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New York Parks Now On Most Endangered Historic Places List

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

New York's parks now have the dubious distinction of a listing on a national preservation group’s register of endangered sites. That’s due to the closings of several dozen parks and historic sites by Gov. David Paterson because of the state's budget crisis.

Wendy Nicholas with the National Trust for Historic Preservation says state parks and historic sites have been placed on the list of America's Most Endangered Historic Places. While the listing refers to all state parks in the nation, Nicholas says it was Paterson's decision to close 41 parks and 14 historic sites in New York that convinced the group to act.

“It’s the prime example of the dire threat to America's treasured heritage,” Nicholas says.

Nicholas says the closures make no sense given the small amount of money that will be saved -- $11 million out of a state budget totaling more than $130 billion. She says in the long term the total cost might be more than the savings because sites can rapidly deteriorate from neglect.

“The heat and water get turned off, people aren’t around,” Nicholas says. “Security is a problem, vandalism is a problem.”

The closure list includes the abolitionist John Brown’s farm outside Lake Placid, and Philipse Manor, an historic Yonkers building that dates back to 1750.

Assemblyman Jack McEneny of Albany, considered the unofficial historian of the Capitol, says he’s also concerned about the closure of Thacher Park, a large tract of land outside of Albany that is bisected by a main road and features escarpment cliffs hundreds of feet high.

“I don’t want to be the one to figure out how to clean off the graffiti from the cliffs,” McEneny says. He also worries about what to do with all of the artifacts at closed historic sites as well.

Robyn Dropkin with the advocacy group Parks and Trails New York says even if being listed on the national endangered historic places list is negative attention, at least it’s attention. She believes the listing may help to further mobilize the public, who have already created Facebook pages and have written letters protesting the closure of the parks.

“I hope it sheds some light on this crisis,” Dropkin says.

She says parks are among the most “beloved” of public services.

Paterson as recently as Tuesday said he would not be swayed by public opinion and would not include money for the parks in any emergency spending measures.

“It’s irresponsible of me, even if I’m the most unpopular person in the state,” Paterson says.

Paterson says there will be no funds for the parks until the state budget is settled. The budget is more than six weeks overdue.

State lawmakers say next week they plan to attempt an end run around the governor. They are not allowed to pass laws demanding that the money for the parks be allocated, but they believe that they can pass a law requiring that all state parks keep the same hours in 2010 as they did in the 2009 season. That bill is believed to have a veto-proof majority in the Assembly, but might not have enough backers in the state Senate to override a veto by the governor.

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