No way to run a park system

A little over a week ago, the state legislature passed a bill funding the state parks for the next year, enabling them to open this year.   The various parks, historical sites, and campgrounds which had been closed, or scheduled for closure were “saved.”  In an earlier post, I talked about the damage this delay has done to the park systems.   In one of the local papers, there’s an article touting a new cooperative agreement between two towns in Hamilton County and the State, which enabled the road through the Moose River Plains Wilderness Recreation Area to reopen.

DEC worked with local officials from Inlet, Indian Lake and Hamilton County, as well as state legislators, to cover maintenance duties and costs for the season. The Moose River Plains includes more than 40 miles of dirt roads, approximately 170 primitive campsites and 50,000 acres of wild forest in the central and southwestern sections of the park.

In many ways, the towns had no real choice but to lobby for this, and to try to get this area reopened.  It’s a major economic boon to them, and its closure would have had devastating impact.  This coming weekend, the Black Fly Challenge will take place.  It’s estimated that over 300 contestants will make the run between Indian Lake and Inlet over the Moose River Plains road.  In addition to the contestants, their families, friends, and supporters will be here.  It’s an event that pumps a good deal of money into the local economies – and it was threatened.  There’s a major birdwatching weekend coming up, which also makes a trip through the plains, and this fall, a “Mountain Man encampment” will take place there.  That’s just a small sample of the economic impact that a single area has on the economy up here.  Now add in the state campgrounds, and the  state facilities provide a major impact on the economy – and return on the tax dollar – over what is spent.  It’s one of the better economic development investments the state has made.

But all that was threatened by the budget impasse.  In order to save a few dollars, they were cutting the parks which provide a major economic boost – even act as linchpins – for many economies here in the Adirondacks.  The potential cost in lost business, reduction in tax revenues, and local employment was something that galvanized the local governments and population.

The saddest part?  This is the second year in a row that this has happened.  Last year, DEC was cutting costs as well.  Some campgrounds were slated for closure.   Seasonal personnel hiring was tightened, along with pay and operating budgets.  After much lobbying, most of them were reopened for limited seasons, although the operating budgets weren’t boosted.  This year, it happened again, and there were even more cuts.

It’s becoming a major source of frustration and anger around here, as what was once considered “stable” has turned into something that must be fought for each and every year.   No one is sure which – or if – various state facilities will be open next year.  No one knows if – or how many – seasonal hires will be made.  No one is sure when they’ll start, or what further restrictions they’ll be be required to operate under.    If there’s one thing that came out of this mess, it’s a clear message to the State legislators and Governor:  The people of this state love their parks, and they don’t like it when you threaten them.   It’s time to start making the system stable, to really think about how we’re funding and staffing them, and to give it a certain amount of insulation from the budget battles that happen every year.  Because so far, each year has been a new battle – and that’s no way to run a park system.

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