Despite US Fish and Wildlife pulling staffing, Great Falls Discovery Center announces expanded winter hours

Last modified: 11/11/2015 10:28:39 PM
TURNERS FALLS — The Great Falls Discovery Center announced this week it will expand its winter hours after the Department of Conservation and Recreation hired two full-time, seasonal staff members.

The state stepped up to fill a vacancy left by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service at the end of September when the agency pulled all staffing from the center. This week, the Montague Board of Selectmen sent a letter to the agency’s public comments processing expressing the town’s disappointment at the decision.

At the beginning of August, Fish and Wildlife notified the Friends of the Great Falls Discovery Center volunteer group that it would be vacating its sole staff position at the center within nine days due to lack of funding. The staff member, known as an interpreter, was responsible for coordinating visitor center activities and field trips, making calendar updates and booking events.

The interpreter, however, ended up staying until Sept. 30, according to Don Clegg, president of the Friends of the Discovery Center’s board of directors.

“There was such an uproar they reconsidered that and had someone from Fish and Wildlife there on Wednesdays and Thursdays for the two days (DCR Interpreter) Janel Nockleby wasn’t there,” Clegg said.

Clegg said Nockleby, who worked at the center over the summer as an interpreter, has been hired full-time for the winter.

“Even though U.S. Fish and Wildlife walked away and didn’t want to be a partner as much as they used to be, the state has taken it on and become an even greater partner,” Clegg said.

DCR also hired a full-time facilities employee to help maintain the center during the winter.

This week, the Board of Selectmen sent a letter to Fish and Wildlife’s public comments processing to express its disappointment at the agency’s plan to divest itself of the center, which is touted on its website as the flagship visitor center of the Silvio O. Conte National Fish and Game Wildlife Refuge.

Historically, the center has been a collaboration between DCR, Friends of the Discovery Center, the Town of Montague and Fish and Wildlife.

“We’re really unique,” said Clegg. “We’re the only place in the country that has a partnership with the town, the state and the federal government, along with volunteers.”

Clegg said the move by Fish and Wildlife was surprising because it appears the agency has been trying to expand its reach to more cities and urban areas.

“The letter goes into the poverty levels of Turners, the poverty levels of Montague and Franklin County that definitely fits the bill,” he said. “Something that’s free and interactive and a place for field trips is exactly what they’re trying to expand to do around the country, but we’ve been doing it for 13 years.”

Last week, representatives from Fish and Wildlife visited the Discovery Center as part of a tour of different facilities across New England. According to Clegg, the agency gave the Friends group just 24 hours notice that the representatives would be coming. He said a group of 23 people attended the meeting, including town officials, a representative from the Springfield Museum and lobbyists.

Among the visitors was Caroline Brouwer, director of government affairs for the National Wildlife Refuge Association.

“She said that she’s been doing this for eight years, going to different refuges around the country and this is the best partnership that she’s ever seen anywhere in the United States, so I thought that was pretty cool,” Clegg said.

He added that he hopes the state’s increased involvement at the center will be a positive change.

“If they’re going to be there, they’re going to have the doors open,” he said, adding that wasn’t always the case with Fish and Wildlife employees. “It’s a little bit of a different philosophy.”

You can reach Aviva Luttrell at: 
aluttrell@recorder.com 
or 413-772-0261, ext. 268
On Twitter follow: @AvivaLuttrell


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