By CHRIS CAROLA
Associated Press Writer
ALBANY — State parks officials said Friday they’ll start shutting down or keeping closed dozens of parks and historic sites next week because of New York’s budget crisis.
The gates at 41 parks and 14 historic sites will be locked starting Monday, said Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee.
Most of the properties were closed for the winter or had reduced services, but typically would be preparing to reopen for the Memorial Day weekend, she said.
Larrabee said employees that had been assigned to the affected parks and historic sites are being transferred to others that are remaining open.
The properties on the closing list include John Boyd Thacher State Park, a clifftop park popular for its views of Albany, and several historic sites in the Hudson Valley commanded by Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War. The cuts also include canceling the annual July 4th fireworks display at state-run Jones Beach on Long Island.
A parks advocate called the situation a “slap in the face” to taxpayers.
“It’s just preposterous that New Yorkers are being locked out of their parks,” said Robin Dropkin, executive director of Parks & Trails New York. “Of all things they pay taxes on, parks is what they feel like they get the most back from.”
Geoffrey Croft, president of NYC Park Advocates, questioned whether closing the Riverbank State Park in Harlem was even legal since it was created as mitigation for the construction of a wastewater treatment plant nearby. The park is very popular because it has a public swimming pool.
“It’s outrageous that the state is doing this, especially in light of the fact that so little of the state’s parkland is located downstate,” Croft said. Another popular city park, the 12-acre Bayswater State Park in Jamaica Bay, has an operating budget of just $5,000 a year, he said. “So this is clearly not about money.”
Lawn mowing, trail upkeep and other basic maintenance work had already been suspended at the sites. Starting Monday, restrooms at those properties will stay locked and picnic tables will remain in storage, Larrabee said. Those and other cost-cutting moves are expected to save the state several million dollars.
“Now that we are approaching Memorial Day, our high season, we do have to take these more affirmative steps to make sure we can secure those savings,” she said. “We do consider these closures to be temporary, whether it be a year or less.”
While the warmer weather has brought out people to parks that aren’t officially open, starting Monday they’ll be asked to leave for safety reasons, Larrabee said.
So....they will ask you to leave....what if you refuse? Also this means the state is paying someone to patrol!
“We close parks all the time,” she said. “We close parks at night, during the offseason. We close areas of parks at a certain time, so it’s not unusual. When people are at a closed park, we will ask them to leave.”
The Legislature has voted to restore $11.3 million in parks funding cut from Gov. David Paterson’s budget proposal, but there’s no agreement yet on a spending plan that’s already more than 40 days late.
Paterson and parks Commissioner Carol Ash announced earlier this year that dozens of the state’s 178 parks and 35 historic sites would have to be closed and others would have their services reduced because of New York’s budget deficit, now estimated at $9.2 billion.
“In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” -- John Muir