Our Legislative Wish List
For park and trail lovers, the holidays are a time to be thankful for the efforts of volunteers and decision makers whose work has strengthened New York's spectacular outdoor places. It's also a time to think about what we need to enjoy and enhance parks and trails of all shapes and sizes in the coming year and beyond. And we're not just talking about all the shiny new gear we'd like to put under the tree! Funding and policy decisions made by the Governor and State Legislature are essential to our favorite outdoor spots.
Here is Parks & Trails New York's (PTNY) holiday legislative wish list. (Like any respectable supplicant, we'll be working all angles to make sure that the list gets prominent placement: the Governor's refrigerator and break room at the State Capitol are top of the list.)
Empire State Trail and Beyond
PTNY and allied trail groups across New York spurred a golden era of multi-use trail development across the state with the Closing the Gaps campaign. Nearly a decade of advocacy resulted in the ultimate holiday surprise in late 2016, with Governor Cuomo allocated funding for the Empire State Trail, a bold vision for a connected, statewide multi-use trail system. Since then, we've witnessed a flurry of trail planning and construction as the 750-mile system becomes a reality.
In 2019, we'll continue to monitor progress on the Empire State Trail, but we'll also be planning for the future of the statewide trail network, beyond 2020. This includes forming a group of supportive legislators that assist in finding funding for trail development and encouraging collaboration between the various agencies and organizations doing trail development and planning. We have support for this effort from national trails advocate Rails to Trails Conservancy.
A major task for both legislators and advocates is using the Empire State Trail project to catalyze trail development beyond the current routing. This includes building and connecting trails on Long Island, the Southern Tier, and the North Country. PTNY will be proposing a statewide trails planning process to address these needs, and bring planning currently done at the regional level into one document. This planning can guide funding decision made regarding the statewide network beyond 2020, sustaining the momentum and enthusiasm that the Empire State Trail has generated.
Support for State Parks
Thanks to the Governor and Legislature, State Parks have undergone an unprecedented renaissance through the NY Parks 2020 plan, a 10- year commitment to revitalizing critical park infrastructure. In 2019, we expect the Governor and Legislature to build on this strong commitment and continue funding for State Parks to address the nearly $1 billion backlog in infrastructure and health and safety needs. As we approach expiration of NY Parks 2020 funding, now is the time to begin planning for the future. For State Parks, a new program of infrastructure and operations funding can continue the positive momentum, and the growing trail network needs planning and reliable funding to reach its full potential.
Another perennial wish list item is increases in operations budgets to meet the growing demand at State Parks and Historic Sites as well as DEC facilities. Increased staffing will allow these venues to more fully realize their potential as treasured destinations and economic engines for local communities.
A Fully-Funded Environmental Protection Fund (EPF)
New York's environmental and conservation community must be very nice as they've successfully advocated for a fully-funded EPF at $300 million for the past several budgets. As a primary funding source for all things green, the EPF is the ultimate gift for both park and trail users, and the many agencies and groups that operate and maintain facilities and programs.
In 2019, we'll be looking for a fully-funded EPF to address environmental needs across the state, including land acquisition for trail corridors and parks; municipal parks and waterfront revitalization grants; and state land stewardship and public access to state parks, historic sites, and state forest lands and recreation facilities.
Among the important programs supported by the EPF over the last three years is the Park and Trail Partnership Program, a $500,000 capacity-building grants program for organizations that promote and support the state parks system. The Park and Trail Partnership Program, administered by Parks & Trails New York in partnership with the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), will unlock the potential of these organizations by increasing their effectiveness, productivity, and volunteer and fundraising capabilities. This will enhance park, trail and historic site stewardship, leading to even greater economic benefits from outdoor recreation and healthier, more sustainable and resilient communities. (See our report on the impact of Friends groups on our state parks and historic sites.)
PTNY’s 2019 Advocacy Agenda lays out policies and programs that will enhance New York’s role as a national leader in the protection, promotion and enhancement of parks, trails and greenways, and ensures that these natural, recreational and cultural treasures are an integral part of the state’s economic, transportation, health, and environmental strategies.
We hope you'll join us at an advocacy day in Albany, or by stressing the importance of parks and trails to your state legislators in district.