Saturday, February 13, 2010

we need to rally around our nys parks and urge elected/appointed officials to preserve our precious park so long neglected.

State parks face cutbacks this summer
By Richard E. Baldwin
News Niagara Reporter
Updated: February 11, 2010, 7:48 am / 46 comments
Published: February 11, 2010, 2:52 am
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NIAGARA FALLS — Some of New York State's parks and historic sites will remain closed this summer, others will be open fewer hours, some will have reduced services, and some will charge higher fees, all because of the state's precarious financial situation.

"There is no way for us to get around park closings," State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash said in an interview Wednesday in the Western Regional Parks Office in Niagara Falls State Park.

Ash said it was too early in the budget-making process to even guess at which parks or historic sites would remain closed. She added, however, that service reductions made last year would remain in effect — including the closing of swimming beaches at Lake Erie State Park in Brocton and Woodlawn Beach State Park in the Town of Hamburg.

"We also are looking at raising some fees, particularly at our Long Island ocean beaches, but probably not in Western New York," Ash said. Fees at state golf courses and rental fees for some park cottages also are under consideration, the commissioner said.

"These are imperfect solutions, but we want to make a 'soft landing' as much as possible," she said.

Her department hopes to keep open some parks and recreation facilities in or near each county, Ash said, so nobody in New York State would have to travel too far to reach a state site.

Although nothing has been decided for sure, some services could be reduced, Ash said. As an example, she suggested that some programs at Artpark in Lewiston could be scaled back. She stressed that all of the considerations are tentative and that they may be revised several times before being finally adopted in the state budget that is supposed to be enacted by April 1.

The state's budget for parks and recreation has been reduced by up to 40 percent from the last few years, and budget planners have asked for an additional reduction of $20 million this year, Ash said.

She refused to criticize Gov. David A. Paterson's demand for budget cuts, noting that all state departments are "in the same boat." Paterson has predicted a serious budget shortfall because of stagnant state revenues and increasing costs.

Members of Ash's staff said some savings could be gained by opening some of the smaller parks later in the year than their normal opening dates in April or May. That could become self-defeating, however, because fewer visitors would mean less income at a time when about 40 percent of the department's operating budget comes from user fees.

The staff members said the state's parks and historic sites had about 56 million visitors per year, and that visitation last year had increased by about 2 million. The use of state campsites also has increased, they said, possibly because more residents are vacationing closer to home and using relatively inexpensive state facilities in a time of recession.

On the brighter side, Ash announced that Paterson has proposed a $20 million statewide capital improvement budget for the Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.

The $20 million includes:

• $1.5 million to design repairs or replacement of the failing Goat Island bridges built just above the American Falls in 1901, which are closed to vehicle traffic. Vehicles currently use a newer bridge, just upstream from the original spans. There was no estimate of the actual cost of fixing or replacing the old bridges, although it would be much more than the amount allocated for design work. Also, there was no timetable for the work, which could be several years away. Only pedestrians now use the failing bridges.

• $1.1 million to improve the sewage system at Fort Niagara State Park near Youngstown to meet state sanitary standards.

• $1 million to repair and resurface aging park roadways that have exceeded their useful life in Allegany State Park in Cattaraugus County.

• $550,000 to replace the deteriorated restroom and shower building that serves the "D" cabin area, a popular camping area at Letchworth State Park in Wyoming County.

The commissioner distributed a summary report showing that state operating expenditures, capital investments and expenditures by visitors to New York State parks contributed $569 million to the economy of the Niagara Frontier. The study was released last year by the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.

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