Parks on closing list remain open

New Scotland, N.Y. (AP) — While the Paterson administration
listed 41 state parks for closing during the fiscal year that
started two weeks ago, their gates have remained open to hikers and
other spring visitors.

At Thacher Park, people still were parking, walking, playing and
picnicking Thursday on the 2,155 acres that extend up the
Helderberg Escarpment about 15 miles southwest of Albany.

“As long as you’ve got parking you’re all right,” said Michael
Barth. He had just stepped off his motorcycle in a long open lot
with two dozen cars already in it. A state highway runs through
Thacher, and parking on the roadside can get you a ticket, he
said.

The issue of closing parks has become a hot political issue this
year, with advocates and lobbyists for parklands warning that even
iconic sites like Niagara Falls and Jones Beach on Long Island
could be shuttered. The Paterson administration did release a list
of 41 parks and 14 historic sites that could be closed to help
address the state government’s $9.2 billion deficit. Most of the
parks on the list are among the lesser used.

The governor’s move prompted press conferences by lawmakers
saying they came to the rescue of their popular local parks. At
issue was $11 million in reduced funding for summer staff and
resources — a fraction of the deficit — without a specific plan to
actually close park gates to visitors even if the funding wasn’t
restored. But the outrage and political spin raged on.

The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said
it did shut restrooms at Thacher and some other parks on the
closings list. Mowing and trail maintenance are also lapsing.

Lawmakers have proposed fully funding operations for all 178
parks and 35 historic sites. But as budget negotiations continue,
short-term extension bills are funding only state payrolls and
legally required spending like Medicaid and school aid.

Signs at the parking lots at Thacher said they open at 8 a.m.
and close at sunset. Three were open Thursday, with plenty of room
for more vehicles on a sunny weekday.

“I’ve been coming here since I was a little kid,” said Bill
Kerr, 64. He said it’s important to keep state parks open, and he’s
glad state officials are getting pressure from people about it.

“Right now I feel like voting against every politician that’s in
there,” Kerr said. “I don’t think that’s an uncommon
sentiment.”

Kerr and several friends, members of a kayaking club who hike in
the off-season, soon headed up a wide, grassy clearing past picnic
tables, towering green pines and birches starting to show leaves.
Later, several small children were playing on the grass with
mothers nearby.

“This is about resources. It’s about us not having the resources
to spend money at the parks,” said agency spokeswoman Eileen
Larrabee. “As we get later into the season and more people could be
there on a beautiful day, the status of the gates and the parking
lots could change. We have concerns about crowds of people showing
up. We have concerns about the infrastructure there.”

Parks staff also has stopped taking reservations for parks on
the closings list.

Categories: New York – Steve Piatt

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