Nature Center copes with reduced hours, thanks to additional help from docents

       With reduced hours and a cutback to one full-time employee in 2009, the Bear Creek Nature Center is receiving increased support from its volunteers and “doing as much as possible” to remain viable, according to Todd Marts.
       The head of both El Paso County nature centers (the other is near Fountain), Marts said he's sought assistance from “alternate funding sources,” but with a tight economy “nothing has come through yet.”
       Offering exhibits, presentations and outdoor activities for different ages, the Bear Creek Nature Center has existed since the 1970s in Bear Creek Park, at 245 Bear Creek Road.
       The centers' cutbacks stemmed from reduced tax revenues coming into county coffers. As a result, in 2009 there have been fewer public and school programs than in past years. However, thanks in large part to a $25,000 donation from the centers' volunteer friends group, the Naturalist Docent Organization (NDO), seasonal help can be hired, allowing the popular summer camps to go on as in past years, Marts said.
       The docents, who had previously donated $85,000 to help keep the center operating through the second half of 2008, have also “stepped up” in terms of their volunteer assistance, he said.
       According to Shirley Gipson, docent president, these efforts include “more phone calling, opening and closing the centers and equipment, putting out the bird feeders and flag, fundraising and some computer data collecting. We have had an outstanding number of people volunteering at the desk and we are hoping to continue with school program volunteers.”
       Another boost to the center is through a Pikes Peak Work Force program in which a military spouse can be hired at no cost to the county, Marts said.
       He is hopeful that at some point in the future the nature centers can return to their old hours. The cutback this year was from five days and 35 hours to four days and 22 hours. “I've encountered families on days when we used to be open,” he said. “They're disappointed. One family had driven down from Highlands Ranch. They'd read about the Bear Creek Nature Center as one of the best places to take kids in Colorado. Unfortunately, they came on a day we were closed. I wound up letting them in, anyway.”
       The Bear Creek Nature Center would like to have more volunteers, including people to “conduct programs and provide visitor information services to the public,” according to Paula Megorden, the center's remaining paid staffer.
       For more information, call 520-6387.

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