- Published on Wednesday, 24 February 2010 18:25
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Many of us possess memories of walks down pathways under towering mature trees that provide places for our national symbol to nest, roost and raise young. Eagles abound at our local park and Caledon has been a significant contributor to the bald eagle comeback on the east coast. Some have gone bird watching in the same areas. Hummingbirds are easily seen each summer at the visitor center. I have personally seen dozens at a time enjoying the feeders around the visitor center. One could spend hours burning film or digital memory on hummers alone. Waterfowl to include graceful swans call Caledon home.
Many visitors have also enjoyed the numerous programs put on by the staff and volunteers year around at Caledon, such as hayrides, educational presentations, JAKES Day, disabled veterans’ hunt or even the youth hunt. Out of all the parks I have ever visited Caledon has by far been the cleanest and best-kept park.
Park Manager Nina Cox and Chief Ranger Sammy Zambon have done an extraordinary job with only a few staff members and a slew of volunteers in keeping King George’s jewel shining and available to all of us that visit the park for various reasons.
The Virginia Association for Parks (VAFP) alerted its members last week about the proposal to close five parks including Caledon. The other four parks are Twin Lakes, Mason Neck, Staunton River Battlefield and False Cape near Virginia Beach.
According to the alert sent out by VAFP the economic benefit from the five parks is $5.6 million dollars to the localities. The savings to the state for shutting down the parks would be approximately a half million. My math lessons in high school and college make me wonder if this makes sense. It appears that the parks are a significant contributor to local economies and shutting them down would further hurt localities.
Caledon reportedly had 40,665 visitors last year. The economic impact of this visitation is shown to be $650,640. There are only five wage staff members at Caledon so the savings would not be significant. Specifically, the savings net of revenue reduction is shown to be $90,841 with savings estimated after the caretaker expenses to be only $48,057 annually.
I may not be a mathematician but it seems that we get a sizeable return on a very small investment at Caledon. If you think about all the programs that are held at Caledon for people of all ages and then factor in the amount of money spent locally as a result, you can see where Caledon is an important piece of our local economy.
The wage staff at Caledon work very hard to keep things up and looking nice. Three of the five are part-time, year-round employees but depend on those jobs to make ends meet. The other two positions are filled only during the summer months. The proposal the governor’s office had put forth is for these parks to close. Salaried staff would be on site for basic maintenance and law enforcement or be transferred to another park. Additionally, the governor’s office proposed that state employees be furloughed for up to five days in 2011 and five more days in 2012. If the proposal goes through it would take effect July 1, 2010.
Fortunately this proposal is not the one most likely be enacted. News arrived at press time that for the time being Caledon Natural Area is not on the chopping block. This is due to the fact that the proposed cuts by the Senate Finance Committee and the House Finance Committee do not include the five parks that the governor’s office had proposed in his budget cuts. This does not mean that the parks could not be added at a later date. For now they are not due to be shut down. If you want to see the parks remain open, it would be prudent to contact your representatives and let them know you appreciate them NOT putting the parks on the closure list and encourage them to keep the parks off any future lists. In the past, Caledon was one of the first five parks slated to be cut when cuts had to be made.
It is important that we make our voices heard. Caledon is a gem in our county. Many of you volunteer your time to help keep the park up and running. Caledon is already at a bare bones staff. If Caledon were to be closed, we would lose an important asset and the time and money it will take to reopen the park would be a deterrent to the government to do any time soon.
Please let your opinion be heard. The members of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee should hear from us. You can get the identity of committee members and the contact information you will need from the legislative Web site at http://legis.state.va.us/.