The New York State park system is facing the possible closure of up to 40% of state parks as a result of significant cuts to its operating budget. While budget cuts are nothing new for NYS parks, closing the parks to the public is. In spring 2010, the New York state park system, comprised of 178 state parks, shut down the operations of 41 parks for the first time in it’s 125 year history. This unprecedented action is especially troublesome for an agency that maintained park operations throughout two world wars and the Great Depression.
The severity of park system’s current plight can be attributed to years of underfunding has left its infrastructure in a state of deterioration. Park facilities and maintenance mechanisms are in such disrepair that officials have become increasingly concerned about the effects on public health. If the parks are deemed unsafe and are forced to close, the state will be lose some of its most valuable assets.
The NYS park system is home to a plethora of natural resources. In addition to the variety of waterways and plant life, 20 of New York’s “rare” species can only be found in the state parks. Among these animals is the Chittenango ovate amber snail, the entire population of which can be found no where else on the planet. The park system is also an attractive source of revenue for the state; something that Albany has seemingly overlooked. As an integral part of the state’s tourism industry, state parks provide vacation destinations, recreational venues, and attract both residential families and private businesses to the areas surrounding them. The parks are a source of substantial economic benefit to New York, and has been estimated by independent studies to generate $1.9 billion in revenue annually. Additionally, in a time of concern about unemployment rates, the park system contributes to the creation of 20,000 jobs needed for their operation.
However, Albany keeps increasing cuts to the park system’s budget in response to the state’s growing deficit problems. Between 2008 and 2010, the park system saw an 18% decrease in it’s operating budget which amounted to over $35 million. Accordingly, the park system was forced to eliminate many of their programs (Empire State Games, Green Thumb program), decrease staffing and park maintenance, and increase public access fees simply to keep the parks open. As a result, park attendance is declining, and the once fruitful revenue streams are slowly disappearing.
If the parks are forced to close, the local wildlife will face dangers many dangers: deteriorating facilities becoming hazardous; declining numbers of park staff to ensure their protection; the possibility that park land may be sold to private industry and their habitat destroyed. In addition, people will be deprived of access to the region’s natural beauties that have been enjoyed for years. It is upsetting to think that the most powerful mechanism for facilitating the public appreciation and support of the park system — experiencing the natural beauties firsthand — is exactly what is threatened to be denied if state parks are forced to close.