View bleak for state parks
John Boyd Thacher State Park is on the list of eight Capital Region sites to close as state budget deficit takes toll
By BRIAN NEARING, Staff writer
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First published: Saturday, February 20, 2010
ALBANY -- Eight state parks and historic sites in the Capital Region, including John Boyd Thacher State Park at the Helderberg Escarpment, would be closed this year to help narrow the cash-strapped state's budget deficit, according to plans released Friday.
Statewide, the plan calls for the closure of 41 parks and 14 historic sites, and service reductions at 23 parks and one historic site. The state system currently encompasses 178 parks and 35 historic sites.
"These actions were not recommended lightly, but they are necessary to address our state's extraordinary fiscal difficulties," said Carol Ash, commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Ash's office came up with the cuts, which are expected to save about $6.3 million, in response to a 22 percent budget cut of more than $64 million to her department in Gov. David Paterson's proposed 2010-2011 budget.
Other sites in the Capital Region appeared on the closure list: the Bennington Battlefield State Park, Schodack Island State Park, and Hudson River Islands State Park, all in Rensselaer County; Schuyler Mansion Historic Site in the city of Albany; Max V. Shaul State Park and Schoharie Crossing Historic Site, both in Schoharie County; and Johnson Hall Historic Site in Fulton County.
"In an environment when we have to cut funding to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and social services, no area of state spending, including parks and historic sites, could be exempt from reduction," said Paterson.
Dan Keefe, a spokesman for the parks agency, could not say how the proposed closures would be carried out. He said the savings reflect seasonal employee and operating costs. The closings in the Capital Region were expected to save about $767,500, according to the office.
The parks' plan also counts on $4 million in new park and historic site fees still to be identified, and use of $5 million in new revenue redirected from the Environmental Protection Fund, which already faces a 35 percent cut under Paterson's budget.
Use of EPF funds -- which normally pays for land purchases, farmland protection, recycling, water quality and other conservation programs -- will require approval by the state Legislature. If lawmakers reject that action, Ash's office has prepared a list of another 34 parks that would be closed.
Capital Region parks on that fallback list include Grafton Lakes State Park, Cherry Plain State Park, and Fort Crailo State Historic Site, all in Rensselaer County; Minekill State Park in Schoharie County; and Peebles Island State Park in Saratoga County. Also, the Victoria Pool in Saratoga Spa State Park would be closed.
The list of park closures was first reported Sunday by Times Union columnist Fred LeBrun.
In Saratoga Springs, word that the Victoria Pool might not open this summer drew angry city residents to Tuesday's City Council meeting.
"We are completely horrified," said Louise Goldstein, founder of the Save the Victoria Pool Society, which fought to get the state to invest $1.5 million in repairs to the pool in 2003.
When word of potential park closures leaked out, the New Scotland Town Board adopted a resolution urging that Thacher Park remain open.
Numerous bridal parties have had their pictures taken at Thacher Park's dramatic overlook, said New Scotland Town Supervisor Tom Dolin, a former town justice.
"I've officiated at a number of weddings up there," he said. "It's a very popular wedding site for people from all over the region, not just New Scotland. And it's a year-round resource, and a very inexpensive place to take a family for a picnic."
Three Facebook pages have already started to support the park, said John Kilroy, chairman of Friends of Thacher Park. "What we want to do is mount a grassroots campaign, and urge people to contact their legislators and the governor's office," he said. A lobbying day on behalf of the parks is set for March 3 at the Capitol, he added.
Opponents said the closure plan would save relatively little cash and punish residents during a time of economic difficulty. Last season, the park system had about 56 million visitors, an increase of almost 2 million that set an all-time record. Bookings at cabins and campsites also set records.
"News of the closings will devastate many communities, as their citizens rely on parks for affordable, close-to-home recreation and their businesses rely on parks to bring in revenue," said Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks & Trails New York, a statewide advocacy organization.
"The minuscule savings from closing 57 parks -- four-thousandths of 1 percent of the total state budget -- is laughable and pales in comparison to the hardship parks closings will cause New Yorkers, both in spirit and in pocket," she said.
The state parks agency will continue to make capital investments planned for this year, said office spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee. This includes $3 million for work at the bleach works in Peebles Island State Park in Waterford and $600,000 at Thompson Lake State Park.
Waterford Mayor Bert Mahoney was relieved to learn that Peebles Island was not on Friday's state closure list. Mahoney said closing the park would be a disaster. "People are concerned. They don't want to see anything happen to restrict our access," he said.
Several GOP Rensselaer County lawmakers also came out against the closing. "Closing these state parks will only punish residents who are already paying outrageous state taxes and can probably expect to pay even more because of the chaos in state government. Worst of all is that these closures will not reduce the state's budget gap. This is an unfair and wrong-headed move by the state," said Legislator Lester Goodermote.
"Some of these closures make no sense, especially at the wilder state parks that cost little to staff and maintain," said Neil Woodworth, executive director of the Adirondack Mountain Club.
"How are they going to keep people out of Thacher Park, which has a public highway running through it?'' Woodworth went on. "Unless they pay for security staff to keep people out, they will park along the side of the road and walk in. The situation would also leave the park and its facilities vulnerable to abuse and vandalism. Where are the cost savings in that?"
Brian Nearing can be reached at 454-5094 or at email@example.com. Staff reporters Dennis Yusko and Kenneth C. Crowe II contributed to this story.
Popular destinations at risk
Capital Region parks and historic sites slated to close and the annual amount to be saved:
John Boyd Thacher State Park, New Scotland, $255,000
Schuyler Mansion State Historic Site, Albany, $166,000
Schodack Island State Park, Schodack, $97,000
Bennington Battlefield Historic Site, Grafton, $20,000
Hudson River Islands State Park, Rensselaer County, $15,000
Johnson Hall Historic Site, Johnstown, $46,500
Schoharie Crossing Historic Site, Fort Hunter, $110,000
Max V. Shaul State Park, Fultonham, $18,000
Olana State Historic Site, in Hudson would be closed two days a week, saving $35,000.
Source: NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation
The full list
For the complete statewide list on proposed state park closings, go to http://nysparks.state.ny.us
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Victoria Pool dodges budget cuts; other sites not so lucky
Published: Saturday, February 20, 2010
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Click thumbnails to enlarge
The Schuyler Mansion in Albany remains in danger of being closed in order to save the state money. (TOM KILLIPS file photo/For The Saratogian)
Schodack Island State Park remains in danger of being closed in order to save the state money. (TOM KILLIPS file photo/For The Saratogian)
By PAUL POST, The Saratogian
Click to enlarge
4-year-old Josh Szwarcberg of Ballston Lake leaps into Victoria Pool at Saratoga Spa State Park in 2007. The pool has escaped a round of cuts announced Friday by Gov. David Paterson. (RICK GARGIULO file photo/The Saratogian)
SARATOGA SPRINGS — Victoria Pool at Saratoga Spa State Park has escaped the chopping block, but popular destinations such as Thacher park in the Helderbergs would close under a round of cuts announced Friday by Gov. David A. Paterson.
No Saratoga County facilities would be affected, but three Rensselaer County state parks are targeted — Bennington Battlefield, Hudson River Islands and Schodack Island.
They’re among 41 parks and 14 historic sites statewide that would close this year as part of Paterson’s plan to save $6.3 million from a projected $8.2 billion budget gap. Services would be reduced at another 23 parks and one historic site.
Another Rensselear County park — Grafton Lakes — that was thought to face closing was not on Paterson’s list.
“I’m grateful about Grafton, but it’s not a good way to do business,” said state Sen. Roy J. McDonald, R-Saratoga, who represents Saratoga and Rensselaer counties. “With the loss of population, upstate is becoming more of a minority. I want to make sure we’re not being taken advantage of.”
In New York City, only one park would close, but another’s pool wouldn’t open and its seniors and cultural programs would be eliminated.
Other Saratoga-Capital Region facilities facing closing are Schuyler Mansion in Albany, John Brown Farm Historic Site in Lake Placid, Johnson Hall Historic Site in Fulton County and Max V. Shaul State Park and Schoharie Crossing Historic Site in Schoharie County. There are 12 parks and eight historic sites in the region. The nine that face closing represent almost half that total.
“It will be devastating to the communities they’re in,” said Heather Mabee of Greenfield, chair of the Saratoga-Capital Region Parks Commission. “Local economies will be hard hit. When people visit parks and historic sites, they also shop and eat at restaurants. Think of all the summer jobs that will be lost for high school and college kids. Thacher Park alone has 40 seasonal employees.”
Statewide, parks usage increased by 2 million visits last year from 54 million to 56 million. Thacher Park hosts numerous day camps for the Capital District’s inner-city youth.
“I’m disappointed that Albany doesn’t realize how important parks are,” Mabee said. “People need them to get away from the stress of daily life, and we’re supposed to be encouraging kids to get outside and be more active instead of sitting in front of computers. Without parks, where do they go?”
She said permanent jobs such as administrators will be saved.
Assistant Regional Commissioner Robert Kuhn said, “We currently have three vacant park manager positions in our region. We have no park manager at Grafton Lakes or Minekill state parks and no assistant manager at Saratoga Spa State Park. Presumably, managers from closed facilities will be relocated to other facilities where we have vacancies.”
In terms of numbers, the Central Region was hit hardest where 12 facilities are targeted, followed by 11 each in the Taconic Region and Long Island. All proposals require approval by the state Legislature.
“New York faces an historic fiscal crisis of unprecedented magnitude,” Paterson said. “The unfortunate reality of closing an $8.2 billion deficit is that there is less money available for many worthy services and programs.”
His plan also calls for $4 million worth of park and historic site fee increases.
Parks Commissioner Carol Ash said, “These actions were not recommended lightly, but they are necessary to address our state’s extraordinary fiscal difficulties.”
At Jones Beach on Long Island, plans call for closing a swimming pool and eliminating July 4 fireworks. At Niagara Falls, interpretive programs would be reduced.
Even Donald J. Trump State Park in Westchester County would close (he donated 436 acres for it) and golf courses at James Baird and Mills Norrie parks in Dutchess County would have shortened seasons. Olana State Historic Site near Hudson would close two days per week.
For a complete list of closings click on the link: http://readme.readmedia.com/Statements-from-Governor-David-A-Paterson-and-Commissioner-Carol-Ash/1166601utm_source=newswire&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=media_pr_emails.
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