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Carkeek Park’s Environmental Learning Center on Seattle budget chopping block

October 25th, 2010 · Comments

(Editor’s note: Tyler Steele is our new PhinneyWood intern. He is a journalism student at the University of Washington. Welcome, Tyler!)

With $10.2 million of budget cuts facing Seattle Parks and Recreation, Carkeek Park’s nationally acclaimed Environmental Learning Center (ELC), numerous public programs and its entire daytime staff are on the chopping block of Seattle’s 2011 fiscal shortfall.

The Environmental Learning Center at Carkeek Park is recognized as a model for sustainable building that provides space for environmental education, stewardship activities and community gatherings.

“We’ve had a continuous group of volunteers since 1982, and those people need the support of someone in the park—at least to keep the doors open,” said Director of the Carkeek Watershed Community Action Project Nancy Malmgren, 81, in a phone interview on Friday.

Malmgren, who has lived in the Broadview area since 1958, wrote a petition to Seattle City Council Members and Mayor Mike McGinn, outlining alternatives to shutting down two of Carkeek Park’s buildings and eliminating the entire fulltime equivalent (FTE) daytime staff.

The administrative building and visitor’s center for Carkeek Park is also facing daytime closure due to budget cuts to Seattle Parks and Recreation.

Within Malmgren’s petition is a new management plan for the Environmental Learning Center, which includes reducing FTE staff, but retaining key positions to keep necessary programs such as the orchard and forestry programs going.

Malmgren said if these staff members are eliminated, then training and organizing hundreds of volunteers, who sustain the park’s many environmental and educational programs, will become virtually impossible.

“There are a lot of things that volunteers can do, but they can’t do it without staff,” she said. “Tremendous amounts of volunteer workers retain the overall investment. What are we going to do, shut it all up?”

The Environmental Learning Center at Carkeek Park’s catchment system uses storm water runoff to irrigate landscape beds and gardens, and to flush toilets.

From Treasurer of the Carkeek Park Advisory Council Timothy Cox:

…the ELC building will still be available for rental, private functions, meetings, community gatherings, Advisory Council/Parks meetings, but there will no longer be day staff available in either building to answer questions, run public environmental educational programs or summer camps, rescue injured animals etc.

A public hearing for the Seattle City Council to discuss the budget is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chambers at Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Avenue. Sign-in starts at 5 p.m.

The Carkeek Park Advisory Council has urged anyone who wants to help or simply voice their opinion concerning budget cuts to Carkeek Park to attend their meeting at 7 p.m. tonight (Monday), at the Environmental Learning Center, 950 NW Carkeek Park Rd., Seattle.

Educator and longtime resident of the Carkeek Park area Kim Allessi first notified PhinneyWood.com of budget cuts facing Carkeek Park by email.

In her message, she wrote, “With Seattle Public School’s Viewlands Elementary re-opening for the 2011 school year, the proposed elimination of the ELC and its programs will adversely affect environmental education for generations to come.”

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Allessi added, “As a teacher, the educational and public programs for the community are really going to take a hit.”

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