Category Archives: Outdoors

State parks: so, now what?

As wrangling over Paterson’s budget continues, it’s looking increasingly likely that the great collective scream of bloody murder from the voters of New York has produced results: all of the threatened state parks and historic sites may stay open this year. With the closings already opposed by the state Senate, the Assembly wants to retain (borrow?) $11.5 million to keep them operating. Meanwhile, the DEC has announced its own round of campground closures, a much smaller list which probably won’t face the same level of outcry – some of these, like Bear Spring Mountain in the Catskills, had been closed last season.

But in truth, the future of our state parks is still murky. $11.5 million will keep them running this year, but what about next year? Are the parks still going to be underfunded and understaffed? Is the park creation process ever going to get a careful look? What about the budgetary and personnel strains affecting our “other” parks service, the DEC? (Once again, some important posts by Norbrook for those who aren’t breathing a sigh of relief just yet.)

Where’s the CCC?

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.

State Park Minutes

Binghamton’s WSKG-TV created a series of spots to highlight the state parks of the Southern Tier. There are nine “State Park Minutes” in all. You can watch them here.

At least three of these parks face immediate closure or service reductions under the current budget proposal. At least two more of them are in danger if anticipated emergency funding for the state parks system does not materialize.

Reforming New York’s parks system

Now that the reality of threatened park closures has had a day to sink in, maybe it’s time to take the public conversation beyond the understandable cries of protest and think about the future.

The Post-Standard, like many papers around the state this morning, is looking into the costs of keeping the parks open, but the article (which doesn’t seem to be online?) doesn’t mention what the costs are – or if property taxes paid by the state for state park land are included in the tally. I assume they are included, but as Norbrook at TAP has pointed out, property taxes and the parks are not in the public consciousness and barely mentioned by the media. The way that NY’s parks system operate — or rather systems, since they’re run by two different agencies, Office of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Environment Conservation — is probably a mystery even to regular parks patrons.

Don’t get me wrong… we need to look at this list and ask for justification why some sites are on it at all. (I’d really like to know why Lorenzo Historic Site is only on the “shadow” secondary list and why Oriskany Battlefield gets the ax. If it’s purely because people would rather have their weddings there and the facilities fees are all that matters, then come out and say that so that those of us who care about historical preservation and education know where the state’s actual priorities are going forward. Or if it’s because Cazenovians have got the political donation cash for the right people and the Mohawk Valley doesn’t… whatever.)

People also have a lot of questions about what happens to these sites when they get shut down. What about safety and security? (If you’re compiling a list of New York’s Most Deadly Ex-State Parks, I’d say Clark Reservation will probably rank high.) What about the hydrofrackers and other private interests who might have designs on this land? What assistance might the state agencies be able to provide to any municipalities that have the means and political will to take over some of these properties? How about some answers instead of a brief apologetic press release? We’re all pretty guilty of not asking and answering these questions.

Official state park hit list

A couple crazy suggestions here for closures on the official list…

Bayswater Point State Park
Beechwood State Park
Bonavista State Park
Brookhaven State Park
Caleb Smith State Park Preserve
Canoe Island State Park
Cedar Island State Park
Chimney Bluffs State Park
Chittenango Falls
Clark Reservation
Cold Spring Harbor State Park
Joseph Davis State Park
Donald J. Trump State Park
Eel Weir State Park
Helen McNitt State Park (I’ll bet the high priests of Holy Cazenovia Lake are cheering for that one!)
Hudson River Islands State Park
Hunts Pond State Park
Keewaydin State Park
Knox Farm State Park
Long Point State Park
Macomb Reservation State Park
Mary Island State Park
Newtown Battlefield State Park
Nissequogue River State Park
Oak Orchard State Marine Park
Old Erie Canal State Park
Oquaga Creek State Park
Orient Beach State Park
Pixley Falls State Park (sadly, no surprise at all)
Point Au Roche State Park
Robert Riddell State Park
Schodack Island State Park
Schunnemunk State Park
Max V. Shaul State Park
Springbrook Greens State Park
John Boyd Thacher State Park
Trail View State Park
Two Rivers State Park
Wilson-Tuscarora State Park
Woodlawn Beach State Park
Wonder Lake State Park

This list only reflects proposals for complete closings of state parks. It doesn’t include historic sites, such as John Brown Farm which is indeed on the list (happy Black History Month, everybody!), and reduction of hours and services at other parks and sites. The complete list is here. Another disturbing inclusion is Oriskany Battlefield. In all, 41 parks and 14 state historic sites are proposed for closure. Long Island seems hit hard, while the Finger Lakes region seems barely affected. For me, it’s the proposed closure of so many historic sites (including Fort Ontario and Sackets Harbor) that are very objectionable, and I hope these get fought.

Moreau Lake and Bowman Lake, rumored to be on the list, are not on it. Chittenango Falls’ presence on the list is surprising to me, but I’m wondering if the endangered snail has something to do with it. (And how, pray tell, do you “close” the Old Erie Canal Park? What happens to the bike trail?)

The John Boyd Thacher closure is really getting a lot of people in that part of the state riled up. It seems to be the most shocking inclusion on the list. As for parks that didn’t get closed… they want to close the beach at Selkirk. Why not just close the whole park? (Who goes to Selkirk for the scenery?!)