Budget Axe Threatens To Close Up To Ten LI Parks
No more kayaking at Hempstead Lake State Park? A $10 fee to park at Jones Beach State Park? The closure of Heckscher State Park, Valley Stream State Park, and Belmont Lake State Park (not to be confused with Belmont State Park, the racetrack, which itself might be closed).
Such is the dismal state of New York's State's finances, where folks in Albany are considering shuttering State Parks throughout the Empire State to offset the $29 million proposed to be cut from the State Parks budget.
A rally will take place this Saturday, February 20 at 11 AM, at Heckscher State Park’s Field 1 in East Islip. At noon Sunday, February 21, State Sen. Brian Foley (D-Brookhaven) and the Brentwood Soccer Club are sponsoring a second rally at Brentwood State Park.
There's even a Facebook page, set up by Malverne resident Allison Lyons, for those who want to register opposition to the proposed closure of State Parks. Long Islanders -- and friends of Long Island -- are urged to join as fans, as well as to contact their State Legislators and call NYS Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation at 631-669-1000 and Governor Paterson's Office at 212-681-4580 to voice concern about closing our State Parks.
Parks that may close by Summer 2010:
Cold Spring Harbor
Other proposed cuts:
Closure of pools at Jones Beach, Heckscher and Montauk Downs.
Connetquot: Would close weekdays.
Elimination of cultural, recreational and environmental programs and events.
Bethpage: Eliminate winter sports such as sledding, reduce polo and picnic operations and reduce golf course maintenance.
Eliminate assistance to Walt Whitman Birthplace.
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From the Long Island Press:
Critics Decry Looming NY State Parks Closings
Rally opposing expected parks closures planned for Saturday in East Islip
No nuptials at Niagara Falls? Jones Beach off limits on a 90-degree day? The “Grand Canyon of the East” devoid of campers?
New York’s state parks system, the nation’s oldest, is facing another round of funding cuts that is likely to result in the first budget-related closures in the system’s 125-year history. State officials say even popular parks at Niagara Falls and Jones Beach, with attendance figures in the millions, could be closed, along with such destinations as Letchworth, a popular hiking and camping spot ringing the rugged Genesee Gorge south of Rochester.
Up to 10 state parks on Long Island are reportedly on the chopping block, which has sparked outrage from parks advocates and politicians. LI is home to more than 20 state parks and historic sites that attract nearly 20 million visitors annually, according the state parks department.
“It’s going to be pretty bad. As bad as I’ve ever seen it,” said Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks & Trails New York, a 25-year-old nonprofit advocacy group.
Peter Humphrey, a member of the State Council of Parks, predicts as many as 100 of New York’s 213 state parks and historic sites could be shut down because of the state’s fiscal problems.
“It’s scary, to be honest with you,” said Humphrey, president and chief executive of Wyoming County-based Five Star Bank.
State parks and historic sites across the country cut back hours, staffing and services last year because of state budgets squeezed by the economic downturn. In New York, 100 of the state’s 178 state parks and 35 historic sites reduced services, from closing pools and beaches to shortening hours of operation. But none of the parks or sites closed entirely.
Carol Ash, the commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, has said park closures are unavoidable in 2010 as the state deals with a multibillion-dollar budget deficit, but has yet to release specifics.
Suffolk County Legis. Wayne Horsely (D-Babylon), who worked for the state parks department for 19 years, is planning a rally in support of LI’s state parks on Saturday. “The parks provide affordable family fun such as hiking, running, and fishing to name a few of the countless activities our park system provides our residents,” he said in a statement.
The rally will be held at Heckscher State Park’s Field 1 in East Islip at 11 a.m. “In an economy where families are looking to save money wherever they can the ability to enjoy New York’s natural beauty is invaluable,” Horsely added.
An online movement is already underway as well. Allison Lyons, a 32-year-old mother of two from Malverne, started a Facebook page for those opposed to the expected park closings — one of three dedicated to the cause — that has attracted more than 1,300 members since last week .
“We can’t let this happen,” Lyons said. “If they board up these parks, they are boarding up our past and future memories.”
Experts were less optimistic that anything can be done. “Frankly, it doesn’t really surprise me,” said Philip K. McKnelly, executive director of the National Association of State Parks Directors. “Even if we start to see the economy turn around it will be a year or more before the budgets start to catch up in the public realm.”
McKnelly said several other states — among them California, Georgia and Illinois — continue to have lingering funding issues with their state parks, while Arizona plans to close 13 parks in 2010 besides the five it closed last year because of budget cuts.
New York Gov. David Paterson’s amended budget proposal calls for cutting $20 million from state parks. When added to budget cuts made in the two previous fiscal years, the agency stands to see its funding reduced by some 40 percent over the span of three years, Ash said.
The parks system will operate with 1,100 fewer people — including lifeguards, cleaners and security guards — than it had just a few years ago, is canceling its park police training academy for the third consecutive year, and will cut park police staffing this summer to 266 full and part-time uniformed officers, about half the number that were on the job in 2003.
“If you don’t have the people, the police and operating funds to operate safe, clean, well-maintained facilities, you’ve got to close them,” said Humphrey, who serves on the panel of volunteers that advises the parks commissioner.
The state parks system’s many jewels include Jones Beach on Long Island, western New York’s Letchworth — the “Grand Canyon of the East” — and Niagara Falls State Park, dedicated on July 15, 1885, making it the nation’s oldest state park. Humphrey and other parks council members fear even those sites, which collectively attract millions of visitors a year, could be closed or have services drastically reduced.
Closing the Niagara Falls park would be a “disaster” for local businesses, said the owner of one of a handful of companies that provide wedding services on the American side of the falls.
“We bring a lot of revenue to the park by bringing in wedding people, really, from around the world,” said Sally Fedell, owner of The Falls Wedding Chapel, which handles between 200 and 300 wedding ceremonies a year in the park.
Ash said she’s working with other parks officials on a list of parks and historic sites that will be recommended for closing and expects to release the list in a couple weeks. Lawmakers will then get a shot at saving their local parks as they hash out details of the governor’s spending plan.
“We’re trying to figure out where we can have the least disruption to our visiting clientele so we don’t cut into our revenue base,” Ash said.
Dropkin and Humphrey pointed out that parks’ $155 million budget isn’t all that much in a state that plans to spend more than $130 billion. Meanwhile, the parks system contributes $1.9 billion a year in economic activity statewide, according to one recent study.
Closing parks, Humphrey said, would cut off a revenue source while shutting out visitors looking to spend money in local communities.
“This is clearly, purely from an economic standpoint, a lose-lose,” he said.
Lisa Scharey, a Long Island environmentalist and board member of Friends of Massapequa Preserve, said she predicted that there would be more cuts to come after the state parks department closed the East Bath House last summer.
“It’s not fair, these are public lands that we should have access to and they should not be taken away from us,” Scharey said. “There is something wrong here when they’re going to balance the budgets on the backs of the ballfields once again.”
By Chris Carola, Associated Press Writer, and Timothy Bolger with Long Island Press.
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