55 state parks on hit list to remain closed

With no state budget in place, 55 state parks that were proposed for closure are not opening this sp

With no state budget in place, 55 state parks that were proposed for closure are not opening this spring.

Although both the state Senate and Assembly have pledged to try to keep the parks open in the 2010-11 fiscal year that began April 1, they haven’t agreed on how to fund the extra $11.3 million required to do so.

So the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has to operate as if the parks are staying closed, Commissioner Carol Ash told the Senate Tourism and Parks Committee on Thursday.

“Practically speaking, most of the parks and historic sites slated for closure were already shut down over the winter, and they will remain that way for now,” Ash said. “Lifeguards and seasonal workers aren’t being hired; picnic tables will stay in storage; bathrooms will stay closed.”

The parks office in February named 55 state parks and historic sites to be closed this year as well as 24 parks that will have service reductions. The closings will save $6 million, and the parks office also needs to use $5 million in Environmental Protection Funds for operations in order to keep an additional 33 state parks and historic sites open this year.

The $5 million fund transfer requires legislative approval.

The Assembly passed a bill to restore the needed $11 million to keep the parks open, and the state Senate passed a resolution to the same effect. Now both legislative bodies have to agree on the same bill and get Gov. David A. Paterson to sign it.

Paterson has said any plan to restore funding to parks has to also address the state’s $9 billion budget deficit, which every state department has been asked to help close through spending cuts.

“Basically, what we’re doing is not taking actions to reopen parks,” said parks office spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee.

That includes not cutting the grass or maintaining trails.

“Some of that won’t be as evident to park-goers,” she said.

For example, a couple of restrooms at John Boyd Thacher Park in Albany County that had been open through the winter have closed now that the new fiscal year has begun.

However, Larrabee said, bathrooms are open at Thompson Lake, which is less than 5 minutes away by car.

A parks advocacy group is concerned that the longer the state goes without a budget, the less likely parks will be able to offer full summer services if there is a solution later.

The parks cannot hire summer staff for those parks unless they are going to open.

“They have to assume the worst-case scenario until there is a final budget,” said Shawn McConnell, spokesman for Parks & Trails New York.

“They’re in a bad situation, because there’s no guarantee that the final budget that comes out will restore $11.3 million,” McConnell said.

The closed parks also are not taking camping reservations.

And McConnell fears some people in other states and Canada who usually vacation in New York state parks will stay away from the state altogether because they’ve heard about the closures.

That will be bad for state revenue as well as private businesses that depend on tourist dollars.

Statewide, parks generate $1.9 billion in economic activity.

“It needs to be clear, and we need to pass the message to the country and to the world that the New York state parks are going to be open,” he said.

Without an agreement between the state Senate, Assembly and the governor, that can’t happen.

In the meantime, the National Park Service has warned the governor the state risks losing future Land and Water Conservation Funds if it closes any state park that has received those funds in the past. The state is slated to get $1.88 million of those funds this year.

U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Hurley, posted the March 31 letter from the National Parks Service to Paterson on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

In this region, closed parks and sites include Thacher Park, Johnson Hall in Johnstown, Schoharie Crossing in Fort Hunter, the Schuyler Mansion Historic Site in Albany, Max V. Shaul State Park in Schoharie County, John Brown Farm Historic Site in Essex County and three sites in Rensselaer County: Bennington Battlefield State Park, Hudson River Islands State Park and Schodack Island State Park.

Failure to get the $5 million in Environmental Protection Fund money will result in closure or reductions at several other parks, including closing the Victoria Pool at Saratoga Spa State Park and closing Peebles Island State Park in Saratoga County; Grafton Lakes, Cherry Plain State Park and Crailo State Historic Site in Rensselaer County; Minekill State Park in Schoharie County and Crown Point State Historic Site in Essex County.

Two groups that have formed to try to save Thacher Park from closure have organized events.

One group plans to hold a concert day at the park, “Thacher Day Out,” on May 15 and 16 starting at noon each day.

Another group is holding an event Saturday, April 24 at Proctors in Schenectady. It starts at 5 p.m. and includes children’s activities, local artists, poets and performances. Friends of Thacher Park will collect donations.

Meanwhile, other state agencies are cutting back as well, some in ways visible to the public.

A grass-roots group plans a rally Sunday near the Caroga Lake campground in Fulton County that is slated to be closed.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which owns the campground, plans to close it and six other under-performing campgrounds as well as two day-use areas in the state. But members of the local community say the remaining businesses in Caroga Lake only stay open because of the summer campground business.

Supporters have formed a page on Facebook for campsite fans.

The protest is scheduled for noon on Sunday at The Red Store on Route 29A across from the state campground.

Categories: Schenectady County

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