OSI is among the leading land conservation nonprofits in the eastern
United States, having protected 2.3 million acres of land for clean
water, recreation, carbon storage, and wildlife habitat from southern
Canada to Florida. Still, New York remains our home, and as such, we
welcome the opportunity to be here today and offer testimony on Governor
Andrew Cuomo’s Executive Budget Proposal. In short, we appreciate the
governor’s budget proposal for parks and the environment – especially in
light of the tremendous fiscal challenges facing the state.
We are especially grateful that both the governor’s budget and the
State-of-the-State demonstrate an understanding of the critical role
strategic land conservation can and does play in protecting drinking
water sources and providing New Yorkers places to safely spend time with
families, connect with friends, get some much-needed exercise, and
recharge from the emotional and mental fatigue stemming from the COVID
pandemic. New York’s state parks have, especially over the past year,
proven to be a source of comfort and rejuvenation, and we are grateful
for the governor’s continued support for them.
With his Parks 100 initiative, Governor Cuomo is maintaining his
historic commitment to improving park infrastructure – modernizing parks
and making them safer and more appealing to the public.
Indeed, OSI shares this vision and is proud to be working with both
State Parks and the Department of Conservation, investing millions of
private dollars, to make the outdoors and 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
long-term public support for the protection of natural resources.
To that end, this past year, OSI partnered with State Parks to create
a new visitor center at Minnewaska State Park that will serve as a
gateway for existing and new visitors as they plan their exploration of
the park’s 24,000 acres – more than half of which was added by OSI. The
park, located just 90 minutes north of New York City in Ulster County,
welcomes more than 500,000 visitors each year. There is a renaissance
happening at our state parks and OSI is proud to be a part of it.
Similarly, OSI is also working with DEC to improve the visitor
experience. This past year we funded a new trail network at Blue Stone
Wild Forest in the Catskills close to the city of Kingston. In the
Adirondacks, we are working closely with the department to provide an
alternative, southern entry point to the popular High Peaks area. This
spring, OSI will complete public access improvements at our Adirondac
Upper Works property in an effort to better distribute High Peaks
To complement this effort, OSI, in partnership with DEC, continues to
conserve land in the Adirondacks. Over the past year alone, we
completed projects protecting more than 16,000 acres in the Adirondacks –
in order to provide new, alternative locations for the public to enjoy,
while also protecting water sources, preserving habitat for wildlife,
and fighting climate change through the absorption and storage of
Of course, all these land conservation achievements, and many others,
are made possible through the state’s Environmental Protection Fund.
And we are very pleased that in his budget, the Governor maintains his
historic commitment for the EPF.
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 the EPF, and in particular, the Open
Space Acquisition line, the Municipal Matching Grants pool, the State
Land Stewardship Fund, NYS Parks and Trail Partnership Grant Program,
the Land Trust Alliance Conservation Partnership Program, the Parks and
Trails NY 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
Knowing the Legislature’s long-term and passionate commitment to
supporting and protecting the program, I would be remiss if I failed to
thank members of both houses and leadership for all you have done for
the EPF over the years. Whether it be supporting increased EPF funding
or preserving its long-term integrity, we fully understand and
appreciate all you have done over the years to protect and expand this
critical funding source.
In addition, the Open Space Institute welcomes the $500 million
contained in the governor’s budget for clean water infrastructure,
particularly the inclusion of funding for source water protection.
This one proposal highlights the myriad of natural, cost-effective
solutions that can be found in land protection. From fighting climate
change to protecting clean drinking water and mitigating flood damage,
strategic land conservation can play a critical role in solving some of
the biggest environmental challenges we face today.
We commend the Governor for taking the bold actions of environmental
funding I outlined today and hope to see these measures included in the
Finally, with regard to the potential of an Environmental Bond Act,
we thank both houses of the legislature for your support last year. As
the 2021 Legislative Session gets underway, we renew our call for the
bond initiative, knowing that such a measure would produce enormous,
long-term benefits of the good of all New Yorkers and the place we call
In closing, I thank the Governor and members of the Senate and
Assembly for working together in support of parks, open space and the
environment. Your ongoing commitment to protecting and enhancing New
York’s precious environmental and recreational resources is more
important now than ever.