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Hard times for Five Rivers

Layoffs and cutbacks threaten the center's educational programming

Last year at this time, there were six people on the state payroll working at the Fiver Rivers Environmental Education Center in New Scotland. By the end of this month, there will be two.

Cutbacks at the state level are having a very real impact at the environmental preserve in the form of layoffs and early retirements, which have culled the ranks to these low levels and left some wondering if a rich portfolio of educational programming will soon become a thing of the past.

I'm really hoping that there's some restaffing here because it's really difficult to maintain the level of programming with just two staffers, said Senior Educator Anita Sanchez, who will be taking advantage of a state early retirement incentive come the end of September. She first started at Five Rivers in 1983.

"There's so many people calling for programs ... wanting to book programs for the fall, for winter, for next spring ... we're really not sure what level of programming there's going to be," Sanchez continued.

Like Sanchez, all of the recent departures have a long history with the center, said Director Craig Thompson.

"It's a brain drain, about 110, 120 years of service represented just with those four," he said.

Three of the recent departures were full-time employees. Three were environmental educators, and the fourth was the center's sole secretary.

Some didn't want to go, some felt it was the best time, but with state finances in the tank it's unlikely any will be replaced this year, Thompson continued.

A Department of Environmental Conservation representative said there's no way to tell if staff levels will be increased in the future, but for this year, there's no chance.

"These are not cuts that DEC wants to make, but they're cuts that DEC has to make," spokesman Yancey Roy said. "The staff has been reduced there like it has been in every division of the agency."

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