The Audubon Center's wings have been clipped.
Starting next spring, the Prospect Park bird lover's mecca will close to the public, moving the majority of its programs outdoors and reserving the space for private events, according to park officials. Electronic boat tours around the lake are being eliminated entirely.
The Lefferts Historic House is also on the chopping block and will soon have only one full-time staffer.
“I feel like I’m on a sinking ship,” said one part-time Audubon Center employee, declining to give her name for the sake of preserving what remains of her job.
“We come here and hours just keep getting cut. It’s depressing.”
The center, which opened its doors in 2002, features a movie theater, live animals and even a human-sized birds nest. It also houses the park's visitor's center, information desk and a small cafe.
Prospect Park spokesman Paul Nelson said a tightening budget has forced the park to cut costs. The center will still host scheduled programs, and will be available for private rental along with the adjoining Boathouse, meaning the weddings will continue. Other programming will now take place in "pop up Audubon" around the park.
But the days of wandering into the center, currently open Thursday through Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m., will be a thing of the past.
“We were looking at places to trim the budget, and there’s only so many places you can trim,” he said.
But the budgetary molting had Audubon workers' feathers in a twist.
“It’s sad,” said the employee. “It was a wonderful place, it was a nice resource for kids and for families, and I think it’s a shame that they’re not nurturing it and they don’t care as much as they should.”
Latrice Davis, who works part-time at Lefferts Historic House, said that while she was not made aware of the layoffs, said she has noticed shifts in operations.
Admission to the 200-year-old house was free until last year, when a pay-as-you-wish policy was instated, said Davis, who began volunteering on the grounds in 2008 and became a staff member in 2010. In July, admission for adults became a non-negotiable $3.
She added that cuts have also been made to programming, namely, halving the annual Harvest Festival from two days to just one.
Meanwhile, the park has funnelled significant resources to the new Lakeside center, a $74 million recreation facility expected to open in fall of 2013.
That the park's two primary educational resources have been cast aside does not sit well with the Audubon Center staffer.
“The park is a community facility,” she said. “It should be a priority to engage the community and teach them about stewardship and taking care of the environment."
“We’re going to lose that opportunity.”