Closure of Fort Ontario: A Bad Idea

By Assemblyman Will Barclay (R-Pulaski)

In an effort to close the state budget gap, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historical Preservation (OPRHP) recommended closing 57 state parks and historic sites late last week. Unfortunately, included among that list was Fort Ontario. Closing the historic site in the heart of the City of Oswego is a terrible idea. Closure will hinder the region’s ability to attract tourists and stifle education.

Fort Ontario is an asset the community rallies around. Our region takes great pride in the history of the Fort and the volunteer and grassroots presence has always impressed me. The history of the Fort has helped shaped the community. In the 18th Century, a key strategy was to control the waterways; if you controlled the waterways, you controlled the land around them. Thus, British military strategists constructed Fort Ontario where the Oswego River and Lake Ontario merge. It played a strategic role in both the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Later, the Fort was used to house 982 refugees who escaped from Nazi concentration camps at President Roosevelt’s behest in 1944. A Safe Haven Museum at the Fort was recently created to commemorate these refugees and the efforts it took to keep them safe.

Not only is the region rich in history but many park events boost the local economy. Tourist dollars which come into the region during an event boost local restaurant sales and overnight stays at area hotels. The War of 1812’s 200th anniversary celebration being planned in 2012 at the Fort is expected to attract thousands and all of those people will need somewhere to eat and somewhere to stay. If the Fort is closed, this economic benefit will go away.

Unfortunately, Fort Ontario is not the only casualty in Albany’s budget woes. Many other State Parks and Historic Sites in the Central New York region are proposed to close as well, including the Old Erie Canal State Park, Chittenango Falls, Clark Reservation, Herkimer Home Historic Site, and Hunts Pond. These are sad and unfortunate proposals and are not the result of the economic recession?it’s the result of years of overspending and budgetary mismanagement. Rather than make real budget cuts to close the widening gap in the deficit, Albany has instead decided to close the door on our state’s rich history?much of what makes our state unique and attractive to its residents and visitors.

Through a 21-Day Amendment to the executive budget, OPRHP has proposed an additional $5 million from the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF) to help pay for operational costs at selected parks throughout the state. Unfortunately, Fort Ontario is not listed among the selected parks that would be eligible for the funds. Because of its historical significance, Fort Ontario is an important educational tool for our community and enhances tourism in Oswego County. I will fight to keep Fort Ontario, which is in my Assembly District, open and will work to see it included in the $5 million for select state parks.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at [email protected] or by calling (315) 598-5185.