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ArlingtonArlington officials say nature-center upgrades not forgotten

Arlington officials say nature-center upgrades not forgotten

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It’s not going to happen any time soon, but Arlington government officials say they haven’t forgotten about past promises to improve their two nature centers.

“It hasn’t totally dropped off our radar scope,” said County Board member Libby Garvey, who briefly raised the issue during a July work session on the government’s pending bond referendums and its updated capital-improvement package.

That package includes a proposal to find money in the general budget (not from bond funds) to embark on a study of the needs at Gulf Branch and Long Branch nature centers. Michelle Cowan, the county government’s top budget/finance person, said the plan was to “look at the work later in the 10-year cycle” of the newly approved capital-spending plan.

But one advocacy group, though acknowledging that it was a positive thing that funding for nature centers “was at least discussed” at the meeting, believes the effort at making improvements should start “sooner rather than later.”

“We would encourage the County Board to speed up the time frame of when nature centers will receive funding, so that the inequities of past-year funding allocations can be rectified as soon as possible,” said the Friends of Gulf Branch Nature Center in response to a Sun Gazette inquiry.

The funding being advocated by that group – less than $2 million – is sought to upgrade interior displays at Gulf Branch Nature Center while keeping structural changes to a minimum in order to preserve the character of the facility.

It’s a question of fairness, the organization contends.

“Nature centers have received scant funding in past years as compared to other Parks and Recreation Department assets, such as community centers, recreation and sports fields,” Friends of Gulf Branch said, pointing to a 2020 Civic Federation report highlighting spending patterns on parks and recreation in Arlington.

The report noted that, from 2013 to 2022, about 86 percent of park-bond funding had been allocated to recreation, with all other areas under the department’s aegis having to share the remaining 14 percent.

Also on the agenda of advocates for the two nature centers is bringing back full hours of operation, which were cut at the onset of the pandemic (when facilities were closed for months) and only partially restored since.

During a budget session earlier in the year, parks director Jane Rudolph suggested the best time to have that discussion would be after an update to the government’s master plan for natural resources was completed.

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