Sunday, February 21, 2010


There’s no denying that public parks and pools are luxuries, and thus likely targets when money is tight. And there’s no denying that money is tight in New York state.

But come on.

It’s criminal that state parks and pools may close to save a piddling $6.3 million in a budget with an $8.2 billion deficit, while taxpayers continue to support past and present public employees’ pensions and perks and lawmakers waste money on items large and small.

Even in the unlikely event that the governor and Legislature find the fortitude to stand up to union and other special interests and tackle real spending issues, it will take another generation to dig New York out of the hole. New York spends about $134 billion a year.

Pensions and other benefits must be addressed head-on.

The measly money saved by cutting things like well-used parks won’t do anything meaningful in terms of cutting the deficit.

But it’s easier to pick on parks.
The official list from the governor’s office, which was released Friday, spares all the state park facilities in Saratoga County. An earlier version would have closed the Victoria Pool, the fancier of the two pool complexes at the Saratoga Spa State Park. That would have been a shame. The Victoria Pool had more than 16,000 visitors when it was open last summer, from June 27 through Labor Day.

It’s bad enough that last year the family-oriented Peerless Pool was closed on Tuesdays and hours were cut back because of budget constraints. Closing Victoria entirely would have been a needless cutback.

Other parks in the Saratoga-Capital Region were not so lucky. In Rensselaer County, Grafton Lakes State Park is safe for now. But the Schodack Island State Park, the Hudson River Islands State Park and the historic site at the Bennington Battlefield State Park will all close if the governor’s proposal is accepted by the legislators in their version of the state budget.

The last time the Schodack Island State Park was threatened by closure, local people banded together to protect their park. They ultimately received state permission to staff the park as volunteers. Now, it seems, even being willing to volunteer isn’t enough.

Also on the chopping block is the extremely popular and scenic John Boyd Thacher State Park in the rural outreaches of Albany County and the Schuyler Mansion Historic Site. Thacher Park has been a regular destination for young summer campers from the inner cities of the Capital District.

All told, the governor’s plan would close 41 parks and 14 historic sites, reduce services at 23 parks and one historic site, and raise $4 million in increased fees to be determined later. Also, $5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund would be used to finance parks department operations, at whose expense we don’t know.

There are no doubt some parks, historic sites and museums that could, at the very least, reduce hours and staffing to save some money.

But don’t forget that parks spin off economic benefits, like visitors buying gas and food. And then there’s the not-so-old-fashioned idea that a civilized society ought to provide parks so people can enjoy a bit of nature and maybe an affordable place to swim reasonably close to home. We’re supposed to be encouraging kids and adults to get outside.

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