For just a few extra bucks in a county budget topping $1.4 billion, Arlington’s two government-run nature centers could be returned to their pre-COVID service levels, one advocate reminded elected officials at the May 14 County Board meeting.
But it doesn’t look like the request for more moolah is in the cards anytime soon.
Having declined to fund full reopening of the Gulf Branch and Long Branch nature centers as part of the local government’s fiscal 2023 budget, County Board members on May 14 again were asked to scrounge up what amounts to governmental spare change and do it anyway.
The proposed $25,000 “is a small ask” and failing to move forward on it represents “a missed opportunity,” said civic activist Duke Banks, who heads Friends of Gulf Branch Nature Center.
That amount is what Banks says it would cost to bring the nature centers back in operation six days per week each, as they were before COVID. The fiscal 2023 budget adopted recently by board members limits opening hours to three days for each center, staggered so the public does have access to at least one center throughout nearly the full week.
County Board Chairman Katie Cristol was empathetic – empathy being one of her strongest suits – but the answer to Banks was still no.
“It’s not as straightforward as ‘more dollars equal more hours,’” she said in response, noting ongoing hiring challenges and the desire of leadership on the Department of Parks and Recreation to use nature-center staff out in the broader community more rather than relying on residents to show up at the two facilities.