This past week, a rally was held in Albany to protest the planned closures of state parks. One Assemblyman was quoted by the Albany TU: “In my 34 years with the Legislature, I have never seen an issue that has resonated so much with the public. I am getting more mail on this issue than anything else.”
Some people concerned about the parks and the economy may be wondering, “There’s tons of people out of work these days — so why can’t the government put them to work repairing the infrastructure of the parks — the roads, bridges, bathhouses, trails and campsites?” They may be remembering the work of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the New Deal-era program that put 3 million Americans to work during the Great Depression on all kinds of outdoor projects, including many New York State parks which still show off their handiwork today. (This Flickr group has collected photos of all kinds of buildings created by the CCC.)
There’s no CCC any more, and last year’s federal stimulus measure did not create one. In New York, a newly created State Parks Conservation Corps received over $3 million in federal stimulus funds from the NY Department of Labor to put about 200 students – broken up into smaller groups and sent to different regions of the state — on trail maintenance work for several months last year. (This seems a far cry from the large camps of CCC guys who were working on infrastructure during the Depression.)
The State Parks student effort was overseen by the Student Conservation Association, a group which has been doing similar work nationwide for many years and is active in New York. While it’s good to know that groups like the SCA are around, when you look at a list of the places where the SCA is active, you’ll notice they mostly only work in the Adirondacks, Hudson Valley-Catskills, Albany and New York City metro regions. (Whether coincidentally or not, these just happen to be the regions where political power is concentrated in our state — or where the powers most often go to play.)
But it’s hard enough finding money to support even the park system’s dedicated employees, much less an emergency job corps, as blogger Norbrook points out in this must-read post: “Why would park people be grumpy?” Norbrook writes:
The problem with the way we’ve been treating our parks is that it never gets better. Another friend of mine who’s been running parks for a long time told me “I get through by thinking next year will be better. The problem is that next year is always worse.” For a very long time, park personnel have been dealing with failing infrastructure that never gets money to repair it, personnel cuts or hiring freezes, watching as money is shifted from one area to another in mid-year, and do the best they can with what they have. It’s a case of “the beatings will continue until morale improves” for them. It’s hard to remain upbeat over time, when things never seem to get better. Then the recession hits, and the state budget is being drastically cut. You find out it can get worse. Not only is the already inadequate funding cut, but you’re not even sure that your park will be open anymore.
…This year, if you notice the park staffs seem “grumpy” it’s because they are. They’re hitting a breaking point, and it’s becoming impossible to keep a cheery face to the public. They know that things aren’t going to get better for them. The effort to keep parks open is just one small part of what we should be advocating. We should also be advocating to make sure that they have the resources they need, and to prevent this from happening in the future.