FORT DRUM, N.Y. (Sept. 27, 2018) -- Thousands of North Country community members have visited the LeRay Mansion Historic District at Fort Drum, and in recent years it has become a popular stop on the history tours.

Now it's getting an upgrade to the landscape, and the public can volunteer to assist Cultural and Natural Resources staff from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Oct. 13.

Those interested in volunteering can register at beautifyleray@gmail.com, no later than Oct. 5, or call (315) 772-5463 for more information.

Fort Drum was the recipient of a National Public Lands Day Department of Defense Award, submitted by the Cultural Resources and Natural Resources branches of Public Works, to fund a beautification project on post.

To be eligible for the grant, the installation had to propose a project that engages a variety of community members with a positive volunteer experience that will improve, enhance or restore natural and/or cultural resources on post.

Heather Wagner, Cultural Resources outreach and education coordinator, said that applicants were encouraged to create a project that will impact resources related to, and in celebration of, the 100th anniversary of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

To meet that criteria, they proposed a "Beautify LeRay Day" with the goal of transforming the landscape outside LeRay Mansion with all-season flower gardens and a mini-apple orchard that will both attract, shelter and nourish migratory and resident bird populations.

Staff and volunteers will plant seeds, bulbs and trees, and assist with walking trail maintenance. Bird feeders will dot the landscape to ensure bird populations continue to have food and shelter during the winter months.

"There's something about planting a garden and allowing the public to join in that makes everyone feel like stakeholders in the district, and that's what we try to do on the historical tours," Wagner said. "It's one thing to have four people from the Cultural Resources branch care about this history, but it's much more powerful when we invite hundreds of community members here and now they care because we have share this history with them and this is shared community space."

Wagner said that volunteers of all ages and capabilities are welcome, and that all materials will be provided on site.

"We have tools and garden spaces that can accommodate almost any accessibility issue that someone might have," Wagner said. "I have a 145 foot long wildflower garden that is perfect for children to plant bulbs and spread seeds. We wanted to make this as fun and accommodating as possible."

Wagner said that the restoration of the gardens and walking trails is symbolic of what James LeRay de Chaumont intended when the mansion was built in 1826.

"History books remember his flowers, even when the LeRay family was no longer here," she said. "In his time, it was said there were over 200 statues in his formal gardens and huge rose gardens."

In a sense, "Beautify LeRay Day" allows people to create some history of their own as the gardens become an indelible part of the district for years to come.

"I have always liked the Chinese proverb that says a wise man plants a tree whose shade he never sits in," she said. "We're going to plant 18 trees that I'll never see an apple on during my career here. But wouldn't it be awesome if some families at 'Beautify LeRay Day' come back to see the flowers in full bloom, or years from now to see the size of a tree they helped plant?"

Wagner also said it is the perfect time of year for visitors to see the fall foliage at LeRay Historic Mansion District.

"We are going to be planting flowers we won't see bloomed until next year, but fall in the LeRay District is spectacular to see," she said. "There is actually the most diverse group of trees in this little district than anywhere else on the installation. We have almost every tree you can find in the Fort Drum area right here. We should be full-on reds and golds for 'Beautify LeRay Day.'"

"Beautify LeRay Day" will kick off with a short ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:15 a.m. Oct. 13 to introduce the community to the new conservation park and Natural Resources and Cultural Center.

The Cultural Resources staff has relocated their offices to the LeRay Mansion Historic District so they can promote more public events. The Natural Resources branch will also have a greater presence, as the caretakers cottage will be used as an education center for environmental and natural history information.

"We are going to be using the entire district now as an outdoor education space for nature walks, history tours and other events," said Dr. Laurie Rush, Cultural Resources manager.

Rush said that people will be able to use the conference rooms at LeRay Mansion for meetings, socials and other gatherings on request by emailing bookleraymansion@gmail.com. Rush said that Soldiers are already becoming aware of the potential of unit training at a historic structure.

"This is a great community asset, and there are endless possibilities," Rush said.