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Hard times for Five Rivers

Luckily, volunteerism at Five Rivers has always been strong, and the private group Friends of Five Rivers even funds two part-time workers for the center.

According to figures from Five Rivers, there were 1,400 volunteer "log ins" at the center, amounting to 3.8 full-time equivalencies. There are 100 to 150 people who volunteer regularly, said Thompson, and another 100 that volunteer occasionally.

Nancy Payne, an environmental educator assistant laid off in March, said she'd be returning to volunteer her time.

"I don't think I could walk away from that place and not volunteer, with all those people who volunteered for me," she said.

Her 30 years of experience at Five Rivers and teaching certification helped her instruct visiting school groups, lead public walks, build exhibits and teach the very programs she helped to create for years. As a part-time employee, she earned less than $1,500 per year, she said. With another 20 months on the job, she would have been eligible to draw out of the state pension system.

But even with an eager bank of volunteers, much of the paid staff's work is in environmental education.

"Teaching a two-hour class on pond ecology is something you need a lot of training for," said Sanchez. "There's really some things only a staff person can do."

Dee Strnisa is in possession of one of these unique skills. She ran the center's Water Education for Teachers (WET) program, but was laid off in April. Funding for the WET program is also being reduced across the state.

Though volunteers would often teach classes, she said, it was up to educators to train the volunteers and also be available to cover scheduled classes.

"It's always been if somebody couldn't show up ... there's always staff people there," Strnisa said. "I don't know if you can run a whole center with two people."

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