-direct increasing public interest away from the sensitive conservation research activities on site, in 1948 staff began developing a modest exhibition of caged wildlife in the area adjacent to the main parking lot. The menagerie came to be known far and wide as the Delmar Zoo, and firmly established the site as a vibrant educational institution. Tens of thousands of families and school group visited this remarkable collection annually. In 1970 there was a major reorganization of the Conservation Department, from which the current Department of Environmental Conservation emerged. As a result of this reorganization, priorities of the Department were reoriented and the Game Farm and Zoo were closed.
Because the site had become such an important community asset, a group of concerned citizens organized and successfully convinced the state to transform the abandoned site into an environmental education center. Thereupon, the Department developed a rustic amphitheater, a series of nature trails and refurbished a former sign shop as a Visitor Center. The new facility was opened to the public in June of 1972. It was renamed the Five Rivers Environmental Education Center, a name suggested by SUNY Albany meteorologist Dr. Vincent Schaefer, to denote the five rivers which comprise the watershed within the Center's service area, namely the Hudson, Mohawk, Hoosic and Sacandaga rivers and the Schoharie Creek.