From Orient Point to Albany, those opposed to dozens of proposed New York State parks closures and service cuts have been rallying to save their beaches, playing fields and historic sites from the ax since the plans were announced last month.
At least 600 people rallied Saturday against the proposed cuts at Heckscher State Park, which could have services reduced. Another 150 people rallied Monday at Orient Beach State Park, which is on the list of parks that the state proposed closing.
“Close Albany, not our parks,” said John Davis, president of East Islip soccer club, at the Heckscher rally, where the crowd broke out in a chant: “Hands off Heckscher!”
Legis. Wayne Horsley (D-Babylon), who worked for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation for nearly two decades, organized the rally. “A statement has been made by a parks constituency: Mr. Governor, keep our parks open,” he said.
In all, six state parks on Long Island are being considered for closure and five others may face cutbacks from closed swimming pools and picnic areas to reduced hours. LI is home to more than 20 state parks and historic sites that attract nearly 20 million visitors annually, according the state parks department.
State parks officials proposed closing Brookhaven State Park, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, Cold Spring Harbor State Park, Orient Beach State Park, Trail View State Park and Nissequogue River State Park. Bethpage State park could have winter hour curtailed as well as the picnic area and polo field reduced. Connetquot River State Park could be closed weekdays while pools may close at Hecksher State Park in East Islip, Montauk Downs State Park and at Jones Beach State Park’s West Field.
State parks committee chairmen Sen. Jose Serrano (D-Bronx) and Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) called for restoring the funding as parks advocates rallied Wednesday in Albany to protest the budget cuts. They said blocking $11.3 million of the $20 million in proposed budget cuts to the state parks system will prevent the Paterson administration from closing the parks and historic sites.
The state parks office has said it will close a total of 41 of 178 parks and reduce services at 23 others statewide. They also plan to shut down 14 of 35 historic sites because of the state’s budget crisis.
Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) said the announcement to close Nisseguogue River State Park comes just as the state had made plans to rehabilitate the park, which had absorbed and protected 365 acres from the former Kings Park Psychiatric Center in 2006 as a part of a plan to prevent the land from being developed.
The cuts and closures are subject to New York State Legislature’s approval, but when news broke this week that 12 upstate state parks started canceling camping reservations in anticipation of the plan being enacted, one state lawmaker from Long Island cried foul.
“For the Office of Parks to proceed with cancelling camping reservations and presumably start the process of closing the parks is unacceptable and sends the wrong message to New Yorkers,” said State Sen. Brian Foley (D-Blue Point), adding that he found the development both extremely disturbing and premature.
State parks spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee confirmed Monday that the agency has notified the individuals about the cancellations and given them full refunds.
Of the 12 parks, six are in the Thousand Islands region in northern New York. The dozen parks canceling camping reservations are some of the state system’s smallest in terms of the number of campsites offered, with a total of about 450. There are 8,355 campsites and 817 cabins in the parks system, Larrabee said.
So far, there are more than 40,000 state parks campsite reservations for the upcoming season, she said.
The campsites canceling reservations are Canoe Island, Cedar Island, Eel Weir, Keewaydin, Macomb Reservation and Mary Island in the Thousand Islands region; Hunts Pond, Oquaga Creek and Pixley Falls in central New York; Newtown Battlefield in the Southern Tier; Max V. Shaul near Albany, and Taconic’s Rudd Pond in the Hudson Valley.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation operates its own system of 52 campgrounds in the Catskill and Adirondack parks. DEC spokeswoman Maureen Wren said the agency is still working on its budget plans and won’t comment on whether campground closings or service reductions are being considered.