2017 Priorities: State Parks
Protect and revitalize parks for future generations
Keep The Momentum Going For Parks
Support continued capital investments to restore and rebuild state parks' aging and dilapidated infrastructure
Thanks to the leadership of the Governor and the Legislature, state parks have received a historic infusion of capital funding through the Governor's NY Parks 2020 initiative to restore and rebuild state parks’ aging and dilapidated infrastructure. The $470 million committed over the last five years is breathing new life into a park system that has suffered from decades of underfunding while creating thousands of local jobs and helping to grow the state’s economy.
Despite New York’s legacy as a leader in parks and conservation and our park system’s importance to the stat’s economy, our state parks remain chronically underfunded. While the most visible threat to the park system came in 2010, when 88 parks and historic sites were threatened with closure, the real long-term threat may very well be the park system’s crumbling infrastructure.
The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) estimates the capital backlog at about $1 billion. This includes critical safety repairs such as rehabilitating dams, replacing aging water and sewer lines, and bringing electrical systems into compliance with fire codes.
The impacts from the storms of 2011 and 2012 (Irene, Lee and Sandy) have only further compounded that need and reinforced the importance of restoring our park system with long-term resiliency and sustainability in mind. Investing wisely in parks infrastructure, including both natural and built infrastructure that utilize sustainable development practices, will serve as a national model for rebuilding smarter after storms and protect these treasured places and their surrounding communities from the impacts of sea level rise and future storms.
Continuing to invest in our treasured state park system will keep people working to help grow New York’s economy sustainably, boost tourism in communities across the state, and secure our parks and conservation legacy for future generations. Let’s keep the momentum going in 2017 with another round of $90 million in Parks 2020 capital funding for state parks infrastructure improvements, putting the state on a sustainable course to meet future maintenance demands.
Enhance operating budget for OPRHP
Thanks to the Governor and Legislature's strong commitment to parks, OPRHP’s operations budget was held steady during the state’s fiscal crisis. However, rising costs outside OPRHP’s control mean that even a steady-state budget will result in belt-tightening. This reality and the toll of the last few years continue to weigh heavily. OPRHP’s budget has been cut 23% over the last few years—more than many agencies—and it is operating today with 1,500 fewer staff than it was in 2008. Although increased visitation has brought in additional revenue from user fees, the continued shrinking of General Fund support has wiped out potential gains.
Unlike most other agencies, OPRHP interacts with New Yorkers in their communities and tourists during their visits. The effects of this budget contraction can be felt on the ground with reduced hours, days, and seasons, fewer programs and workers, fewer park police, and less maintenance, not to mention fewer resources dedicated to natural resource protection and the visitor experience. More visitors also mean greater wear and tear on facilities and increased pressure on park staff to keep up with visitor needs and safety. If visitors’ expectations are not met, if their experience leaves them dissatisfied, they are less likely to come back or notice the capital improvements. While critically important, capital improvements without sufficient funding for operations—particularly as new facilities are built and others are upgraded—leave the Agency struggling to achieve its mission of “providing safe and enjoyable recreational and interpretive opportunities for all [NYS] residents and visitors and to be responsible stewards of our valuable natural, historic and cultural resources.”
PTNY urges the Governor and Legislature to begin to put OPRHP’s operations budget on an upward trajectory so that our state parks and historic sites can more fully realize their potential as destinations and economic engines for local communities.
State Parks provide residents and New York communities with multiple benefits:
- According to OPRHP officials, park attendance is at record levels - visitation is now up to more than 65 million, the highest in a decade.
- Parks are economic engines for local communities. According to a study commissioned by Parks & Trails New York, parks generate $1.9 billion and 20,000 jobs (not including park staff) annually. These revenues support tourism and small businesses.
- The benefits state parks provide New York far outweigh their cost. State parks make up a mere one-fifth of one percent of the total state budget. For every dollar New York spends on parks, our state’s economy enjoys a five dollar return.