Project Native's Future In Question
An environmental nonprofit in the Berkshires focused on the stewardship of native habitats is looking at a variety of ways to sustain itself and continue its programming.Project Native runs a 54-acre native plant nursery and wildlife sanctuary in the village of Housatonic, drawing 4,000-5,000 people each year. But a recent call to action by chairman Erik Bruun has put into question the nonprofit’s future. He says the partly-seasonal organization is going into a deeper winter hibernation than in years past because of a lack of money and resources.
“We definitely are looking towards continuing the film festival,” Bruun said. “We are putting the plants and nursery to bed in a way such that the plants will be there in the spring so that we can find a way to come back in the spring. But at the moment, there is no assurance of being able to do that.”
Bruun says there is a chance Project Native could no longer exist. Working with the Berkshire Natural Resources Council, the nonprofit is in the formative steps of a request for proposals to generate ideas, including acquisition, for Project Native’s property.
“The property serves a very fundamental, central component to what Project Native does, but it may very well be that someone else can continue it in a for-profit basis or as enveloped by another not for profit in the same way and that we can also do some of the other work that we’ve done as an organization that supports the mission,” said Bruun.
Bruun says over the past couple years Project Native has looked for partner organizations with overlapping missions in order to become sustainable. In July, Berkshire Botanical Garden and Project Native announced they were pursuing a merger, optimistic they could reach a deal by the end of the year. But Bruun says Berkshire Botanical Garden decided not to take on the risk as the organization was pursuing other projects.
As Bruun writes in a letter, Project Native needs money to maintain the property’s maximum value, support staff, inventory plants and winterize the irrigation system.
“But we also need a model in which that’s sustainable,” said Bruun.
Founded in 2000 by 19-year-old Raina Weber, Project Native has a year-round staff of four people and a seasonal staff of eight. Its annual budget is between $300,000 and $400,000. Bruun would not say if the organization is currently in the hole or specify a fundraising goal. After Weber left as executive director in 2012, the organization shifted toward education, building a butterfly house and hosting a film festival. Bruun says the butterfly house doubled annual attendance, but that Project Native faces more competition now as native plants have become much more common.