Skip to content

New budget brings back full hours for nature centers

$185,000 extra from Arlington leaders will support Long Branch, Gulf Branch

It took four years but in the end, all that was required to bring the Arlington government’s two nature centers back to pre-pandemic operating hours was a little nudge from a majority of Arlington County Board members coupled with an extra dash of taxpayer cash.

As part of the fiscal 2025 budget adopted April 20, County Board members approved $185,000 in supplemental funding that will allow Gulf Branch and Long Branch nature centers to each return to 39 hours of service spread over six days per week. After resuming public operations after a lengthy COVID layoff, the centers have been restricted to 21 hours weekly each, spread over three days.

Despite protests from civic organizations and some in the community, top county leaders – including County Manager Mark Schwartz and parks director Jane Rudolph – seemed in no rush to fund and hire the staff required to get the centers back to their traditional schedules.

But County Board Chairman Libby Garvey, who for several years was alone among her colleagues (at least publicly) fighting to restore the hours, was able to get a working majority on the matter during this year’s budget process. And in spending revisions revealed the week before the final vote, Schwartz supported the extra funding necessary.

(It perhaps helped that, sensing the effort needed some new marketing, supporters this year tied additional hours of operation to support both of mental health and to the community’s teens – two key budget priorities.)

Unless county leaders choose to act earlier, the increased hours would go into effect sometime after the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 as staff are brought on board.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) operates a third nature center in Arlington – Potomac Overlook – that is open to the public nearly 40 hours per week.