After the city closed two park ranger stations this winter to save on utility bills amid a budget crunch, Edgewood Park Friends are working to keep theirs open for cocoa, critters and snow-shoers alike.
The Department of Parks, Recreation & Trees for the first time “seasonally” closed the ranger stations at both West Rock and Lighthouse Point to save a few thousand dollars on utility bills.
Semi Semi-Dikoko (at left in photo helping a first-time snow-shoer and Cooperative Arts high schooler Simone Ngongi) and fellow Friends of Edgewood Park (FOEP) are working with city officials so that same fate will not befall their ranger station in the park near Edgewood Avenue and Hobart Street.
Friends President Semi-Dikoko and past President Sharon Lovett-Graff received some reassurance Tuesday morning in a meeting with parks chief Bob Levine.
“For now it’s off the table,” Levine said after the meeting.
“I’m conservatively optimistic,” said Semi-Dikoko. He described the morning meeting with Levine as very positive, but also one in which Levine laid out the pressures that all the city’s departments are facing in the upcoming budget season.
The meeting came as a consequence of Levine’s courtesy call to Westville Alderman Greg Dildine several weeks ago informing him that the Edgewood ranger station might be closed.
Dildine alerted the Friends.
Dildine said Levine suggested an alternative: park-goers could use the Barnard Nature Center instead. Dildine said he juggled two roles: one as a past president of the Friends, and another as an alderman seeking to be fiscally responsible.
“I know the [budget] challenges will abound this year, but I think we should have a ranger station in the park,” he concluded.
At a snow-shoeing clinic held at the park Tuesday, Ranger Chris Guerette (at right in photo) explained how the rookie snow-shoers should be sure to “dig in their crampons,” Semi-Dikoko said that the Friends need to dig in to let the department know how important the station is to the community.
The ranger station is the site of popular children’s program, where families come weekly to explore the park, play together, read books, and check out the critters. The Friends also hold their regular monthly meetings there. The friends will need to have the station open during the centennial year of the park for outreach purposes to the West River community, Semi-Dikoko added. And he said there’s a safety factor, too.
“If there is no structure that is open [all year] in the park, it’ll foster vandalism,” Semi-Dikoko said.
However, he added, “We have a lot of work to do.”
That’s likely to pay off when future budgetary mid-course corrections may become necessary.
City Chief Administrative Officer Rob Smuts said the West Rock and Lighthouse Point ranger stations “routinely get much less use in the winter. This [seasonally closing them] was a way to achieve budget savings with minimal impact.”
Smuts said they were closed out due to “a general feeling that we should economize wherever possible,” not due to a specific budget gap that needs to be filled.
Smuts said that he had not yet heard from Levine the results of his meeting with Semi-Dikoko and Lovett-Graff of the Friends.
However, he added, “This is why when you have an active group, we like to engage them to see what impact these decisions have. We’re going in there with an attempt to save money, but we’re flexible about details,” he said.
Guerette and fellow Ranger Joe Milone have been transferred for the winter from West Rock and Lighthouse Point ranger facilities to the Edgewood Park station.
The Edgewood Park station was closed Tuesday (though the water and electricity were on inside) but a “Critters and Cocoa” and “How Animals Keep Warm” program were scheduled for later in the week out of the building, along with more snow-shoeing.