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Users pan state parks closure plan

Users pan state parks closure plan

Anni P. Murray might never have moved to Albany if it weren’t for John Boyd Thacher State Park.

Anni P. Murray might never have moved to Albany if it weren’t for John Boyd Thacher State Park.

When the Boston area native and her fiance were looking for a place to live two years ago, they knew they needed to have a park nearby.

Albany fit the bill with picturesque Thacher Park. Murray hiked there the first weekend they moved in, and pretty much every weekend since then.

“We spend hours there, really. We just hike the trails until we can’t go anymore.”

Now Thacher is one of 55 state parks and historic sites targeted for closure during the 2010-11 fiscal year, and 30-year-old Murray, an office worker who spends her weekdays indoors, is hoping to save the park from that fate.

She started a Facebook page and Twitter account after a leaked proposed closure list was published in the Times Union on Sunday.

The official list was released Friday, confirming park patrons’ fears that Thacher was targeted.

By Friday afternoon, Murray’s Facebook page, Save John Boyd Thacher State Park, had more than 5,500 fans.

“It’s completely exploded over the past couple days,” she said.

At least two other Facebook groups sprang up also, one with nearly 24,000 fans by Friday afternoon and one with more than 6,000 fans.

“I’m frustrated with the priorities that the government seems to have,” Murray said.

Friends of the parks are organizing a March 3 protest in Albany.

Besides the 55 parks and historic sites slated to be closed completely, 24 others face service reductions such as fewer days when they’ll be open, no more interpretive programs or a shorter swimming or golf season.

The state will save $6.3 million by closing those sites and making the service cuts, said Dan Keefe, spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The budget plan also calls for $4 million in increased fees.

A nonprofit advocacy group, Parks & Trails New York, said 34 more parks are at risk for closure or service reductions if the Legislature does not allow $5 million in capital funds from the Environmental Protection Fund to be used for operations during the 2010-11 fiscal year.

That list includes closing the Victoria Pool at Saratoga Spa State Park and all of Grafton Lakes State Park, Crown Point State Historic Site, Peebles Island State Park, Minekill State Park, Crailo State Historic Site and Cherry Plain State Park.

Keefe confirmed the list of threatened parks.

“We’ve proposed our plan, and it’s now really up to the Legislature to go forward,” Keefe said.

The state’s fiscal year starts April 1, and Keefe said he didn’t know whether the affected state parks would close right away.

Locally, Thacher Park and Johnson Hall State Historic Site are perhaps the biggest draws.

Also in the Capital Region, Max V. Shaul State Park and Schoharie Crossing Historic Site in Schoharie County are proposed to be closed; Bennington Battlefield State Park, Hudson River Islands State Park and Schodack Island State Park in Rensselaer County would close; John Brown Farm Historic Site in Essex County would be shuttered; and the Schuyler Mansion Historic Site in Albany County would close.

Gov. David A. Paterson said the cuts are necessary to close an $8.2 billion state budget deficit.

“In an environment when we have to cut funding to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and social services, no area of state spending, including parks and historic sites, could be exempt from reductions,” he said in a statement Friday. “We cannot mortgage our state’s financial future through further gimmicks or avoidance behavior.”

State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash said the proposed closures “were not recommended lightly, but they are necessary to address our state’s extraordinary fiscal difficulties.”

Several groups across the state denounced the closures Friday, saying they would take a deep emotional toll on residents and visitors.

“I had calls from people saying, ‘I bought my house because it was right on the park, and they’re talking about closing it?’” said Shawn McConnell, spokesman for Parks & Trails New York.

McConnell said park fans from all over the state have called him following the announcement of the closings.

The state parks provide affordable recreation and exercise and are a tourist draw, generating $1.9 billion in economic activity between tourists and local residents, McConnell said. One dollar in park spending produces $5 for parks and local businesses.

“It makes no economic sense, really, that they would be closing the parks,” he said.

The parks also foster good health.

“In many urban areas where we have less and less land to run on, the parks are extremely important to provide.”

McConnell said park closings would mean facilities would deteriorate, grass won’t get cut and litter could pile up, he said.

“In the long run, if they ever want to open them back up again, it’s just going to cost a lot of money.”

Keefe said it hasn’t been determined what kind of measures would be undertaken to keep people out of the parks.

The deterioration would be especially bad for state historic sites, which have artifacts that need to be preserved, he said.

The Preservation League of New York joined Parks & Trails New York in nominating the state park system to the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s “11 Most Endangered” list for 2010.

The annual list names historic places across America that are threatened by neglect, lack of funding or other factors. This year’s list will be announced May 19.

“New York State is proposing not just locking the door of many of the state’s historic sites, but recalling collections of furniture, artifacts, and paintings to Albany, turning off heat and water, and abandoning these buildings to the storm of budget cuts,” said Daniel Mackay, director of public policy for the Preservation League.

On the cut list

The following parks and historic sites are slated for closure in 2010-11 in the Saratoga-Capital Region:

* John Boyd Thacher State Park, Albany County

* Johnson Hall State Historic Site, Fulton County

* Schoharie Crossing Historic Site, Montgomery County

* Schuyler Mansion Historic Site, Albany County

* Max V. Shaul State Park, Schoharie County

* Bennington Battlefield State Park, Rensselaer County

* Hudson River Islands State Park, Rensselaer County

* John Brown Farm Historic Site, Essex County

* Schodack Island State Park, Rensselaer County

On the Net

* See the entire list statewide at: www.ny.gov/governor/press.

* Learn more or get involved by visiting: Parks & Trails New York’s Web site at www.ptny.org.

* Anni P. Murray’s Web site with links to the Facebook and Twitter pages is at savethacherpark.com.

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