February 01, 2022
State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid’s Testimony at the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing - Environmental Conservation
Good afternoon, Chairwoman Krueger, Chairwoman Weinstein, Senator
Serrano, Assemblyman O'Donnell and members of the State Legislature. Thanks for
inviting me today.
I'm honored to represent Governor Hochul on behalf of our state park
system, which includes 250 state parks, historic sites, golf courses, boat
launches and recreational trails. These facilities are essential to societal
health and well-being for people from all communities.
Last year, our parks – and our incomparable parks staff – welcomed more
than 78 million visitors for the second straight year, and overnight stays at
campgrounds were the highest ever. New
Yorkers continued heading to parks in record numbers for relief from the COVID
pandemic. This follows a decade of steady growth – an overall increase of 41
percent since 2008. Simultaneously, during 2021, State Park staff provided
direct support statewide to more than 500 individual COVID-19 mission requests,
such as test site support and equipment distribution. Additionally, staff provided
support for 16 individual storms.
The Governor's proposed budget for the agency is precedent setting,
reflecting her deep personal support for the park system. As a frequent visitor
herself, she recognizes the value of parks and historic sites and supports the
work that needs to be done for our basic infrastructure and to meet the needs
of our visitors. The Governor's Executive Budget increases operations spending and
sets staffing at its highest since 2009, allowing us to begin rebuilding our
workforce challenged by the hiring freeze. Retention and recruitment of Park Police
are a priority. I have directed the Agency to begin planning for a Park Police
Training Academy in the Fall.
Governor Hochul will accelerate and enhance our NY Parks 100
initiative, proposing $200 million in bonded funding for our capital program. This
80 percent increase over last year will position New York State to celebrate
the 100th anniversary of the State Parks Act of 1924, which established the
system we know today. It is a vote of confidence in this agency's capacity to
get things done, and amplifies our ability to meet the recreational and
cultural needs of New Yorkers, visitors and tourists.
The funding will help design an exciting new State Park at the High
Falls area of downtown Rochester, and build on far-reaching enhancements to
outdoor recreation we saw last year, including:
- Completing a $30 million renovation of the Franklin
D. Roosevelt State Park swimming pool in Westchester County. The project modernized
the park system's largest pool – covering nearly an acre in surface area.
- Opening the first-of-its-kind Autism Nature Trail
at Letchworth State Park to invite those with Autism Spectrum Disorder and
other developmental disabilities to push boundaries and develop new skills.
- Creating the new "Gorgeview" area in Niagara Falls State Park – the
largest expansion of the park since 1885 – by removing a segment of the former
Robert Moses parkway. Adding to that, we broke ground on a $46 million
state-of-the-art visitor center.
- Opening the $8.3 million Environmental Education
and Resiliency Center at Hempstead Lake State Park in Nassau County. The center offers space for hands-on learning and
community outreach, and is part of a multi-million dollar parkwide
transformation to reduce flood risk, improve water quality and enhance
recreational access along the Mill River corridor.
- Celebrating the opening of The Pines@SPAC, a $9.5
million renovation at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a world-class arts
and culture destination in Saratoga Spa State Park, that improved visitor
services and created new four-season event space.
By increasing funding for the EPF to a historic $400 million, the
Executive Budget will enhance our stewardship of natural and cultural
resources; and better connect parks to people. Notable programs include:
- Doubling funds for the successful and vital Parks
and Trails Partnership grants, administered by Parks and Trail New York, which aids
the not-for-profit friend's groups that support our public lands.
- A 50 percent increase to our "Connect
Kids" program, which allow children from economically distressed
communities to experience state parks and historic sites and get job skills
training at our parks and sites.
- A 30 percent increase to the Local Parks/Historic
Preservation Grant Program, which provides matching capital grants to local
governments and non-profits.
Our parks will be eligible for funds from the $4
billion Clean Water, Clean Air, and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. If
approved by voters in November, this bond act will make significant
environmental investments across the State and help address the impacts of
climate change. As one of the largest owners of coastline in New York State, our
Agency looks forward to working with the Governor and Legislature to identify
projects focused on restoration, water quality and climate change mitigation.
Our Division for Historic Preservation continues
its nation-leading work to document, preserve and enhance historic resources. New York
State has now approved the rehabilitation commercial tax credit in more than 1150
historic properties, incentivizing nearly $14 billion in private investment
since the establishment of the current federal program criteria in 1993. Most
of this work occurred since the New York State Rehabilitation Tax Credit was
established in 2007 and enhanced in 2010. In the next few months, the New York
State Historic Business Preservation Registry, created through legislation
sponsored by Senator Serrano and Assemblyman O'Donnell, will be announced with
business nominations from members of the legislature.
As always, I welcome you to visit in the coming year, and to see in
person the amazing service we provide. Thanks for your support for New York's
magnificent natural and historic places – and the millions who benefit from
them. I look forward to working with you to make the park system the best it