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Open or closed?

State parks closure could cost federal dollars

April 13, 2010
By SHARON TURANO Special to the OBSERVER Whether closing state parks could mean the loss of federal funding tied to them may depend on how one defines “close.” The state previously came up with a list of state parks to be closed as a way to save money. The plan has 41 parks on a closure list including Long Point State Park in Bemus Point. Instead of saving the state money as intended, however, closing the parks could actually cost funds. “The purpose of this letter is to alert you that the closure of any state park or historic site that has received (federal Land and Water Conservation Fund money) ... would be viewed by the National Parks Service as being in noncompliance with federal requirements for those programs,” wrote Dennis R. Reidenbach, regional director for the northeast region of the National Park Service to state Gov. David Paterson recently. Reidenbach wrote noncompliance could jeopardize the state’s eligibility to participate in the federal program, the state getting its annual land and water conservation $1.8 million in 2010, the state getting 2009’s $1.4 million or other land and water conservation money. The letter also states the National Parks Service “may” initiate procedures to have all federal funds (recreation, housing, transportation, education, etc) withheld from the state. “In addition, closure of any park acquired through Federal Lands to Parks Programs could result in reversion of the property to federal ownership and subsequent sale of the property,” the letter states. In response to the federal notice, Paterson said all public outdoor recreation would be kept as such in perpetuity. Therefore, the parks would not be “closed.” The parks, state officials contend, are therefore not in danger of losing the funds. They report lawns will not be mowed, and restrooms will remain closed under Paterson’s plan, but parks will be open for public use. In a return letter to Reidenbach, Paterson said he has asked state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash to meet with federal officials in hopes of insuring federal funding is not cut. Reidenbach, too, reports his staff is willing to work with state officials to help insure federal dollars are not lost. “Measures exist short of park closures which will allow a state to remain in land and water conservation and federal lands to parks program compliance,” said Reidenbach’s letter. “We are willing to explore these options should the need arise,” he said, adding, “early coordination and the identification of mutually-acceptable cost reduction measures ... will ensure the successful continuation of our long-standing partnership, and, more importantly, assure the continued availability to the recreating public of quality outdoor recreation facilities and resources.” “The public has no less need for recreation opportunities and access to open space in times of economic hardship,” his letter states. “If anything, the need for such recreational opportunities is greater now, not only due to leaner economic times, but also because of the increasing personal, community and environmental health issues associated with more sedentary lifestyles and lack of contact with nature,” it adds. In light of the National Parks Service letter, Senator Jose M. Serrano, D-Manhattan/Bronx, and the Senate Majority Conference said Monday they “urge the governor to work with the federal administration to determine a plan of action which maintains parks operations and does not endanger federal monies.” “While we are faced with unprecedented fiscal challenges, the reality is that New York’s parks are a vital component of its economy,” said Serrano, chair of the senate Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks and Recreation. He said the parks generate a 5-to-1 return on investment that helps generate $1.9 billion annually in economic activity. He said the loss of federal dollars will “add insult to injury.” Paterson said, however, the state “faces an historic fiscal crisis of unprecedented magnitude.” “It has demanded many difficult but necessary decisions to help ensure the fiscal integrity of our State.” He said he has delayed school payments, along with other programs to keep the state from running out of money. “In an environment when we have to cut funding to schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and social services, I trust that the National Park Service understands that no area of State spending, including parks and historic sites, could be exempt from reductions,” Paterson said.

Article Photos

File photo
Pictured is Long Point Park in Ellery, one of the 41 parks on a closure list by Gov. David Paterson. The National Parks Service is threatening to pull federal funds if all parks are closed.



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