Assemblyman Englebright, at the rally for state parks in the Capitol, calls for the Governor and Legislative leaders to keep state parks and historic sites open. Englebright said, “People love their parks and they identify with the need for the park for their peace of mind, their quality of life and a sense that they are getting something for their tax dollar.”
Assemblyman Steve Englebright, (D-Setauket), Chair of the Assembly Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development, and Sen. Jose M. Serrano, (D-Bronx, Manhattan), Chair of the Senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation also said the Governor’s standing proposal to cut $6.3 million from the budget of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) would force the closure of 57 state parks, and cutbacks in programs and services at 22 more. An additional 34 parks would close and there would be service reductions at another 18 sites if the $5 million in the EPF slated for parks operating costs is not funded somewhere in the budget.
New York State has never closed a park, not even in the depths of the Great Depression, since Niagara Falls State Park – which would see cutbacks in its programming if the cuts are allowed to stand – became the first state park in the nation in 1885. Parks on the governor’s hit list for closure affect every region of the state, from Orient Beach State Park at the tip of Long Island’s North Fork to Wilson-Tuscarora State Park in Niagara County. Fourteen historic sites would be shuttered as well, including five in the Saratoga-Capital region.
“Appropriate funding for State Parks is important to both the economy and character of New York,” said Serrano. “In this difficult economic climate, demand for parks is at an all-time high, and the Governor’s proposed budget would cause unprecedented park closings. We cannot stand by as New Yorkers face losing the quality recreational environment on which they have come to depend.”
“The proposed Executive budget outlines cuts that will damage forever the people’s immensely important parks and historic sites,” Englebright said. “We know parks and historic sites to be economic generators for our tourism industry, but they are much more. They are institutions of optimism in a time of fear and uncertainty. It is imperative that we, as stewards of the people’s assets, protect and preserve these public recreational, cultural, and economic treasures, during a time when they are needed most.”
Fred Bonn, President of the New York State Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, said state parks are critical for the well-being of local communities across the state.
“From Jones Beach to Niagara Falls, New York State parks provide unique and memorable experiences for tourists who enhance the economic vitality of the communities they visit,” said Bonn. “Parks are often key attractions that send customers to the businesses on our Main Streets. Customers who shop in our neighbor's store, eat in the restaurant around the corner and stay in the hotels and bed and breakfasts down the street.
“Our parks offer families on a budget a chance to create lifelong memories,” Bonn said. “They encourage travelers from out-of-state and from overseas a chance to experience a part of New York that extends their perception beyond Times Square and Manhattan. Our parks are the State's best backyard.”
Robin Dropkin, Executive Director of Parks and Trails New York, a statewide advocacy organization, said the proposed cut amounts to a savings of four-thousandths of one percent of the state budget, spending which is critical to generating the $1.9 billion in annual economic activity the parks generate, according to a 2009 report.
That economic activity accounts for 20,000 long-term, sustainable non-parks jobs in servicing the visitors to the parks, 40 percent of whom come from outside the parks’ surrounding communities. Each dollar invested in state parks yields $5 in economic activity, something that will be lost by parks closures proposed by the Governor.
“News of the closings will devastate many communities as their citizens rely on parks for affordable, close-to-home recreation, and their businesses rely on parks to bring in revenue,” Dropkin said. “The savings are minuscule compared to the hardship parks closings will cause New Yorkers, and especially compared to the tax revenue generated by the visitors’ spending that will no longer be there when the parks are gone.”
Albert E. Caccese, Executive Director of Audubon New York and 28 year veteran of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Executive Staff, said that closing parks would actually prolong the economic recession.
“Our State Parks are critically important economic engines that support local economies and an ever growing ecotourism industry, providing billions in revenue to the state each year,” said Caccese. “Closing Parks is the wrong choice and will only further compound and prolong the economic woes facing the state. We applaud Assemblyman Englebright and Senator Serrano for leading the charge to keep our Parks open, and urge the entire legislature to join with them in supporting a restoration of Parks and environmental funding in this year’s budget.”
In addition to economic benefits, state parks preserve wildlife habitat and wilderness areas providing an escape for millions of New Yorkers and preserving our common heritage for future generations.