Almost immediately following the presentation of County Executive Rob Astorino's in which six nature centers are slated for closure, local parks advocates began organizing a campaign to save them.
The $1.6B proposed budget reduces the county's parks department by 5 percent, essentially closing the Trailside Museum in the in Cross River and the nature centers at the Marshlands Conservancy and Edith G. Read preserve, both in Rye; Croton Point; Cranberry Lake preserve in White Plains and the Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers.
An online petition to save the museum has garnered almost 200 signatures in one day and parks advocates are speaking out. An email sent by Trailside to museum-goers encourages patrons to call their county legislators to advocate for funding restorations.
The budget cuts the museum's curator position and reduces its budget from $478,733 to $219,421, according to the spending plan posted on the county website.
It's the education positions that are cut, not the parks themselves, said Peter Tartaglia, deputy commissioner of the Westchester County Parks Department. "The nature centers and educational programs will be closed down, but trails will be available for public use. We don't like to see any cuts, but it was a tough budget cycle," he added.
Tartaglia said parks cover 70 percent of their costs through entrance, golf and reservations fees, but nature centers are not able to produce the same revenue streams.
Locals have been scratching their heads in disbelief over what some called "a short-sighted budget cut."
"I can't believe such an investment in our understanding of the world would be lost," said Rob Cummings, a South Salem resident who began visiting Trailside with his parents in 1974 and now regularly brings his own children to
"It may seem small from the outside, but you can easily spend hours inside looking at the exhibits, reading the local history, and observing the birds in the flower garden through the observation window. The museum helps bring the world out of the school books and into children's hands—it's a local treasure and would be sad to lose it for all residents," he said.
Lee Goldstein, 44, of Pound Ridge cited the Trailside Museum's role in conservation as critical to maintain.
"Trailside is equally about the people who have lived here historically, the people who live here now, and our responsibilities to one another as stewards of this land and its resources," she said. "Both my girls—along with 2,000 students annually—have had great, memorable field trips to the museum and the summer camp and weekend programs have been such an important of our family life since we moved to Pound Ridge eight years ago."
County Legislator Peter Harckham (D-Katonah) said the board would be looking at ways to keep nature centers open during their review of the county executive's budget.
"We just received the preliminary proposal a few days ago and are still gathering information—we haven't even looked at alternatives to those cuts," he said. "But clearly, it's on our radar. I'd encourage residents concerned about parks to attend the upcoming public hearings on the budget."
The hearings are scheduled for Nov. 22, Nov. 30 and Dec. 8 at 7 p.m.
Do you plan to attend one of the hearings to advocate for the nature centers? Let us know in the comments.