Parks – What isn’t happening

As I’ve said in several previous posts, at one time I spent my summers working at state parks.  That’s why this news item struck me:

In response to Gov. Paterson’s proposed budget cuts, the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has said it will close 55 parks and historic sites around the state – and reduce hours and shutter facilities at others.

Why would it strike me?  Because even if the budget were passed today, it’s almost too late for those parks.  The reason I say that is that what the public sees on a park is the “finished product,” not the work that goes into getting a park ready to open after a winter.  It’s hard to believe how much there is, if you haven’t seen it.  It’s not a case of unlocking a few doors. Even in the best-run parks, winter does a lot of damage.  There are trees that fell, broken branches,  frost heaves, and erosion from melting snow.  Bathrooms and water systems need to be reopened, and it’s not uncommon to find a seal cracked, a gasket gone bad, or that a water line has developed a leak.  It all has to be taken care of.

This is why parks start to staff up around this time.  Seasonal workers are brought on, while the hiring process goes on for later in the summer.  This is when the “heavy lifting” is done, to clean up the park, and get it ready for the public.Normally, it takes a couple of weeks for this to be accomplished.  The problem this year?  It isn’t happening.  There is no money allocated yet.  Even in the parks that aren’t scheduled for closure, the budget delay is having an impact.  Seasonal hiring isn’t happening.  Seasonal workers who would normally be working right now aren’t.  Supplies and equipment aren’t available.  The parks are behind schedule – and the parks that are closed at the moment are even further behind.

That’s why I said that that it may be too late for those parks are currently closed.  It’s not just a case of passing the budget, and freeing up the money to operate them.  The entire process of staffing them and preparing them to open has been disrupted – possibly to the point that the staffing may not be there, or the experienced personnel  are not returning to that park.  Even if staff is hired, it will still be some time before the park is “ready to open” to the public, and it might well be that there may simply not be time to accomplish that and operate through a season.

If there’s a lesson in here, it’s that when we discuss keeping our parks open – and funded – it’s also important to realize that there is a timing to it.  The state budget process, as reliably broken as it is, has put an enormous strain on the ability of parks personnel to get their parks operational for the summer seasons.  In the case of the current budget cuts, it may have meant that the park closures will happen in spite of any restoration of funding – simply because it will be too late to open them.  When we advocate for increased funding, better funding mechanisms, and all the other things we want for our parks, it’s also important to start thinking about uncoupling that from the budget process in Albany.  While that may be unrealistic overall, it shouldn’t be unrealistic to have some method of getting the parks open and running on time.

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