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Carol Ash, NY State Parks Comissioner

September 25, 2009 @ 12:00 am EDT


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 We had the pleasure of hearing from the NYS Commissioner of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, Carol Ash.  Pro Image Studios recorded the video of her talk and the Q&A, which can be found here:   Ms. Ash is a long time champion of downstate parks and the environment.  Her most recent past position was Executive Director of the Palisades Interstate Parks Commission, and her full biography can be found on the NYS Parks website.   Commissioner Ash, a tireless advocate for the parks system and it’s constituency, gave us a rundown of what is happening with the state park system, that was both sobering and optimistic.  The 28 parks and one state! historic site ( Walt Whitman’s home ) on Long Island are some of the jewels in the system..  Mentioning Ken Burns’ newest epic on the formation of the National Parks System,  she let us know that the model for the NPS was the Adirondack State Park, created by then Governor Teddy Roosevelt, and that New York state has always been a pioneer in the development of parks and historic preservation.

One of the misconceptions that Ms. Ash came to dispel is that the expense of Parks is a drag on the economy, and that investment in them performs poorly.  Citing a University of Massachusetts study, she posited that parks are linchpins of local economies, that produce a 5-1 return on dollars invested in park improvements.  On Long Island, that translates to a $410MM boost to the local economy, supporting about 4000 private sector jobs.  The Long Island region has the highest parks attendance of the state.  40% of park revenue is generated by tourists, the US Opens in 2002 and 2009 brought in over $10MM to Long Island’s economy, in spite of the dismally rainy conditions in ’09.

With that, she began her pitch for continued investments in park infrastructure to keep those tourists coming.  Times are tough, money is tight, but upgrades need to be done.  There is an estimated $650MM backlog of deferred work overdue in the parks to keep them in shape.  This year, the legislature has allocated $200MM towards that.  Later today, she will attend a ribbon cutting at Brentwood State Park, where part of that $200MM will go to create state of the art professional quality soccer, baseball , and lacrosse fields, in an economically disadvantaged community.  Disappointingly, the NYS parks system is not eligible for Federal Stimulus Funds, but in a creative partnership with the Department of Labor, the Parks department was able to obtain $3.3MM to start a Civilian Conservation Corps in the Long Island and Niagar! a regions.  The first phase was to put 90 kids through a training program where they did basic maintenance projects throughout the regional parks.  The second phase will take the stars of that phase, and move them into a more skilled trade learning program, having them work on more sophisticated tasks.

Despite these tough times, the Parks department was able to hold the line on the $8.00 per car entry fee for the parks, and the $56.00 Empire Passport is still a good bargain.  In this time of staycations, park usage is going up.

The Q&A portion of the program was lively, with some advocates from the Kings Park community and allies of the Trump at Jones Beach project in attendance.  One of the great things about LIMBA is the ability for local folks to talk to people of influence and hear their opinions and concerns, and in turn be heard.

Ms. Ash couldn’t say much about the Trump project due to the ongoing litigation, and it was clear from the audience questions that they were much in favor of the project.

A question about which parks paid their ways, was met with the response that the Golf Courses  and Campgrounds are the revenue stars, supporting the rest of the system.

The discussion around Kings Park was summarized by her stance of embracing the local advocates and taking a long look at the issues, and finding the real costs of remediating the site.  The first phase of the study is done, the second is due to complete in about 18 months.

On the question of raising revenue, the department is trying to find sponsorships for the Empire State Games, working with the “I love NY” people to market the parks more, and looking at creating public-private partnerships similar to the California Parks Foundation, and the Central Park Conservancy.

Yet another productive Friday morning at LIMBA, where regular folks get to meet movers and shakers that directly affect our lives..

Complete video of this meeting is available