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Budget Cuts Could Force Recently Built Nature Center at Hammonasset to Close

Aug 5, 2016

UPDATE: Dennis Schain, spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, stated: "It is likely that we will reduce the times the center is open in the upcoming offseason.  It is much less likely that we would actually close the nature center  for the winter months."

ORIGINAL POST:

A nature center on Long Island Sound could be closing just a few months after opening a brand new building. 

Each year, tens of thousands of people flock to the Meigs Point Nature Center at Hammonasett Beach State Park. This year, they got a new attraction -- a $4 million building funded with public and private money. 

It has aquariums, turtles, snakes, and dozens of touch screens and interactive exhibits. It opened in May. But now, its future is uncertain, and the education programs that have been lauded by schools across the state are in limbo. 

Madison resident Shannon Schiesser has been volunteering at the nature center since 2006.

"To see the momentum that's been gained and the reach and the environmental education and the development of programs out there," Schiesser said, "and to see that now, and say, 'I know we just had this grand opening in May, but now we're sorry, we don't have any money, we're gonna have to close it.' It defies logic, honestly." 

Schiesser is a member of the Friends of Hammonasset, which paid for all the interior displays at the nature center. The group has been searching for volunteers to staff the nature center during the off season, but it's still unclear whether the center will stay open in the winter.

Gov. Dannel Malloy attends the ribbon cutting ceremony at Meigs Point Nature Center over Memorial Day weekend, 2016.
Credit Friends of Hammonasset

The entire state park system has suffered cuts, said Tom Tyler, director of Connecticut State Parks. 

"We just  don't know at this point what that fall and winter schedule will look like yet, and whether that will have a substantive impact on the days that are available for school groups to book, that kind of thing," Tyler said.

But the nature center has already turned down several requests from schools that wanted to come this fall. 

Any closure would likely be temporary, and would only impact the off season -- fall and winter. The state expects to save up to $2 million by cutting back on seasonal staff hours at all state parks. 

Friends of Hammonasset is considering paying for the center to stay open during the off season until the state decides what to do.