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Westchester's Don Clifford Is Saving Nature Upstate Through Wild Center

Obie "Don" Clifford, here pictured with his wife Mary, has overseen the Wild Center from the ground up.
Obie "Don" Clifford, here pictured with his wife Mary, has overseen the Wild Center from the ground up. Photo Credit: Contributed
The Wild Center covers over 81 acres in Tupper Lake, N.Y.
The Wild Center covers over 81 acres in Tupper Lake, N.Y. Photo Credit: Contributed
The Wild Walk exhibit helped the Wild Center nearly triple its attendance in the past year.
The Wild Walk exhibit helped the Wild Center nearly triple its attendance in the past year. Photo Credit: Contributed

WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y.— In 1868, Obie “Don” Clifford’s ancestors settled in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York along Big Wolf Lake, pristine and tucked away into the forest.

Six generations later, Clifford, a Westchester resident, is looking to continue his family’s legacy in the region through the Wild Center, a state-of-the-art natural history museum in Tupper Lake, N.Y.

As Chairman of the Board of the Wild Center, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, Clifford, who was born in Bronxville and now lives in Mount Kisco with his wife Mary, has always seen nature’s treatment as problematic.

“In my mind, the world only has two problems: people getting along with people,” Clifford said, “and only since I was born do we have a second problem, which is people getting along with mother nature.”

So after reading in a local newspaper about a proposed natural history museum in the Adirondacks, Clifford, a long-time mover at the esteemed management-consulting firm McKinsey & Company, got involved. He became the Wild Center’s chief fundraiser and has since overseen its growth.

The museum features exhibits meant to immerse visitors in the natural world of the Adirondacks. And in 2015, it opened the Wild Walk, a series of paths suspended 30 feet above the tree line, helping the Wild Center nearly triple its attendance in the past year.

The Wild Center has been universally acclaimed since its opening—something that Clifford says is intrinsic to the topic it explores.

“Someone once asked my why the Natural History Museum as opposed to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I said, ‘How can you compare canvass with some paint on it to the entire universe?’ ” Clifford said.

On Monday, the Wild Center will honor its 10th anniversary with a gala in New York City, featuring guests including Neil deGrasse Tyson and former New York Gov. George Pataki. There, Clifford and his colleagues will celebrate the work already done and still to be done.

“I don’t believe in retirement,” Clifford said. “I believe in changing careers as long as you can do it; and a career can be whatever you want it to be.”

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