Protestors Rally to Save our State Parks

New Yorkers call on state leaders to restore $11 million to the state budget to keep parks openALBANY, N.Y. – Only a few days after the Paterson administration released its list of potential park closings, New Yorkers are up in arms. Hundreds of park supporters rallied at the State Capitol in Albany yesterday to protest the plan to close up to 90 state parks and historic sites. More than 100,000 park supporters have already formed or joined Facebook groups that are mobilizing opposition to the closings. And thousands more have signed petitions, called and emailed their legislators, and organized local rallies to support keeping parks open. “News of the closings will devastate many communities as their citizens rely on parks for affordable, close-to-home recreation and their businesses rely on parks to bring in revenue,” said Robin Dropkin, Executive Director of Parks & Trails New York, the statewide advocacy group organizing the event. “The savings are miniscule compared to the hardship park closings will cause New Yorkers, and especially compared to the tax revenue generated by the visitors’ spending that will no longer be there when the parks are gone.”According to Dropkin, closing parks would be an unprecedented step in the state’s history and it would actually lose money for the state. A 2009 study by the University of Massachusetts, The New York State Park System: An Economic Asset to the Empire State, found that the state park system generates nearly $1.9 billion every year in benefits for local and state economics and supports 20,000 jobs (not including state park employees). “We call on state leaders to restore at least $11 million to the proposed state budget so that all state parks can remain open this year,” Dropkin said. “Two million more people visited New York’s state parks last year than the year, for a record total of 56 million. Closings mean no hiking, no picnics, no swimming, no fishing this year and for years to come. New Yorkers need their parks now—more than ever. Closing parks is a very, very bad idea.”Proposed cuts of $29 million to the operating budget of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) will mean park closings in every region of the state, as well as service cutbacks in other parks during the peak summer season. OPRHP has stated that a restoration of $11 million of that $29 million in cuts will enable the agency to keep parks open.According to Shawn McConnell, Parks & Trails New York Campaign for Parks Director, “The Parks Agency’s operating budget has been cut 40% in the last 2 ½ years – much more than other agencies – inflicting deep wounds on our parks and on local and state economies. Andy Bicking, Director of Public Policy for Scenic Hudson said. “What we give to parks and land is returned in abundance – our investments support recreational opportunities and promote healthy lifestyles, conserve critical wildlife habitat, help protect clean drinking water and support the economic stability in the Hudson Valley, which is home to a $4.7 million tourism economy,” Tania Werbizky, Preservation League of New York State’s western regional Director for technical and grant programs, said “The State Park system includes the oldest park in the nation–Niagara Falls–and the first property acquired with public funds for historic preservation and patriotic visitation–Washington’s Headquarters. We can’t just lock the door on New York’s historic sites without putting priceless collections of artifacts at risk, and possibly losing forever the authentic places and things that give voice to our state and national history.”Albert E. Caccese, Executive Director of Audubon New York, and 28 year veteran of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Executive Staff said, “Our State Parks are critically important economic engines that support local economies and an ever growing ecotourism industry, providing billions in revenue to the state each year. Closing Parks is the wrong choice and will only further compound and prolong the economic woes facing the state. We applaud Assemblyman Englebright and Senator Serrano for leading the charge to keep our Parks open, and urge the entire legislature to join with them in supporting a restoration of Parks and environmental funding in this year’s budget.” William Ulfelder, New York State Director of The Nature Conservancy, said “The Governor’s proposal to disproportionately cut environmental funding, including the budget for State Parks, will have lasting, negative impacts on our communities. Environmental programs, including our state parks, not only protect our natural resources and public health, they also play an important role in New York’s economic recovery by boosting tourism and creating jobs. We look forward to working with our legislators to ensure that funding for important environmental programs including our state parks is restored so our communities can continue to experience the economic, public health and quality of life benefits these programs provide.” Speakers at the rally included: Assemblyman Steve Englebright, Assemblyman John McEneny, Assemblyman Timothy Gordon, PTNY Executive Director Robin Dropkin, PTNY Campaign for Parks Director Shawn McConnell, John Kilroy of Friends of Thacher and Thompson’s Lake State Parks, Anni Murray of Save John Boyd Thacher State Park Facebook Group, and Patricia Riddell Kent, whose family donated Robert V. Riddell State Park near Oneonta.Parks & Trails New York, a nonprofit organization based in Albany, is the leading statewide advocate for New York’s state parks. For more information about the Campaign for Parks or about Parks & Trails New York, visit www.ptny.org. The study, The New York State Park System: An Economic Asset to the Empire State, is available at the PTNY website: www.ptny.org/publications. Photos will be available.

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