Erik Kulleseid photo Times Union
Albany, NY—February 8, 2011— The Open Space Institute’s Alliance for New York State Parks today expressed concern over another round of budget cuts to New York’s state parks and historic sites. The proposed executive budget reduces funding for state parks and historic sites by more than $17 million.
“The sad reality is that our already depleted state park system faces another round of cuts. Despite record attendance and proven public support for our parks, this budget continues the trend of reduced funding, reduced services and reduced investment in our once great state parks system,” said Erik Kulleseid, director of the Alliance for New York State Parks. “While it may be reassuring to hear that the agency has no plans to close parks at this time, it is difficult to see how they will be able to achieve required savings without serious service reductions and even closure of some park operations.”
In response to the cuts, the Alliance renewed its call for a dedicated funding stream to support and maintain the chronically underfunded state parks and historic sites. Specifically, the Alliance called for the creation of a “Pennies for Parks” program, a one-cent fee charged to consumers who use disposable grocery store plastic bags.
A poll conducted in December 2010 showed that 73 percent of New Yorkers support the penny surcharge if the generated funds were dedicated to keeping state parks open and well-maintained.
“The crisis facing New York’s state parks goes far beyond this year’s budget proposal. From failing swimming pools and bathrooms and crumbling masonry to outdated water and electrical systems, our parks have been diminishing before our eyes over the past decades,” Kulleseid said. “And although parks may be open, there are pools, trails and campsites are not open to the public due to the continuing deterioration of the system. We must reverse this trend.”
An assessment completed last year by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation estimated that more than a billion dollars is needed to repair, restore and update the system of 178 parks and 35 historic sites.
In announcing the “Pennies for Parks” campaign, Kulleseid explained that the one-cent fee is expected to generate $60 million a year, while reducing the number of bags that end up in landfills. He also stressed that the fee would be avoidable if shoppers turned to reusable or recycled bags.
In addition to the poll numbers, Kulleseid pointed to rising park attendance and last year’s reaction to proposed park closures as evidence that New Yorkers support their state parks.
“It’s ironic that even as more and more New Yorkers are visiting parks and we have come to better understand the sense of community pride and economic activity associated with parks, state support to operate and maintain them continues to decline,” he said. “As Governor Cuomo has inspired New Yorkers to ‘build a New York for future generations,’ our state parks must be restored to a place of greatness.”
The December 2010 survey of 1,000 registered New York State voters was conducted by Buffalo pollster Barry Zeplowitz and Associates.
As part of the survey, voters were asked their feelings regarding a charge on plastic bags used by grocery stores. Specifically, the question read, “If the amount charged was one penny per bag, and you knew it would raise $60 million annually to keep state parks open and well maintained for your use, would you support such a charge?” The response was 73 percent favorable (35 percent strongly) and 24 percent unfavorable (11 percent strongly).
In addition to supporting the “Pennies for Parks” proposal, the Alliance is also committed to securing private donations and partnerships to support state parks. “The challenge to protect and restore our state parks is significant. This one cent fee is only part of the long-term solution to save our state parks and historic sites,” said Kulleseid.
The Alliance for New York State Parks is a program of the Open Space Institute. Its mission is to protect and enhance New York’s state parks and historic sites for present and future generations. The Alliance advocates for New York’s state park system directly and by working to build and organized and effective constituency for parks. It also assists the system by securing public and private financial support.