Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Keep Westchester's Nature Centers Open

Lots of organizations and environmental advocates are mobilizing to convince the Westchester County Board of Legislators to restore funding for the county's six nature centers in next year's budget. I had a few more thoughts about it this morning.

When County Executive Rob Astorino says he's shutting down the six centers, he means the buildings at six preserves; the preserves themselves will stay open for passive use, though they will not be staffed. All the programs will end, including camps and whatever conservation-maintenance work is done by the six curators. But the public will still be able to visit those preserves and, in the cases of Marshlands and Edith G. Read preserves, in Rye, have access to Long Island Sound.

Nevertheless, those curators play an important role. They help educate visitors -- an in particular, the curators at Marshlands and Read help educate visitors about the Sound and its habitats, which helps build support for restoring and protecting the Sound.

The curators keep an eye out for vandalism or other destructive behavior. They pick up trash on the shoreline, which makes the experience of visiting a whole lot nicer.

They watch and record the goings-on in the natural world, which I happen to think is a valuable function. When I worked in Mamaroneck and New Rochelle, I would not occasionally call Marshlands and ask for information (When was it that the dead sea turtle washed up onto your marsh? When do you start seeing terrapins nesting? What year was it that a black rail visited?) and the curator would look in her records and tell me. The record-keeping at Trailside Museum, at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, is even more comprehensive. They have an old-fashioned library-type card-catalogue for all the species seen in the reservation (which is 4,300 acres and very varied) going back to the first curator, in the 1930s. At Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers, a rufous hummingbird (a rare visitor from the west) has been visiting the hummingbird feeder this month, to the great excitement of birders. Those observations and activities will be curtailed if the centers close.

Are they essential? No. Are they important and do they make life here in Westchester better for a fair number of us? Unquestionably.

I hope the county board puts money for the nature centers back into the budget.



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