2011-05-11 / Front Page

Nature center gets a second life

By Rich Griset
CONTRIBUTING WRITER


Volunteer Bri-anna Johnson feeds the fish in the pond in front of the Rockwood Nature Center. 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Volunteer Bri-anna Johnson feeds the fish in the pond in front of the Rockwood Nature Center. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer In times of economic strife, America sees a boost in volunteerism. Some people are driven by a sense of duty. Others are just looking to fill up some extra time. But regardless of the reason, many causes are getting some extra help because of the economy. And if there’s one cause that’s benefited in Chesterfield, it’s the Rockwood Nature Center.

With the Chesterfield Parks and Recreation Department initially facing budget cuts of $1.6 million during FY11, the nature center was set to close until the volunteer group, Friends of Rockwood Nature Center, was formed, promising to staff the building and keep it open. As a result, some of the funding was restored to Rockwood, and it was allowed to stay open.

“We’re running it, we have fewer staff, but we have some volunteers making up the difference,” said Mike Golden, director of Chesterfield Parks and Recreation. “If we didn’t have the volunteers, we wouldn’t be able to keep it open.”


Volunteers Melody Scott (foreground) and Bri-anna Johnson with a new exhibit of fence lizards at the Rockwood Nature Center. 
Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Volunteers Melody Scott (foreground) and Bri-anna Johnson with a new exhibit of fence lizards at the Rockwood Nature Center. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer And residents are taking full advantage of the facility. In March, the center saw 1,500 visitors.

“Visitation goes up as gas goes up, because people are looking for inexpensive things to do,” said Kristi Orcutt, Rockwood’s interim manager and the only full-time staff member retained after the budget cuts. Orcutt has worked and volunteered for the nature center on and off since 1992.

Two dozen volunteers currently help staff the nature center.

“The center’s working along, the volunteers are in place,” Golden said.

The Chesterfield Board of Supervisors has already adopted the FY12 budget (starting July 1), and it includes the same funding as the year before. Additional funding may be added in FY13.

Rockwood wasn’t the only parks and rec program to be hit with budget cuts. In the past year, the department also lost staff in its historical programs, staff for adult sports and maintenance for adult sports facilities. To generate funds, the county now leases out some of its softball and soccer fields.

While the current plan might work in the short-term, Orcutt says that more full-time staff is needed for long-term projects and volunteer management.

“It seems like they don’t recognize the treasure that they have,” Orcutt says.

Melody Scott, a part-time employee, volunteer and project coordinator for the Friends of Rockwood Nature Center, says that while the current funding isn’t optimal, the fact that volunteers stepped up speaks well for the community.

Scott is the parent of young children and says kids in today’s digital age aren’t as in touch with nature as they used to be. The nature center brings that element back to them.

“It offers a window for kids,” Scott said. “I think that it’s a good thing for our kids to have.”

Aside from reintroducing kids to nature, the center provides other services, such as helping Boy Scouts with their merit badges and providing science facilities for home-schooled students.

“I think it’s great that people have stepped up so they can provide something for their families to enjoy,” Orcutt said. “We’re actually busier than we ever were before.”

Rockwood recently held its Spring Fling event and has more events planned for this summer.

“We’re still open,” Scott said. “We’re still here.”

Want to visit or volunteer?

The Rockwood Nature Center, 3401 Courthouse Road, Richmond, is open 12-5 p.m., on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.

Call 674-1629 for information on how to volunteer at the nature center.

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