June 29, 2010; Source: The Sacramento Bee | On paper, a deal worked out between a nonprofit and Sacramento (Calif.) County appears to have saved a nature preserve from the budget ax. But unless the American River Natural History Association (ARNHA), the new operators of the Effie Yeaw Nature Center, can come up with another $300,000 on top of what it already has raised, this move may just be delaying the inevitable.

In the past, the country underwrote most of the $600,000 cost to run the 77-acre nature center but because of eight years of $100 million deficits, it could no longer afford the expense. Previously, ARNHA has contributed up to $40,000-$60,000 annually in support of the preserve—a far cry from what the group now has to shoulder.

According to the Sacramento Bee, this isn’t the first time the county has similarly shifted responsibility to nonprofits for services it previously provided to country residents. However, more recently, such as when it relinquished control of the Sacramento Zoo, it continued to share some of the operating expenses. This time, the county is making a clean break, and that has some park advocates concerned. “It puts a lot of weight on a little organization like ARNHA,” said Greg Voelm a member of the association that will now run the preserve. “It may be a bad tax year for the county, but we have no ability to collect anything. We have to rely on the kindness of others.”

The newspaper says that unless ARNHA can fully raise money to cover expenses, the center may be open fewer days. Some involved in efforts to save the preserve also complain that the county rushed the decision, and didn’t give groups bidding to take over operations sufficient time to properly assess the deal. “I think it’s abhorrent and wildly irresponsible the way the county has handled this,” said Heidi Kuehner, a parks advocate.

Even ARNHA’s Voelm questions whether in the long run this will deal will be a smart one. In the end, the only thing that might be saved is the county’s face, not the park. Read more here, here, and here.

Unless the association raises more money, the center—with its exhibits, gift shop and popular critters—will be closed to the general public most days and open only sporadically for school groups and on other special occasions.—Bruce Trachtenberg