Saturday, December 22, 2012

Hurricane Sandy takes its toll on our New York State Parks.

State Parks resources stretched thin by hurricane, budget woes

SARATOGA SPRINGS — Hurricane Sandy’s devastation and already tight budget constraints are stretching state parks resources to the limit, officials say.

The late October storm caused an estimated $120 million worth of damage at Robert Moses and Jones Beach state parks on Long Island.

The federal government will pay for repairs, but much of the manpower needed to plan, design and do such work is coming from state personnel.

“We can’t catch a break,” said Alane Ball Chinian, Saratoga-Capital region director. “Sandy really hit us hard. We sent a crew down to FDR State Park to clean up trees for a week. It takes a tremendous amount of time and attention.

“It takes a toll.”

Some area sites, such as Schoharie Crossing, still haven’t been fixed following last year’s ravaging floods from Tropical Storm Lee. The parking lot there was washed away and a temporary one is in use until a permanent replacement can be installed.

State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey has established a three-pronged plan for parks statewide in 2013. Goals are:

ä Keep existing parks open, safe, affordable and accessible.

ä Boost attendance by providing more value-added experiences for park visitors — anything from better restrooms to new campground grills, wheelchair accessible trails or educational programs.

“We really want to be responsive and provide all the little pieces our patrons are looking for,” said Heather Mabee, regional parks commission chairwoman. “We want to do things to attract new people to our parks, too.” Continued...

Mabee outlined priorities to commission board members Thursday at Saratoga Spa State Park.

ä Continue infrastructure improvements. Statewide, the parks system has a $1 billion backlog of capital projects. Last year the state budgeted $89 million for such work, the first such allocation in many years.

In 2013, plans call for trail and sidewalk improvements at Saratoga Spa State Park, along with a Route 50 pedestrian crossing, with an activated light, near the intersection of West Avenue. This roughly $150,000 project will connect Railroad Run trail to the park.

At Moreau Lake State Park, a new comfort station will be built near the main entrance parking lot.

Statewide attendance at parks was up 2 million visitors this year over 2011. Mabee attributed this to exceptional weather on Memorial and Labor day weekends, compared to washouts at those same times last year. Tropical Storm Lee hit right around Labor Day in 2011.

Attendance at the Saratoga-Capital region’s 10 state parks and 10 historic sites was up, too, mirroring the statewide trend, Mabee said.

Chinian said her regional office is continually pursuing cost-saving efficiencies to stretch her budget. For example, about one-fourth of Spa State Park’s parking lot lights have been replaced with new LED lights.

“We’ve saved about 30 kilowatts of electricity so far,” she said.

Plans call for installing more LED lights and replacing old boilers at various buildings throughout the region as funds become available.

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