Spring has arrived, at least officially, which means that soon the state parks will start getting ready for the summer season. There’s a certain rhythm to it. As the snow melts, staffs will be fanning out, tallying up the winter damage and making plans. Applications for seasonal staff will be reviewed, and people hired. As opening day gets closer, clean-up will start, facilities will be opened, and everyone gets ready for the arrival of park visitors. That’s the “normal,” but the past few years have been anything but normal. Budgets and staffs were cut, parks and campgrounds were announced as closed, and an overall sense of uncertainty reigned as political battles were fought over the parks.
The good news is that this year there are no planned closures. The lessons of last year’s brutal battle over the parks, with the public on one side and the governor on the other, taught the state’s politicians that the electorate wants the parks. It turned out to be a “third rail” in this state. So there are no plans to close any campgrounds or parks this year. They will open, they will be operated through their season. That’s the good news. Other states are in the process of closing – or thinking of privatizing – their parks. This is not popular with their electorate, but their politicians are more interested in cutting taxes and other services than operating a state park system.
The bad news? The infrastructure problems are still being ignored, and it’s unlikely that there will be money to address them. Even more so, the budget cuts that have already been made will be cutting staff, services, and maintenance in the parks, so things are going to keep deteriorating.
“The crisis facing New York’s state parks goes far beyond this year’s budget proposal. Although parks may be open, there are pools and campsites not open due to the continuing deterioration of the system,” Kulleseid said.
It’s been a long-standing problem, and one that is still being ignored. At some point, we have to realize that it’s not simply enough to keep them open, we have to keep them up! It is approaching the point where some of the parks may simply have to close, because the facilities are no longer safe to use. That’s the real shame about our parks. Last year, we learned that people in this state love their parks. Now we have to decide what to do for the long term, so that future generations can enjoy them.