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State Park Closures

Once again, Upstate New York is being short-changed. Despite the strong public opposition to last year’s threat to close parks, some sites are already back on the chopping block for 2011. The apparent closing of several Upstate parks will hurt local economies while reducing taxpayers’ quality of life.

It has been reported that as of January 1st, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation will close three parks located outside of Buffalo including: Knox Farm State Park in East Aurora, Woodlawn Beach State Park in Hamburg and Joseph Davis State Park in Lewiston. OPRHP will also be closing the Robert Moses State Park Nature Center in the Town of Massena in the Thousand Islands. These are the first parks threatened with closure this go-round, but they certainly will not be the last.

To make matters worse, local officials and chambers of commerce, regional tourism associations, and park friends groups are being given very little notice of the closings. This means they have limited time to come up with possible alternatives, such as corporate sponsorships, public-private partnerships, and local government management, to keep the parks open and to prevent the tourism dollars that help support a number of small businesses from going up in smoke.

An independent study commissioned by Parks & Trails New York revealed that the NYS Park System contributes $1.9 billion annually to the state’s economy, a 5-to-1 return on investment. Considering that the state already has a significant investment in these parks and that the state parks budget is a mere ¼ of 1 percent of the total state budget, the logic of closing these parks is hard to fathom.

It is particularly bewildering that these closures are being made in light of Governor Paterson’s recent authorization of $16.7 million in grants from a fund he controls. These expenditures include allocations for chess tournaments in New York City, foreign trade offices in Chile and Australia and promotion of a New Jersey Super Bowl in four years.

As the majority of state parks and historic sites are located Upstate, the impact of park closings will be especially harmful to residents in these communities. Parks & Trails New York will continue to advocate on behalf of all state parks and encourage supporters to remain active to help ensure that their parks are kept open.