Park closure spurs forum
By KRISTIN SHAW
SCHODACK--A meeting to discuss the closure of the Schodack Island State Park and to brainstorm ideas on how to keep the park open this winter, will be held Thursday, October 30 at 7 p.m. at the town hall, 265 Schuurman Road.
Supervisor Beth Secor and Assemblyman Tim Gordon (I-108th District) called for the forum and the State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), agreed to meet with local residents and elected officials.
The park closed after business hours on Monday, October 13.
"The residents of Schodack and the surrounding areas utilize this wonderful resource throughout the winter," said Mr. Gordon. "It's sudden closing without public knowledge and input is a real blow to the community. It is essential that OPRHP hear what the people have to say."
Residents were rankled when they learned of the park's closing, only days before it happened, and strongly objected to the action being taken without considering the needs and desires of the people who use the park.
Close to 700 people have signed petitions against the parks closure, an effort spearheaded by resident Elizabeth Peters, who brought the issue to the attention of The Independent.
"We're glad parks and recreation have agreed to this meeting," said Mrs. Peters. "We want to keep it a positive one though and not just a forum for people to complain, but to come up with ideas on how to keep the park open, even if on a part-time basis."
Mrs. Secor said the meeting may help all parties discover a way to keep the park open.
"The town has resources that may be used to help address some of the needs for services over the winter," she said. "Communicating with us prior to the closing may have led to a different outcome."
According to Elaine Chinnian, regional director for the Saratoga/Capital District Region, every year since the park opened the usage has increased.
"The Department of Parks and Recreation should listen to the people and take into consideration the impact the closing will have on their quality of life," Mr. Gordon said. "They must work with the residents and local officials to arrive at a solution that will both save the state money in these difficult times and allow residents access to this unique recreational resource on the Hudson River."
Mrs. Secor hopes to get the word out to as many residents as possible before next Thursday.
"This was not the best way to go about this; to make a unilateral decision," she told The Independent. "Input from residents and officials was needed before action was taken."
Mrs. Secor said she expects OPRHP representatives will explain their budget and why Schodack's park was selected as the one to close.
"I'd like to see real numbers and also what is being done to save money at other state parks," she said.
She noted that the state paid $2 million to have the road leading into the park constructed.
"They have a tremendous investment here," she said.
The park here is the only to close down, but other parks throughout the state are operating with reduced hours and less staff, according to Ms. Chinnian.
Rensselaer County Legislators Martin Reid and Alex Shannon are calling on New York State and Governor David Paterson to allow for a public hearing and public comment on the closure of the Schodack Island State Park.
"Residents are still very upset that the Schodack Island State Park was closed and they are also angry with the abrupt manner the park was closed. The residents who use this park or are affected by the closing deserve a chance to be heard," said Mr. Reid (R-District 4).
"We are certain that if state officials allow a public hearing that they will hear loud and clear that the people want the park reopened. A public hearing on the park closing would be good and open government," added Mr. Shannon.
The two lawmakers said they will send a letter to the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation requesting the public hearing. Mr. Reid and Mr. Shannon are also considering a resolution at the November 12 legislative meeting urging the scheduling of a public hearing.
The park is just below the Village of Castleton on Route 9J. Open year-round, the park features boating, hiking, great views of the Hudson River and during the winter months, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
Mr. Shannon, chairman of the Legislature's Environmental Committee, said the turnout at the park was strong during the final weekend. During an hour-long period at the park entrance, Mr. Shannon said he counted more than 30 cars and trucks entering the park.
The decision by the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation was made after Governor Paterson called for a 7% reduction in the Parks and Recreation overall budget. The park is expected to reopen in April or May.
Ms. Chinnian said the gate will be closed, as will all of the parks buildings and there will be no staff on site. People can, however, enter at their own risk.
Supervisor Secor and Mr. Gordon met with Deputy Parks Commissioner Andy Beers, in Albany, Friday, October 10 and delivered petitions with more than 400 signatures opposing the parks closure.
According to Eileen Larabee, parks director of communication, it is estimated the state will save $83,000 by having the park closed for six months. People argue, however, that reopening the park in the spring will be more expensive than usual because the park and its trails will not have been maintained during that time frame.
People are also worried about the possible danger to people who access the park, if hunters are on the land without supervision.
At its meeting October 9, the Town Board unanimously adopted a resolution asking the office of parks and recreation to reconsider it's decision. The legislature adopted similar legislation Tuesday, October 14.
Resident Ken Stokem is concerned that this seasonal closing is just the beginning of the end for the park.
"Much of the year, the park does not charge for visits, so they have no real idea how much we use it," he said. "I wonder how saving less than $12,000 a month going to help the state in resolving its fiscal concerns.
"If they don't maintain it, it will cost them much more to reopen and repair it for each summer season, than they may save by closing it," he added "Unplowed and un-patrolled there is substantial opportunity for damage, vandalism, poaching, and other mayhem to occur. Just clearing and reopening it trails will entail a lot of time and expense. This decision makes little real sense and is unfair to the public."
To file a complaint call 584-2000 or log onto www.nysparks.state.ny.us.