Sunday, November 13, 2011
the continued neglect of our parks and heritage is a real tragedy.
Ignore our parks, neglect our heritage
Published 08:55 p.m., Saturday, November 12, 2011
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A great thing about America is its parks, their diversity and their endurance. Communities proudly have parks, as do states and the nation. Those parks preserve natural and cultural assets for future generations, offer places for recreation and provide civic identity.
New York's state parks and historic preservation system began with acquisition of Gen. George Washington's Revolutionary War headquarters in 1850 and the preservation of natural and historic treasures like Niagara Falls.
Later came the Robert Moses era, which was intended to assure outdoor recreational opportunities within reasonable distance for all New Yorkers. Urban and regional state heritage areas broaden that mission explicitly to include sustainable economic development.
New York courts have protected parks with the public trust doctrine that requires legislative approval before discontinuing or compromising a municipal or state park.
Sadly, for the first time the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is walking away from responsibility for heritage areas.
These parks, created in our time, were put in jeopardy by former parks Commissioner Carol Ash during the Paterson administration. In 2008, her deputy wrote to heritage area directors declaring that the "agency's approved Financial Management Plan for this year includes the end of agency staff support and technical assistance for the Heritage Area program."
Current Commissioner Rose Harvey has shown no will to change course.
With strong support from state legislators, local officials and many other public and private leaders, most state heritage areas have managed to survive in hard times made harder by the parks agency. Some have done better than survive like the Susquehanna Heritage Area. It recently expanded from two cities and village to include more than 35 towns and villages in Broome and Tioga counties.
In the early 1980s when the state heritage area law was enacted and in the early 1990s there were recessions and cuts in state and federal funds. But state participation in the heritage area partnership continued. In the face of 1981 cuts, then-Commissioner Orin Lehman stated that the heritage area concept "will remain valid and achievable". He did not walk away, as Carol Ash did.
At a 1991 National Park Service conference on "Partnerships in Parks & Preservation" in Albany, heritage areas were referred to as "partnership parks." New York has 18 state heritage areas and 49 national heritage areas.
At that conference, then-Gov. Mario Cuomo said "government -- be it state, federal or local -- cannot by itself assure that our most precious historic and natural resources will survive."
He added, "we now recognize that an entire area or region, like our Hudson River Valley, the Adirondacks or what we now know as the Hudson-Mohawk Urban Cultural Park (known as the Riverspark heritage area) can constitute in its totality a resource of pre-eminent importance."
By law, the state parks agency was to be the leader of a heritage area system with local governments and private organizations playing significant roles in organizing and managing their heritage areas. State agencies were to assist heritage areas as they pursued their integrated goals of conservation, recreation, education and sustainable development pursuant to management plans approved by the state parks commissioner. Albany, Schenectady, Saratoga Springs and the Riverspark (including Troy, Cohoes and five neighboring communities) are state heritage areas.
Throughout New York history, the ball has not been dropped as it was by the state parks agency in withholding support and jeopardizing the continuance of something as important as the state heritage program. It should not get away with this dereliction of duty and tradition.
Paul M. Bray was the founding president of the Albany Roundtable. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read more: http://www.timesunion.com/opinion/article/Ignore-our-parks-neglect-our-heritage-2266234.php#ixzz1datAEtSc