looming budget vote will determine the fate of 55 state parks
and historic sites facing closure as a consequence of Gov.
David Paterson’s proposed budget cuts. We could easily—and
sincerely—advocate for the countless intangible values of
our park system. But those arguments have already been made
by the thousands. Impassioned blog posts, letters, phone calls,
petitions and protesters have been streaming in from across
the state since last month’s controversial announcement: Whether
for history or heritage, sport or science, celebration or
solitude, these parks matter.
Unfortunately, the people of New York are crying into the
chasm of an $8.2 billion budget deficit. “New York,” said
Paterson in statement on the park closures, “faces an historic
fiscal crisis of unprecedented magnitude. It has demanded
many difficult but necessary decisions to help ensure the
fiscal integrity of our state.” Desperate times, after all,
call for desperate measures.
We might accept that closing a quarter of the parks and historic
sites that New York has designated as her most precious treasures
is a necessary fallout of the economic crisis, except for
one thing: It doesn’t make financial sense.
The plan outlined by Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic
Preservation would close 41 parks and 14 historic sites and
reduce services at 24 other locations, purportedly saving
the state $6.3 million.
However, according to the findings of a 2009 study conducted
for Parks & Trails New York by the Political Economic
Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst,
the money saved from the closures—less than eight hundredths
of a percent of the overall deficit—would cost the state in
the long run.
The PERI study, titled, ironically, “The New York State Park
System: An Economic Asset to New York State,” compared public
spending on state parks to spending by park visitors. “Clearly,”
the 36-page report reads, “the impact of the State Park System
on New York’s economy is sizeable: The benefits exceed the
direct costs of maintaining the state parks many times over.”
In fact, according to the study, every dollar spent on the
park system generates $5 in income through sales, business
and income taxes. “The state parks produce about $1.9 billion
in annual sales for private businesses in the areas around
the park,” the report states. And approximately 40 percent
of that visitor spending comes from visitors who live outside
the areas where the parks are located.
To date, the plan merely presents a list of park closings,
not an explanation of what “closing” a state park actually
means. John Boyd Thacher State Park—that gem in the Helderbergs—has
a public highway running through it. According to one parks
representative, closing a park probably means little more
than ending spending on the infrastructure and security. The
potential risks to the public and liabilities for the state
are inestimable. The cost of reopening facilities that have
been neglected, even for a year, likely would be astronomical.
cannot mortgage our state’s financial future through further
gimmicks or avoidance behavior,” Paterson’s statement on the
park closings continues. And yet, while Paterson advocates
for generating revenue and promoting statewide heath through
the so-called “fat tax” on sugary beverages and further hikes
in cigarette taxes, he is simultaneously limiting New Yorkers’
access to affordable and enjoyable exercise.
The park closures make so little sense that we figured it
must be an empty threat, a political bargaining chip.
But OPRHP is already refunding campsite reservation fees to
the many families who had already planned summer vacations
at parks now on the chopping block.
Since the recent economic nosedive, park attendance has been
consistently on the rise. Last year the state parks drew a
record-setting 56 million visitors. Giving up that revenue
is unwarranted. Denying the public the best New York has to
offer while historic sites and park facilities fall to ruin
budget is a blueprint for a stronger, healthier, and more
fiscally responsible New York.” Paterson wrote in a letter
to New Yorkers accompanying his budget proposal. “The only
way we can emerge from this crisis is through shared sacrifice.”
The governor is right. It’s time for a fiscally responsible
New York. Paterson announced this week that the April 1 budget
deadline most likely will not be met. The cost, in interest,
of another late budget could pay for all of our parks. And
the average annual cost of operating the state Legislature
and all its offices is approximately $1 million per representative.
Perhaps it is time that they, and their staffs, share the