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Supporters Hopeful Trailside Museum Can be Saved

Officials and supporters of the Trailside Nature Museum at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation are still hopeful that the 74-year-old institution will either get a reprieve from the Westchester County Board of Legislators or receive enough in private donations to remain open despite facing the threat of closure due to budget cuts proposed by County Executive Rob Astorino.

“We are optimistic,” said Tom Cohn, a member of the board of directors for Friends of Trailside Nature Museum and Ward Pound Ridge Reservation.  “We feel like we are getting some traction with our online petition to save the museum. It has over 1,000 signatures now and our goal is 2,000.”

Cohn said that a member of the board of directors gave a speech at Wednesday night’s public hearing on the county budget, which was held in Somers, and said the crowd was very receptive.

“We have had a tremendous public outcry,” he said. “We have been approached by so many people asking what they can do to help. They ask us if they should still give money and the answer is ‘yes’. Give us twice as much. We are going to need that war chest. We will figure out a way to keep it going.”

Cohn said the operation costs of the museum comes to about $100,000, of which about 75 percent is raised through programs and gate revenues. If the county moves forward with the closure, it would only be saving about $25,000 from its proposed $1.689 billion budget.

Cohn said the museum’s employees run programs and collect data for myriad projects – such as white-tail deer management – and are the stewards of that information. If the museum should close, that data would be lost.

“If we lose these key positions, we lose the data and stewardship and then it all starts to unwind and it will be felt for a long period of time,” he said.

According to Cohn, the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation has more than 200,000 visitors annually. The museum generates about $78,000 in revenue. More than half of the paid gate revenues of $98.850 at the preserve in 2010 were the direct result of Trailside Museum programs. He said so far this year, the museum presented 40 weekend programs and taught 110 school programs for 3,590 students.

However, if funding is cut by the county, Cohn said there may be a “Plan B” to keep the museum up and running.

“We have contact with some philanthropic concerns that have offered cash gifts to combat the closing, which we are exploring,” he said. “There are both public and private options.”

A spokesman for Astorino said that whether funding for the museum is restored is now in the hands of the county legislature, but said the cuts were necessary to prevent any tax increases.

"Basically, it was a matter of making the hard decisions for balancing the budget with no tax increases," said Donna Greene, Astorino's deputy communication director. "The parks department, which the museum is part of, has discretionary money and that was what was looked at it."

Green said that while the deer-culling program will be discontinued, items and displays within the museum will be preserved.

"Everything in the museum will be relocated to the Nature Museum House," she said. "No one will let it disappear."

County Legislator Peter Harckham (D – Katonah) who represents both Pound Ridge and Lewisboro, the area in which the preserve is located, said that while the County Executive and Board of Legislators are facing hard choices, he supports reinstating funding for the museum.

“It’s more than a museum; it’s the entire conservation division of the park system,” he said.  “If we cut it, what does it say about us as a county? It’s a big deal.”

Harckham said he was glad to see so much public support for the museum and its programs and said the board will give it strong consideration.

“We are looking at it very closely. It’s near and dear to our hearts and we are having some serious discussions about it,” he said. “Our concern is that we have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the park. And the deer management plan, which would be lost, is critical to the survival of the park.”

Harckham said museum supporters should come to third and final public hearing on the budget to express their views. It will be held Wednesday at the Little Theatre in the Westchester County Center, 198 Central Ave., in White Plains at 7 p.m.

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