Wednesday, November 16, 2011

What Westchester Means When It Says It will Close Its Six Nature Centers

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino is planning to close the county’s six nature centers -- Marshlands Conservancy and Edith G. Read preserve, both in Rye; Trailside Museum, at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation; Croton Point; Cranberry Lake, in North White Plains; and Lenoir Preserve, in Yonkers.

The decision was part of his 2012 budget, which was released yesterday.

The Parks department is only a small part of the budget, and there are social services that are more important, but nonetheless there were few details either in the budget message or in today’s Journal News story.

For example, I wondered whether by closing Marshlands, did Astorino mean that the building will be shut and the staff laid off but that the park and the pubic access to Long Island Sound will remain open? Or did he mean a chain will be put across the driveway and no one will be allowed in? Ditto for Edith Read.

Other nature centers pose a different question. If he closes Trailside and the Croton Point nature center, obviously he will not be closing those entire parks. But in the case of Trailside, it's not just a nature center; it's a museum with collections that have some value. What will happen to them?

This morning I emailed Donna Greene’s, the county’s deputy communications director. She responded that the buildings at all six centers will be closed and the staff laid off, but the preserves themselves will remain open for passive recreation. Here are the reasons, from her email (with my interpretation in parentheses):

Least impact on revenues. (Nobody pays to get into Marshlands or Cranberry Lake, for example, so no revenue will be lost by closing them.)
Facilities can be physically "closed."
Local facilities offer similar services (Beczak, Greenburgh Nature Center, Rye Nature Center, Teatown)
(Westchester County has many nature centers -- which is true -- so we can do without these, or so the reasoning goes.)
Conservation continues at Muscoot, Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, Lasdon Park, Bronx River Parkway Reservation (presumably this means that the staffs at those parks will continue conservation work -- whatever conservation work is: habitat management? -- but that conservation work will not continue at Croton Point, Lenoir, Cranberry Lake, Lenoir, Marshlands or Edith G. Read).

One question that Donna did not yet know the answer to is what will happen to the collections at Trailside. I’m familiar with only a little of what is there but it’s impressive: a detailed card catalogue of biodiversity data at the park going back decades; a big, important nature library; a collection of Native American literature and artifacts. The museum even has the fossilized bones of a mastodon dug up in the 1970s on the shores of Lake Kitchawan in Pound Ridge.

Great curators and naturalists have worked for the county nature centers -- Nick Shoumatoff, Ed Kanze, Beth Herr, Alison Beall, Jason Klein, Ken Soltesz, Leah Cullen, to name just the ones that pop into my head now.

It’s a shame their legacy is being washed downstream.



Anonymous Suzy Allman said...

Some of these places have Friends organizations (Marshlands does, for one). I wonder if the possibility exists for volunteer operation.

10:33 AM  
Anonymous Tom Andersen said...

Marshlands, Read and Trailside all have "friends" organizations, and some of the others may as well. I know Friends of Trailside are mobilizing already, as are FCWC and Hudson River Audubon.

4:55 PM  
Anonymous Rob Cummings said...

Hi Tom, Check link to see note and links circulating among friends of Trailside Museum. Take care,

5:13 PM  

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