Closing State Parks
April 9th, 2010

Gotham Gazette parks reporter Anne Schwartz filed this post.

The state’s plan to close dozens of parks is moving forward while legislators and Gov. David Paterson trade blame for the delay in reaching a budget agreement. Parks agency commissioner Carol Ash said on Thursday that without a final state budget the agency “has neither funding nor authorization” to open the parks and historic sites it had slated for closing.

The agency has canceled camping reservations at those parks, and is offering refunds to people who reserved sites in parks where pools, beaches and other key facilities will be closed. “Practically speaking, most of the parks and historic site slated for closure were already shut down over the winter, and they will remain that way for now,” she said. “Lifeguards and seasonal workers aren’t being hired; picnic tables will stay in storage; bathrooms will stay closed.”

Patersons budget proposal closes 55 parks and historic sites and reduces hours of operation, eliminates programs or shuts pools or sections in 22 other locations. It also relies on $5 million shifted from the Environmental Protection Fund to keep open an additional 34 parks and maintain full services at 18 sites. The Assembly and Senate budgets restore enough funding to keep all of the parks open, with a total of $11.3 million.

In New York City, Bayswater Point State Park is slated to be closed. Other parks would shorten their hours and eliminate sports, camp and cultural programs, including Riverbank State Park, the fourth most visited park in the state. Parks and beaches on Long Island and north of the city would also be affected.

The plan to close parks could also put the state at risk of losing millions of dollars of federal funding, according to an article in the Albany Times-Union.

Most of the state’s parks have received funding from the Land and Water Conservation Fund or the Federal Land to Parks program, which require that parks receiving federal investments remain open to the public.

In a March 31 letter, National Parks Service Northeast regional director Dennis Reidenbach warned Paterson that closing any site that received funding from these programs “could be viewed as non-compliance with federal requirements.” It could jeopardize the states eligibility for Land and Water Conservation Fund grants, he said, as well as lead to suspension of all federal funds to the state. Reidenbach offered to work with the state to identify cost reductions that allow the state to remain in compliance with federal requirements.

Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, told the Times-Union that the agency doesnt believe the proposed closures put the state in violation.

The letter is posted on the Facebook page of Rep. Maurice Hinchey, who had raised concerns about the issue with Parks Service officials and asked them to communicate the department’s position to Paterson.

By on April 9, 2010, 2:29 pm
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