The quest to avoid a tax rate increase at the county level will likely force the closure of six area nature centers, including the Cranberry Lake Preserve located on the West Harrison-North White Plains border.
The nature center on Old Orchard Street has served as an educational tool for area children, as well as a public resource for anyone who visits the site. The center offers free public programs every weekend and the preserve has 7 miles of trails open daily from dawn until dusk.
Current budget proposals would keep trails open, but close the nature center located near the park's entrance. The Edith Read Wildlife Sanctuary in Rye, the Marshlands Conservatory, also in Rye, the Ward Pound Ridge Preserve in Cross River, Croton Point Park in Croton-on-Hudson and the Lenoir Preserve in Yonkers are also expected to close.
This would eliminate seven full-time curators and three part-time workers who split time at the six nature centers. These employees serve as both educators and park rangers, interacting with visitors while maintaining trails, monitoring animal behaviors, enforcing park policy and cleaning litter and graffiti.
Closing the nature centers will leave these preserves vulnerable to poachers, hunters, vandals and teens looking for a place to party, park supporters say. Overgrowth and other issues also will not be easy to reverse once the areas are neglected.
The nature centers provide visitors with several interactive displays. Curators are also stationed at the centers to field any questions from visitors.
County Executive Robert Astorino's current 2012 budget proposal calls for a $3 million decrease in the overall parks and recreation budget, down 5 percent from a year ago. Along with the nature centers, the department is expected to cut ethnic festivals, the Kenseco Dam Fourth of July fireworks and a successful bicycle Sunday program.
Overall, the 2012 shaves $100 million in spending and reduces the overall workforce by 7.5 percent, but achieves a zero percent tax rate increase.
Hundreds of county residents attended in White Plains, showing both support and objection to the proposed budget.
The Westchester County Board of Legislatures can still make changes to the budget before a scheduled vote on Thursday, but the parks department doesn't appear optimistic about saving the nature centers. Signs are posted in the entryway at Cranberry Lake warning visitors that the nature center will be closed for good after December 31.