Friday, October 8, 1999
Budget cuts fell Great Brook Park staff
The effects of the budget impasse between Speaker of the Massachusetts House Thomas Finneran and President of the state Senate Thomas Birmingham have filtered down to the local level and helped to force truncation of this fall's educational schedule at Great Brook State Park.
If last week's decision of the Department of Environmental Management (DEM) to lay off seasonal workers during October is not reversed, tours and interpretive walks will cease next week. The office of Commissioner Peter Webber told the Mosquito that this is a system-wide cut that could be changed only by quick legislative action to cover a deficit in the 1999 budget or make it up in the 2000 allotment. If, as seems likely, park supervisor Ray Faucher is forced to furlough seasonal interpretive ranger Rebecca Markey and maintenance worker Tom Knox, schools and the general public will be the ultimate losers. Most discouraging to the park staff is that this financial crunch has come during their busiest season of the year.
The three weeks of programs that have fallen victim to the budgeteers on Beacon Hill included tours that have already been scheduled by area schools with transportation contracts negotiated and grant monies allocated for the purpose. Also, the flurry of school requests that Faucher normally expects in early October will have to be turned away. Threatened, too, are weekend nature walks and barn tours for the general public, including visits to the Cranberry Bog during the harvest period and a special bog harvest event already announced in the Boston Globe.
In a weekend interview, Faucher explained that the park will also lose in other ways. The laying off of seasonal staff members not only means pay cuts and lowered morale for the employees, but disrupts important fall maintenance schedules and reduces the number of staff present to ensure public safety on crowded weekends. Other losers are resident farmers Mark and Tamma Duffy who depend on school programs for the weekday activity that keeps the ice cream stand open all fall. Citing one example Faucher suggested, "Imagine how many sales of ice cream will be lost if just two trips by 180 pupils from the Butler School in Lowell never take place."
Curious as to the level of support that might be lent by the district's representatives at the State House, the Mosquito talked first to state Representative Carol Cleven who was clearly disappointed at the decision by the DEM and Commissioner Webber to cut back on the tour schedule. A staunch backer of educational programs at Great Brook, she noted that she had told Webber of her support for year-round staffing of the interpretive programs during the park's recent 25th anniversary celebration. Cleven recommended that park supporters call Webber and Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Robert Durand to urge reversal of the cut-off and, longer-range. to consider a higher level of funding for both infrastructure improvements and year-round educational staffing at the park. Regarding the latter, ranger Markey reported that the addition of just one summer intern helped to double public participation in the tours for the April through September period. Speaking as her boss, Faucher added , "Rebecca has been fantastic in raising the quality of our programs during the present abbreviated season, and she doesn't deserve to have it cut even shorter."
Reached later, state Senator Susan Fargo directed her ire at the on-going one-upsmanship between Finneran and Birmingham and suggested that voters call their offices and tell them to "stop playing games." She pointed out that the budget process has traditionally been delegated to the chairmen of the House and Senate Ways and Means Committees, followed by a conference to iron out the differences. Terming the present situation "shameful," she concluded, "The bottom line is that our democratic process has been hijacked."
-- News Flash -- News Flash --
Just minutes before we went to press, the Mosquito was contacted by Great Brook Farm State Park Supervisor Ray Faucher. He had just learned that funding for Great Brook Farm State Park seasonal staffing had been reinstated to the end of October. More details next week.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito