Bear Creek Nature Center: Reduced hours seen in ‘09

       The details are still being worked out, but when El Paso County commissioners halved County Parks' 2009 budget as part of a cost-cutting effort this week, that ensured operational cutbacks for the two nature centers - Fountain Creek and Bear Creek.
       The Westside's Bear Creek Nature Center might be open as little as three days a week in '09, predicted Shirley Gipson, president of the Naturalist Docent Organization, which for about 30 years has been helping the centers by providing them with donated money and volunteer labor.
       Todd Marts, director of the nature center, could not confirm Gipson's three-day prediction, but said that “without a doubt” the center's hours would be cut and “likely “ days as well.
       “We'll have to condense as much as we can in the time that we have,” he said in an interview. “I hope we can continue doing environmental education programs, but if we have less, we'll do less.”
       All that's currently certain is the departmental cut - from roughly $1 million in '08 to $500,000 in '09. What will happen to Bear Creek's two paid employees (layoffs or going to part-time) is yet to be decided. “It's all on the table,” Marts said.
       Also indefinite is how much a 1-cent county health-and-safety sales tax might help - the election ballot item would eliminate some costs the county's general fund now covers.
       The docent group has already donated $85,000 to the '08 budget, paying parts of salaries and allowing the two centers to remain open for the last half of the year.
       The commissioners have made drastic cuts across the board, blaming decreasing revenues and increasing state and federal mandates.

Westside Pioneer article