WASHINGTON -- Despite protests from the Maryland congressional delegation, the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Anne Arundel County will be closed to weekday visitors beginning today.
The area being closed consists of the center's north tract, which was transferred from Fort Meade in 1991 and has drawn an estimated 50,000 visitors for hiking, fishing, hunting and other outdoor activities. Most of the center's middle and southern tracts are off limits to the public.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which manages the center, says it doesn't have the money to keep the land open during the week.
Jamise Liddell, a spokeswoman for the Fish and Wildlife Service, said the department sought $400,000 to maintain the north tract last year, but received only $100,000.
As a result, regularly scheduled bird walks and nature hikes have been canceled, as has the monthly lecture series. The center, just off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, will remain open on weekends.
Both of Maryland's senators, along with Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Steny H. Hoyer, protested the move in a letter to Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.
"There appears to be no justification for shutting off public access to the property during the week," they wrote.
"Moreover, it is unlikely that any significant cost savings could be achieved by closing the north tract," they continued. "The public use program is largely operated by volunteers."
Ms. Liddell said that while the center has a large volunteer program, managing volunteers "is expensive. And providing law enforcement also costs money."
An aide to Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat, said the Fish and Wildlife Service never made a specific request for money to maintain the north tract, which forms the majority of the center's roughly 13,000 acres.
"If they need more money, they should come to Congress," he said. "Senator Sarbanes worked very hard to transfer that property for public use. He wants to see it kept open."