OSI is a leading East Coast land and park conservation nonprofit.
And while our work extends from southern Canada to Florida, our home
remains here in New York State. As such, there is much for us to cheer
in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget Proposal.
To begin with, both the governor’s budget and the State-of-the-State
strongly emphasize the values of land conservation – with emphasis that
go beyond the traditional benefits of recreation, tourism, and wildlife
habitat. There is a growing understanding of the critical role
strategic land conservation can and does play in fighting climate
change, protecting our water and lessening the effects of flooding – and
the governor’s recent presentations reflect this emerging knowledge.
To help enact these important conservation initiatives, Governor
Cuomo is calling for a $3 billion bond act that will pursue natural,
land-based solutions to climate change as well as water source
protection, habitat restoration, and flood mitigation. While details on
the bond act are limited thus far, OSI looks forward to working with the
administration, the legislature and our partner organizations in
support of a bond act that will achieve much-needed funding to preserve
natural areas and adapt to climate change.
Let me also express OSI’s appreciation to the legislature and the
Governor for maintaining support for a $300 million Environmental
Protection Fund. Although we continue to push for a $500 million EPF by
2025, we fully understand the financial pressures facing the state this
As you know, the EPF is the source of funding for open space
protection, municipal parks, support of Friends groups, environmental
justice and the stewardship of public lands – among many other critical
categories of natural resource protection in New York State.
We urge continued support for Open Space Acquisition funding line,
the Municipal Matching Grants pool, the State Land Stewardship Fund, NYS
Parks and Trail Partnership Grant Program and the Environmental Justice
line. The Environmental Justice section of the EPF underwrites the
highly successful Connect Kids program allowing children from
economically distressed and underserved communities to experience state
parks and historic sites.
I am pleased the report that the EPF was the source of funding for 10
land projects completed by OSI last year that added more than 8,500
acres to public lands including Minnewaska, Harriman and Schunnemunk
State Parks; as well as to the Bluestone, Vernoy Kill, and Sundown Wild
Forests in the Catskills, and Hammond Pond Wild Forest in the
Protecting the integrity of the EPF is critical. For that reason,
OSI opposes any effort to offload project funds from the EPF to cover
agency operating costs as has been proposed in the executive budget.
Such a move undermines the EPF and places it at risk for this and future
And while on the subject of agency operating funds, we applaud the
addition of 47 additional staffers at the Department of Environmental
Conservation and 22 staffers at New York State Parks. These small
increases are incredibly important as the agencies have struggled to
keep up with more visitors, and related pressures on protecting our
natural resources. Increased interest in hiking and biking our public
lands is a good thing but must be managed for public safety and the
long-term health of NY’s treasured natural areas. As pleased as we are
to welcome these new positions, raiding the EPF to pay for them is
Recognizing the connection between protecting land and making it
accessible and enjoyable for visitors, OSI has, over the past ten years,
actively partnered with State Parks and DEC to make our public lands
more welcoming by adding trails, trailheads, and visitor centers with
the hope of connecting more people to the land in way that will
ultimately encourage public support for the protection of natural
To that end, we are extremely grateful that the budget allocates
another $110 million for New York Parks 2020, which, over the past ten
years, has resulted in upgrades, improvements and repairs at parks
throughout the state. There is a renaissance happening at our state
parks, and New Yorkers are celebrating with record level visitation. We
are extraordinarily grateful to the governor and the legislature for
the sustained and historic commitment to our wonderful and diverse
system of state parks.
Similarly, we fully endorse $55 million for capital projects at DEC
to provide upgrades to campgrounds, boat launches and dam safety.
And while the state is investing in its public land, OSI is also
making major public access improvements in Adirondacks at our Adirondac
Upperworks property in the town of Newcomb. This project will improve
the southern access to the High Peaks as part of an effort to better
distribute visitors at the popular destination. The fact that more
people want to get outdoors and explore all that our state has to offer
is welcome news – even though it will require better management and more
options for the public to choose from.
In addition, OSI is partnering with State Parks to create a new
visitor center at Minnewaska State Park. This park, located just 90
minutes north of New York City, welcomes more than 500,000 visitors each
year and totals 24,000 acres – half on which was added my OSI. Today,
OSI is raising $3 million for the creation of the new $6 million center
which will serve as a gateway for visitors as they plan their Minnewaska
This past year, we also completed renovations at the cultural and
performing arts center at Denny Farrell Riverbank State Park. OSI
raised approximately $1.2 million in private donations and public
funding to upgrade the popular park centerpiece which serves as a
cultural and arts hub in West Harlem.
In closing, I thank the governor and members of both the Senate and
Assembly for working together in support of parks, open space and the
environment. Your commitment and effectiveness is setting a new
national standard, one that can make all New Yorkers proud.
Thank you for your time and for the work you do to advance the cause
of protecting and enhancing New York’s precious environmental and