Jul 02, 2023
Ballston Spa Birdhouse Festival returns June 11
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Local students helped build the birdhouses which were then distributed to more than 1,000 people of all ages in the Capital Region - and beyond - to decorate.
The Birdhouse Program is presented annually by ASK, Arts and Science Creating Community, Inc.
Area high school students helped to build wooden sculptures to display birdhouses in the village of Ballston Spa.
The village of Ballston Spa will be a riot of color and creativity, says Birdhouse Program founder, Mark Blech.
The Birdhouse Program gives kids the opportunity to get creativity and explore art, says program founder, Mark Blech.
Landscapes, sports logos and more are splashed upon the 16-inch by 6-inch structures.
Any participant can request a free pre-made birdhouse, built by a team of volunteers and area middle school students.
The Birdhouse Program art display becomes a centerpiece of the village of Ballston Spa for the summer.
The village of Ballston Spa will showcase more than 1,000 handmade, colorful homes throughout the village streets this summer.
These petite deciduous dwellings will be inhabited by the Capital Region's aerial residents and officially unveiled at the fifth annual Ballston Spa Birdhouse Festival, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday in Wiswall Park and on Front Street.
When: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, June 11 (rain date: June 18)
Where: Wiswall Park, Front Street, Ballston Spa
What: In addition to the official unveiling of more than 1,000 colorfully-decorated birdhouses, the family-friendly festival will include free crafts and games for children, music, entertainment, food and vendors.
If can't wait to participate in next year's Birdhouse Program, you can purchase, paint and decorate pre-built and ready-to-build birdhouse kits locally. Here are a few options:
A celebration of creativity and community spirit, hundreds of residents were invited to adorn the avian abodes as part of the Ballston Spa's Birdhouse Program.
Often called nesting boxes because they provide a safe place to build a nest, birdhouses help protect feathered critters from prey and the elements. About three dozen species of North American birds will nest in birdhouses, according to the National Wildlife Federation, including common backyard creatures that are natural cavity-dwellers like chickadees, titmice, bluebirds and wrens. Birds like cardinals, orioles and goldfinches tend to take a pass.
Started by artist and Ballston Spa resident Mark Blech and the nonprofit organization ASK, or Arts & Science Creating Community, the free program was founded as a way to foster community spirit and promote public arts endeavors.
"I was looking for a way to engage in the community," said Blech, a fine and commercial artist and woodworker who spent 30 years in the entertainment industry building and designing sets for movies and television.
The village didn't really have an arts program, said Blech, who fell in love with Ballston Spa and moved to the area several years ago.
"I wanted to find a way that was accessible to people," Blech said. "Giving a blank canvas is very daunting and there are a lot of expectations, but decorating a birdhouse is fun and they love seeing them all over the village."
The first event Birdhouse Festival featured 75 bird homes. The event was canceled last year because of COVID. There was concern people would have forgotten all about the effort, says Blech, but the project has proved extremely popular among area families, children, seniors and those in the intellectually-diverse community, he adds. This year, he struggled to keep up with demand and expects as many as 1,500 decorated bird domiciles to be hung throughout the village this year.
The Birdhouse Program partners with Curtis Lumber, who donates the kits. In addition to fostering community spirit, the effort also aims to promote skilled trades.
"Curtis Lumber has always been connected to community where they have stores and this gives us an opportunity to tie the Bird House Program in with workforce development," said Doug Ford, vice president of sales and purchasing at Curtis Lumber.
Oftentimes, students aren't exposed to information about careers in skilled trades and there are a lot of misconceptions, says Ford. There are opportunities in construction, carpentry, project management and much more that can be very lucrative, fulfilling and rewarding.
"This Birdhouse Program really gives us the opportunity to connect with students," Ford said.
The Curtis Lumber-provided kits — each cut, labled, pre-drilled, bagged and catalogued — were distributed by the company to middle school students in the Ballston Spa, Schuylerville and Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake school districts who provide the glue (and screws) that literally hold these dainty 16-inch tall by 6-inch wide wooden structures together.
"Doug Ford is an incredible asset to us," Blech said. In addition to supplying the kits, Curtis Lumber hosts building workshops and provides the tools necessary to erect the tiny residences.
Once built, the birdhouses were then distributed to anyone and everyone with a desire or penchant for painting bird pads. Each year, folks in the village and as far away as Vermont request a kit, Blech said. A team of volunteers, including folks from the Saratoga County Office for the Aging help deliver to those in surrounding communities.
The birdhouses are adorned in a rainbow of colors, and embellished with clever designs, uplifting messages and accessories. In addition to these teensy huts, this year's festival will also feature structural displays and vibrant street banners created by elementary school children promoting this year's theme, "Peace."
"The committee wanted to promote the idea that if we work together we can accomplish so much more than apart," Blech said.
Those aged 2 to 92 and everyone from local students, seniors, woodworkers, artists, veterans, fraternal organizations, business owners and more paint the birdhouses.
While no one keeps track of how many birds lease these secure, colorful boxes, it's fun to watch different breeds settle in over the summer, says Blech. Kids are particularly excited to see the different species of birds pop in and out of their chosen homes.
"I love sitting up in Wiswall and watching the kids, especially, marvel at all the birdhouses and their excitement at seeing the birds use them," says Blech.
It's important that everyone who wants to be involved has the opportunity to participate, said Blech. Members from Saratoga Bridges, a nonprofit serving people with intellectual and developmental needs bedeck and beautify the blank canvas bird homes. Birdhouses are also sent to local penitentiaries so incarcerated veterans can participate.
"We want people to feel included in the community," said Blech. Inclusion is of utmost importance, he adds. Once built, colored and bedazzled, municipal workers with the village's Department of Public Works install the birdhouses throughout the area, on lamp posts, trees, buildings, as well as in Wiswall Park and on the nearby Tedisco Trail.
"They think I’m crazy each year but they are willing to help and willing to do whatever I need," Blech laughed. "It's a great community."
The event has become a beloved tradition, says village of Ballston Spa Mayor Frank Rossi II. "The Birdhouse Program is an incredible community-oriented program that's unique to the Village of Ballston Spa," says Rossi. "It's what makes Ballston Spa so special, to see people work together to make our Village come alive with color, artwork and community spirit."
Mayor Rossi selected 60 birdhouses to receive a "Mayor's Award," with the help of deputy mayor and village trustee Bernadette VanDeinse and Birdhouse Festival chair, Mary Price-Bush. The Awards will be presented at 1 p.m. at the Birdhouse Festival.
The lofty, hued roosts will remain on display until early fall. The great thing is it's outdoors, said Blech. If you can't make the festival, just come to the village at any time, drive through or walk the streets and take in the artwork from adults, children, seniors and veterans.
"There will be a lot of color, good spirit and happiness," said Blech. "It livens up our community."