Fort Ontario Will Open Saturday Now That State Lawmakers Have OK’d Money For Parks

Fort Ontario
Fort Ontario

Fort Ontario Historic Site will be open for business for the patriotic Memorial Day holiday weekend, and for the rest of the year.

The fort was among 55 state parks, golf courses and historic sites forced to close because of the lack of a state budget.  There’s still no state budget, but Friday afternoon, state Legislators approved a plan to fund those parks that leaders agreed to during an all-night session that ended early Friday morning.

Friday afternoon, state officials sent out the word: Get the parks open.

At Fort Ontario, site manager Paul Lear said the gates will open Saturday, with a historical re-enactor at the gate to greet them, volunteers to help guide them and General Brown, the site’s pet dog, roaming the grounds as usual.

“The coffee pot will be on and the flags will be up,” he told Oswego County

Lear said three main buildings will not open — the enlisted men’s barracks, and officer’s quarters 1 and 2.  Some repairs are needed to at least one building.

There will be limited historical displays available at first, though the underground dungeons will be open for viewing.

Admission will be free.

The state also ordered beaches to open on time.  That includes the beach at Selkirk Shores State Park in northern Oswego County.

Fair Haven’s Springbrook Greens State Golf Course will open around June 7, state officials said.

The closing of state parks was ordered as a way to save money during the fiscal crisis.  The state budget is more than 8 weeks overdue.  It needs to provide a mix of spending cuts and revenue increases to fill a $9 billion budget deficit.

State lawmakers denounced the parks closings, but didn’t act until it became clear that the parks issue was beginning to hurt them with voters back home.  They decided to take money from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and impose a new fee on the disposal of computer-based electronics such as cell phones and computers.

Negotiations towards a new state budget continue next week.

Added documents:

Here’s a press release and statement from State Senator Darrel Aubertine, who voted in favor of the parks funding plan.

ALBANY (May 28, 2010)—State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine today joined his colleagues in passing legislation (S.7988) that will ensure our state’s parks and historic sites are fully operational for families across New York State to enjoy this summer and as an attraction for tourists in need of goods and services from our local businesses.

“From the day this was first proposed, I have worked with my colleagues in support of keeping our parks and historic sites open,” said Sen. Aubertine. “The Thousand Islands and the Eastern Basin of Lake Ontario depend on these parks and historic sites for tourism. These attractions generate some $60 million to $80 million in economic activity in this region alone, so it is just financial common sense to make this $6 million investment statewide to keep our summer economy moving.”

The three-way agreement finalized late on Thursday secures $6 million to prevent the closure of 57 state parks and historic sites along with reduced operations at another 22 sites. Another $5 million will go to parks that the governor had proposed moving under the purview of the Environmental Protection Fund, plus another $5 million will be reallocated for payments to local governments in the forest preserve.

“This is the right thing to do and I’m pleased the governor has come around on this to recognize the error of his proposal,” Sen. Aubertine said. “Closing these facilities would have cost the state more in revenue than any savings from scaling back the services. It may be difficult to get everything up and running this weekend, but with this legislation now passed and signed into law, we have the means to restore these parks and historic sites for the remainder of the summer season.”

In Oswego, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties, the three-way agreement puts to rest the governor’s proposal to close down the Sackets Harbor Battlefield and Fort Ontario historic sites, along with Eel Weir, Mary Island, Canoe-Picnic Point and Cedar Island, while reducing services at Keewaydin State Park and Selkirk Shores.

Here’s the state’s full press release:

ALBANY, NY (05/28/2010)(readMedia)– State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash today directed agency staff to open the gates at all state parks for the Memorial Day weekend and expeditiously get campgrounds, golf courses and historic sites into full operating status.

“The agency staff is thrilled to get back to doing what they do best – which is running the finest state park system in the nation. I know that New Yorkers across the state worked very hard to support their public parks over the last few months. Now I hope they will get out and enjoy these beautiful places this Memorial Day weekend and throughout the upcoming season,” Ash said. “I am grateful to Governor Paterson and the Legislature for finding a way to fully open our great park system this summer, which was an extremely difficult challenge in this struggling economy.”

Ash said staff will immediately reopen gates to parking lots and unlock the facilities to make them available for normal day-use activities, including picnicking, hiking, cycling and fishing. Other amenities will become available over the next few days as workers who have been reassigned return to their regular work sites and normal levels of seasonal park workers and lifeguards are hired.

To coincide with the full opening of the state park system, the holiday weekend also marks the beginning of a new summer campaign to encourage New Yorkers to visit their state parks and historic sites and take full advantage of the more than 213 properties across the state. The initiative will utilize the agency website,, as well as Facebook and Twitter.

Beaches and pools: Park beaches and pools are expected to open on-schedule. Beaches and pools open between Memorial Day weekend and late June. Efforts are being made to open all facilities on schedule.

Campgrounds: Fifty-five campgrounds encompassing 9,400 campsites, cabins and cottages are open for the season. Ash noted that those campgrounds are 85 percent booked for the Memorial Day weekend. At 11 other campgrounds, with about 285 sites, park managers will take immediate steps to comply with health and safety regulations to allow the campgrounds to open for visitors. Reservations at Canoe Point, Cedar Island, Eel Weir, Hunt’s Pond, Keewaydin, Macomb Reservation, Mary Island, Max V. Shaul, Newtown Battlefield, Oquaga Creek and Rudd Pond will be accepted beginning Friday, May 28. Check the agency website for campground availability. Reservations are accepted for campsites and cabins from one day to nine months in advance of the planned arrival date by calling toll free 1-800-456-CAMP or online,

Ash noted that there are over 74,000 campsites, cabins and cottages reserved for nearly 313,000 nights so far for the 2010 season, a level that is slightly ahead of last year’s record pace. Advance reservations at state parks campgrounds have been steadily increasing in recent years.

Historic sites: Tours at historic sites shut by the fiscal crisis will resume the week of June 6, but the grounds will be open for Memorial Day weekend.

Golf: Bonavista and Springbrook Greens golf courses will open on or about June 7.

Riverbank State Park: The park will return to normal operating hours of 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. beginning this weekend. The outdoor pool will open on schedule on June 28. Senior classes will resume at a date to be determined.

Park visitors are advised to call the parks directly for information on the availability of specific services. Information on each of the 178 state parks and 35 historic sites operated by New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is available at