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Hug a state park today

Why preserving our parks is important.

May means the Hudson Valley’s hiking, biking, and outdoor exploring season is well under way. As many of you are aware, that season narrowly escaped a knife to the heart. The vital organ in question is our state parks system, which faced 57 park and historic site closings when the Governor released the state budget in February, with more threatened. In our region, that included closing park areas at Harriman, and closing Minnewaska in Ulster, and Fahnestock in Putnam. Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh, and the Cantonment in New Windsor, where Washington issued cease-fire orders in the spring of 1783, were two historic sites slated to be shut.

In March, the state legislature restored $11 million to the parks from the General Fund, but this does not guarantee that all parks will remain open. Both houses must adopt the budget and the Governor needs to approve it – not a foregone conclusion in Albany’s three-ring circus.

We are in uncharted economic territory these days, and the proverbial belts need to be tightened everywhere. But the initial reaction from our state government shows a drastic lack of creativity. Consider that parks and historic sites account for 20,000 non-park jobs, and generate $1.9 billion annually in economic activity, with outside visitors accounting for about 40 percent of that total.  The 57 closings would save an estimated $6.3 million. That is less than the resurging financial industry pays out in bonus money to one typical hedge fund manager. Something is askew.

Parks make a difference. New York City would be another beast altogether without its Central Park. In the Mid-Hudson region, with its large tracts of land, parks don’t stand out as much. But with open wood and farm land disappearing rapidly over the last 20 years, these protected places for recreation and enjoyment of nature take on increasing importance.

When Rudy Giuliani ruled the NYC roost he spearheaded his quality of life campaign by going after squeegee men, claiming lesser infractions create an environment for serious crimes. Reversing this logic, closing so many vital parks and historic sites will have economic, health, and social repercussions on our communities. Even during the Great Depression, all the parks remained open, providing citizens respite from hard times.

Some individuals and groups are taking action. Although largely symbolic, the Beacon City Council passed a resolution in support of keeping the Stony Kill Farm Environmental Educational Center open. The center, which runs educational programs and is home of Common Ground Farms CSA, was also on the hit list.

If you want to find out what you can do, a good place to start is the Parks and Trails New York website, Joining a smaller regional advocacy group is another way to get involved in helping parks on the ground level. Read this month’s “My View” for a look at how local mountain bikers are making a difference. Happy trails.