VIDEO: AT THE CENTER
NYRP-UC reporter Gino Geruntino traveled to the Rogers Environmental Education Center and spoke to some of those concened about the park’s plight.
STORY TRANSCRIPTWith just a few weeks left in office, Governor David Patterson has been trying to close a gap in New York’s budget of at least 315 million dollars. That means hundreds of job cuts, and the closing of some state parks. Our story from Gino Geruntino of the New York Reporting Project at Utica College.
(Ambi Sound: Geese Honking)
Sherburne, NY is a small village nestled in the bucolic Chenango Valley. Home to only a couple thousand people, it is also the location of Roger’s Environmental Education Center, one of the parks slated to close. The Roger’s Center is New York State’s oldest game farm and the first state-run environmental center. News of its closing hit the area hard.
Steve Paul is a sixth grade science teacher in Sherburne.
“MY FAVORITE MEMORY OF ROGER’S CENTER, UH, IT’S TOUGH TO PICK ONE. I’VE SPENT MOST OF MY ADULT LIFE THERE, I WENT ON THE FIRST DATE WITH MY WIFE THERE, THAT’S PRETTY SPECIAL, AND MY CHILDREN HAVE GROWN UP THERE.” (15 SEC)
For years Paul has taken his students to the center’s 600-acre expanse of meadows, woods and wetlands to walk the trails and learn about the environment.
(Ambi Sound: Inside of Roger’s Center Building, Kids playing with exhibits)
More recently, Roger’s was inhabited with younger kids. School children and youth groups from across the region come here often, some of the 70,000 visitors to the park each year.
Paula Howard works closely with the local boy scouts and trips to the Center. To take away what she calls “her one small piece of heaven” is to take away a piece of the small community’s identity.
“WE COME HERE TO GET AWAY FROM OUR HOMES, THE TV’S, VIDEO GAMES, IPODS… ANYTHING THAT’S THE MODERN WORLD, WE CAN ESCAPE AND COME HERE AND ENJOY NATURE.” (15 SEC)
The closing came as a surprise in Sherburne. Roger’s and another park are falling victim to New York’s budget crisis. The State Department of Environmental Conservation or D-E-C also is planning to cut 140 positions by the end of the year… part of a plan to save an estimated $250 million dollars. But to Sherburne’s mayor William Acee, the cuts are ill conceived.
“INSTEAD OF OPERATING WITH A SCALPEL, I THINK THEY’RE OPERATING WITH A HATCHET. I THINK THAT IT WOULD BE BETTER… WE WOULD ALL BE BETTER SERVED IF A HARDER LOOK WAS TAKEN AT WHAT THE CUTS ACTUALLY WERE.” (19 SEC)
The DEC’s budget was on the chopping block long before the cuts were announced. In October, DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis was fired after a memo critical of the state’s handling of the department’s budget was leaked to the press.
Republican State Senator James Seward’s district includes the Roger’s Center. He says that cutting from the DEC is a short-term solution to a long-term problem. Seward suggests making small changes to the state’s Medicaid program to save money, instead of trying to balance the budget on the back of the DEC. He also says that the ongoing education and tourism value of the Roger’s Center is worth more than dollars and cents.
“I THINK THAT IS A HUGE, HUGE LOSS THAT GOES WAY BEYOND THE MONETARY SAVINGS THAT ARE COMING FROM THE CLOSURE OF THE CENTER.” (12 SEC)
The state may be saving money, but at what cost? Bill Snyder, professor of Environmental Sciences at Morrisville State College, says that those who stand to lose the most from a smaller DEC presence… are children.
“THE CHILDREN ARE LESS AWARE OF THE OUTDOORS, THEY’RE LESS AWARE OF THE IMPACT OF NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION. KIDS TODAY ARE LESS AWARE OF THE NEED FOR CONSERVATION, AND THE ROLE THEY PLAY AND THE DECISIONS THEY MAKE.” (13 SEC)
Dan Underwood, Visiting Professor of Government and Politics at Utica College, agrees, saying that this shows the divide between upstate and downstate interests.
“I THINK EVERYBODY NORTH OF MANHATTAN WOULD SAY THESE ARE THE WRONG CUTS TO BE MAKING.” (7 SEC)
Underwood says with just a few weeks left in his term, Governor Paterson may be trying to leave a legacy as someone who tried to correct New York’s overspending through belt tightening.
“WE HAVE A VERY POWERFUL GOVERNOR, BECAUSE THEY HAVE LINE-ITEM VETO POWER. SO HE CAN JUST GO THROUGH AND START KNOCKING THESE THINGS OFF ONE AT A TIME. YOU KNOW, DEPARTMENTS, JOBS, FIRING PEOPLE… AND THAT’S EXACTLY WHAT HE DID. HE’S GOT THAT POWER HERE.” (15 SEC)
WE LOVE ROGER’S CENTER!” (2 SEC)
With Andrew Cuomo set to become Governor on January 1st, people living in Sherburne are hoping that the funding to Roger’s Center will be restored, and that educational programs will continue.
For the New York Reporting Project at Utica College, I’m Gino Geruntino.