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New York Moves Ahead on 41 State Park Closings

March 2, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Facing historic financial pressures, New York state has identified 41 state parks that it plans to close, along with 14 historic sites, and late last week it began notifying people who had secured campsites in 12 of the parks that their reservations were being canceled, according to the New York Times.

The move to refund campers’ reservation fees was perhaps the strongest sign that the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was not engaging in budgetary brinksmanship in announcing last month that it would shutter nearly a quarter of the state parks and almost half of its historic sites. The agency’s proposed closings, along with a spate of service reductions, followed Gov. David A. Paterson’s $20 million cut to the parks budget.

“It’s the first time ever that parks will have closed in New York State due to budget constraints,” said Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks and Trails New York, an advocacy group based in Albany. “Even during the Great Depression parks remained open. They’re sending back reservation money, so that’s a pretty good sign that they’re not crying wolf.”

The proposed closings are spread around the state, from Long Island, where six parks, including Orient Beach and Cold Spring Harbor State Park, are on the target list, to the Thousand Islands region, where another six are identified. In addition, there are numerous planned service cuts: At Riverbank State Park in Manhattan, operating hours would be reduced and one of two pools would not open this summer. Among the historic sites slated to close is Philipse Manor Hall, a Revolution-era site in Yonkers.

It was unclear whether the public would still have access to some of the parks if they closed. Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for the parks agency, said closing parks meant that the state would simply stop spending on them, for upkeep, security and the like. Safety concerns could prompt officials to close gates or post “keep out” signs.

“We’re in the process of going to each of our facilities and determining what a park closure is going to mean,” she said.

The agency has already absorbed significant cuts in the last three years and during the peak summer months has a skeletal staff in place inside the state parks. “It’s not an agency that’s been dripping with dollars,” Dropkin said. “They were pretty lean to begin with. They do their best, but the infrastructure is really crumbling. They keep the bathroom doors together with duct tape.”

Larrabee said the selection of parks to be closed was based on revenue, operating costs and number of visitors. The dozen parks for which camping reservation fees are being refunded by the parks department offer a total of 450 campsites. By contrast, the entire system has 8,355 campsites. But interest in camping usually rises during economic recessions, as families look for cheaper vacation alternatives.

“I’m disappointed to see that they are taking steps so final as to cancel campsite reservations,” said Gary S. DeYoung, director of tourism at the 1000 Islands International Tourism Council. “I thought it was like anything else in the budget right now — that it was the governor’s proposal and until the Legislature weighed in, it wasn’t final.”

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