County and Westampton to Enter Shared Services Agreement
The Burlington County Freeholders announced that they will enter into a shared services agreement with Westampton and the State that will save the Rancocas Nature Center and Park from closing.
“This plan calls for a unique partnership between the State, County, Westampton and nonprofit organizations to allow the Nature Center and the 2.7 mile trail system to remain open for the enjoyment of the public,” said Freeholder Director Joe Donnelly. “Now the outdoor education programs and summer camp that had been run by NJ Audubon will remain a popular destination for families.”
This past December, NJ Audubon, who leases and manages 130 acres of land including the Rancocas Nature Center from the State on the Westampton side of Rancocas State Park, announced that it was closing the Nature Center for financial reasons. NJ Audubon projected that the Nature Center would run at a deficit of $55,000 in 2013 but agreed to keep the Nature Center open until March 31st giving stakeholders the opportunity to raise funds to cover the projected deficit and to formulate a long term fundraising plan to sustain the operation. So far, the Friends of the Rancocas Nature Center, a newly formed nonprofit organization, has received generous pledges.
“The proposed shared service agreement is an excellent example of how working together, government can partner with a nonprofit organization to benefit the residents, said Freeholder Aimee Belgard. “This partnership will enable the Rancocas Nature Center to continue to operate and serve as a fantastic place for exploring nature for families in Burlington County.”
Under the new shared services agreement, the County will file for a special use permit from the State of New Jersey, who owns the State Park, to manage the lands and buildings. The County will maintain the buildings and trails and pay certain operating expenses, but the State would assume all responsibility for any capital improvements to the buildings.
The plan calls for Westampton to hire the 2 full-time employees, secure all necessary State and County Health Department approvals needed for running a camp and provide the necessary training. Westampton would also provide insurance to cover all program activities, including insurance for volunteers. The new Friends group will continue to raise funds to support the Center.