OSI announces the launch of The Alliance for New York State Parks

NEW YORK, NY — November 9, 2010 — The nonprofit Open Space Institute, which has protected more than 100,000 acres in New York State—including 75,000 acres of parkland—today announced the launch of the Alliance for New York State Parks, a bold new initiative aimed at protecting and enhancing the state’s parks and historic sites for present and future generations. 

The Alliance was formed in the wake of the most severe fiscal crisis to ever strike the state’s unparalleled collection of 178 parks and 35 historic sites. Earlier this year, as many as 90 parks and historic sites—a full 40 percent of the state system—were threatened with closures and/or cutbacks for the first time since 1885, when Niagara Falls State Park became the first state park in the nation.

The Alliance, a public-private partnership, will argue in favor of continued funding for the parks system, which, according to a 2009 report, generates $1.9 billion in economic activity, including the creation of 20,000 long-term, sustainable, non-parks jobs servicing 60 million annual visitors, 40 percent of whom come from outside the facilities' immediate surrounding area. 

The Alliance welcomes Governor-elect Cuomo's commitment to keep parks open, as outlined in his "Cleaner, Greener New York Plan," and intends to examine the potential for a dedicated funding stream to ensure the recent crisis is not repeated.

“Every dollar invested in state parks yields $5 in economic activity, generating thousands of jobs and millions of tax dollars that more than offset any direct cost to the state,” said OSI President Joe Martens. “With the advent of the Alliance for New York State Parks, we can guarantee the future of our parks and the economic development they bring all across the state.”

The Alliance will advocate directly for New York’s parks, work with partners to build an organized and effective constituency for parks, and raise public and private financial support for the system.

Carol Ash, the departing commissioner of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation’s (OPRHP), will serve as an advisor to the Alliance, and Erik Kulleseid, the former New York State deputy commissioner for open space protection, has joined OSI as the Alliance’s director.

Attendance at New York’s 178 parks and 35 historic sites increased this summer by 3.5 percent over a year ago, yet the system faces extraordinary challenges, including more than $1 billion of urgent capital rehabilitation needs.

Many parks have outdated water supply systems, aging wastewater treatment plants and substandard electrical systems. Major investments are needed to repair infrastructure such as roofs, heating and plumbing systems, park offices, recreation fields, bathrooms, roads, parking areas, and maintenance centers.

However, OPRHP’s operating budget was cut by $35 million, from $195 million in FY2008 to only $160 million this year.

“Cuts to the parks budget left us with nothing but difficult choices,” said Ash, the parks commissioner from early 2007 to October 2010. “The future of New York’s park system is in jeopardy, and it will take a public-private partnership like the Alliance to ensure that our parks thrive.”

The Alliance plans to work with the Cuomo administration to develop new, dedicated funding streams for parks. Possible models include Montana’s dedicated vehicle registration surcharge or a plastic shopping bag surcharge that has successfully generated funds for parks while reducing waste in Washington, D.C.

“New York should adopt a model that works best for New Yorkers, but there is no doubt a dedicated funding source is needed to make a difference in the agency’s ability to address its backlog,” Kulleseid said. “The fact that the funding stream would benefit our great parks should make the charge more palatable.”

Together with Parks & Trails New York, the Alliance will also be issuing a “State Parks Report” in the coming weeks with detailed analysis on the state of New York’s parks and recommendations for the system’s improvement.

OSI launched the Alliance in an effort to forge a long-term partnership with the OPRHP—one that leads to a revitalized park system that boasts affordable, well-maintained scenic destinations where every citizen can enjoy the natural beauty of the Empire State.

“New York State’s park system is still the best in the country,” said Martens, OSI’s president, “but it’s on the verge of a crisis. The Alliance for New York State Parks was created to help direct funding back into our system, to give it the resources it needs to realize its potential, for the benefit of parks lovers everywhere.”

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