Parks funding to get boost from state
By DREW KERR
Published: Tuesday, April 08, 2008
To order copies of staff-produced photos from The Post-Star, please visit http://reprints.poststar.com/. SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Louise Goldstein is hoping New York's state budget translates into a June dip at Saratoga Spa State Park's Victoria Pool.
Her enthusiasm is based on a $95 million commitment to state parks included in New York's tentative 2008-09 budget -- an investment the governor's office is calling the largest monetary dedication to capital projects in state history.
"They're always crying about money, so this certainly gives us a push when we call for an early opening," said Goldstein, the co-founder of the Save the Victoria Pool Society, a group formed in 2003 to fight for the park and lengthen the season at Saratoga Springs' only public pool.
But Alane Ball Chinian, the director for the Saratoga-Capital parks region, said the money is more likely to go toward maintenance and repair projects that have been put off during years of lesser financial support.
"The park system has been very underfunded for years, and it's been a real Band-Aid approach to keeping them open," Chinian said Monday. "The infrastructure was really suffering, and this is just playing catch-up."
The state estimates there is a $650 million backlog of necessary work statewide, and Chinian said this year's budget is only a starting point.
"This covers a tiny fraction of the needs the park has," she said. "There's still a lot of work to do."
Improvements at Saratoga Spa State Park, which are already under way and will continue this summer, total $3.6 million this fiscal year. Moreau Lake State Park is getting $1.83 million. The money will be used to update and replace restrooms, install new playground equipment, repair water and electric lines and improve roadways and trails.
Money to replace rotting siding on the exterior of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center is also expected to be delivered, allowing the project to begin this fall.
Though they may not seem like terribly exciting projects, Chinian said, combined, they will ultimately lead to a safer, more comfortable park experience.
"When bathrooms are in disrepair and lights don't work -- those are the kinds of things that discourage people from coming," she said.
The funding comes as officials at Saratoga Spa State Park begin to devise a new master plan, among the first in the state.
But Chinian said that process is directed toward the park's future -- whether or not it will invite camping, for example -- and shouldn't be affected by the work afforded in the budget.
In statements, both Carol Ash, commissioner of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation, and Gov. David Paterson lauded the state's increasing commitment to park funding.
With fuel prices peaking, Ash said, she is expecting an increasing number of people to frequent close-to-home parks.
"In light of climbing gas prices, this coming summer season may be the perfect time to explore a new destination or visit a familiar spot," she said.
Paterson, who sought to rein in spending given a projected $4 billion budget gap, said the investment could also help rejuvenate the state and local economies in the long run.
"Making long-overdue investments in our state parks will not only preserve New York's natural resources and protect our environment, but it will also serve as a critical engine of economic growth," he said. "A first-class parks system will draw residents, tourists and private investment to communities around our state."