Monthly Archives: February 2010

Centro, we hardly knew ye

Just a quick note to memorialize the passing of Centro’s 178 Fairmount Hills route, formerly known as the 4G. Since the time of Christ, it served the far-flung upper reaches of the southeast of the Town of Camillus, but fell victim to Centro service cuts effective Monday. I forgot this was going to happen so I didn’t even have a chance to wave goodbye to the convenient (well, sorta) connection to the city that once ran right by my house and provided a direct connection to Syracuse University – no downtown hub wait needed. (The 78 Fairmount bus route, which doesn’t come up here, remains in service.)

In truth, I don’t think there have been any riders on this part of the route for about a decade, so its demise was no shock. It was also an excruciatingly long and boring commute – I rode it for about a year back and forth to work, and it took an hour and fifteen minutes to get to my destination. Still, it’s a little sad that one more connection between Syracuse and its burbs has gone.

Rod Serling speaks

Stepping away from the Twilight Zone of the NYS state parks for a moment, I just had to post these ancient videos of Rod Serling talking about the craft of writing for television.

Also: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5… and I think there are 10 parts in all, which you can find linked from these videos.

(“Shut your eyes, and you won’t know who’s talking… because they all talk alike.” Yes, Albany does need new writers…)

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?!)

Bracing for the state park hit list

The concept of state park closures is a strange one to contemplate. After all, it’s not as if the places and their natural attractions go away. It’s just that the public is barred from using them, and the amenities fall into disrepair. But it’s the “out of sight, out of mind” aspect that’s troubling, especially when the state is considering leasing state forest lands to hydrofrackers.

The Post-Standard joins other papers in the state in speculation about which local parks are being targeted. The presence of Clark Reservation — aka Onondaga County’s “Other State Park” — on this speculative list is not really a surprise. Neither, unfortunately, is Bowman Lake down by Norwich. But just because I’m not surprised doesn’t mean I’m not mad about it.

I spent a surprisingly great three-day weekend down at Bowman back in August, and to me it represents everything that stands to be lost by closing parks rather than cutting back on hours and services or raising fees. Bowman Lake is a small, unspectacular body of water deep in the woods a few miles north and a couple minutes east of “you-can’t-get-there-from-here.” Nothing of historical significance seems to have happened here. The park’s campsites don’t offer electrical service, so wealthier vacationers in their giant RV’s don’t bother to show. This leaves the rest of us who still use modest pop-up trailers and (gasp!) tents. It’s camping like Mom used to make, even if the park itself is plain vanilla by New York standards.

What made my stay at Bowman Lake terrific was the people who ran it. It’s clear that this park is much loved by the people who maintain it and the campers who come back every year. I’ve hit dozens of state parks over the years for camping and needless to say, the quality of facilities and staffing can vary widely. Bowman, however, appears to have a dedicated squad of (local?) devotees who contribute to keeping the place neat. This is more than you can say for some of the more popular parks I’ve been to where the hired help has been ineffectual or even downright surly. (I won’t name names, but some of these parks are our so-called “jewels” of the system.)

Usually when I go camping I don’t really care much for sitting around in camp – I want to get out and see the natural attractions. Bowman isn’t the most photogenic park in New York, but that’s not its charm. Its charm is simply peace and quiet in the middle of nowhere. When I was there in August, the only exciting thing happening was preparations for a reception at the pavilion overlooking the lake. The family of the bride had just arrived and were joking about their “redneck wedding.” In Albany, they probably don’t see state parks as places where New Yorkers don’t just play, but also play out their lives.

I suspect that nowhere near 100 parks and sites will close, and that that number is just a trial balloon. State parks don’t have powerful unions to protect them. Everyone has their favorite parks, and that’s why the state isn’t telling us upfront what’s in danger. They want to divide and conquer – to pit more affluent New Yorkers and their parks against rural, perhaps less affluent New Yorkers and their parks.

New York’s state park system isn’t just a fancy amenity, or an afterthought as in other states (such as Arizona which has shamefully handled theirs). If the Adirondack Park, which is bound into our state constitution, represents the very idea of how people are supposed to work out living in the present and also keeping the land safe “to the seventh generation,” our state parks – which do not enjoy such constitutional protection – are the most immediate reflection of what danger that idea is really in. The state (and national?) park movement in many ways was invented in the Empire State. Now we are watching that idea coming undone. This is a universal political ground on which New Yorkers can and should fight together.

Further reading:

Soundpolitic: Throwing our state parks off the cliff
Officials worry about state park closings
No details on fate of Tompkins County parks
North Elba could take over John Brown farm