Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

August 06, 2010

Eileen Larrabee
Dan Keefe
518-486-1868

Statement by New York State Park Commissioner Carol Ash on President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors Initiative

America's Great Outdoors Initiative listening session, Poughkeepsie, August 6, 2010

I am thankful to President Obama and Secretaries Salazar and Vilsack for embarking on the America's Great Outdoors initiative. Public parks and open spaces are essential to a healthy, vibrant society and I am honored to be part of this national conversation.

It is fitting that the Administration has brought this important conversation to the Hudson Valley, a region that has been at the forefront of preserving and protecting America's natural and historic assets for generations.

An incomparable state or local park is no less a part of the American park landscape than renowned national parks. For example, Niagara Falls, Central Park in Manhattan, or Jones Beach are all nationally significant and uniquely special places.

Yet parks throughout the nation are in crisis. America's state parks and historic sites recently topped the National Trust for Historic Preservation's list of America's 11 most endangered places. Here in New York State, our operating budget has been cut by thirty percent over the past three years and we lived through the threat of closing more than 100 state parks and historic sites.

It is vitally important to appreciate what happened to bring about the funding restorations that allowed us to re-open all our parks and historic sites. New Yorkers worked very hard to support their public parks. Many people who do not ordinarily take an active role in the political process held rallies, wrote letters, and created new Facebook groups to tell their elected leaders to keep their parks open. This emergence of parks as a political issue demonstrates that there is untapped and widespread grassroots energy for America's Great Outdoors.

Since the threat of park closures, it's gratifying to note that New York State Parks attendance for the year is up by nearly 2 million visitors over last year. We are on track to host well over 57 million visitors this year. And it wasn't just park goers who rallied. We heard from the tourism community and local businesses – bearing out what we learned from an independent study conducted last year that found that direct spending by State Parks and its visitors generates $1.9 billion in sales for private businesses. That economic activity generates 20,000 jobs statewide.

I also want to offer my thanks to Secretary Salazar for his commitment to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, as well as to Senator Schumer for his efforts on this issue. This crucial source of federal assistance for state parks has been chronically underfunded for too long. New York State is slated to receive $2 million from the LWCF this year – far below the more than $20 million the state could be receiving through a fully funded LWCF. A robust LWCF would allow us to keep up on maintenance at our parks and historic sites and to address our capital needs backlog that totals well over $650 million, as well as protect the open space that helps alleviate air, water, and noise pollution and preserves habitat for plants and animals.

As State Historic Preservation Officer, I also want to strongly encourage full funding of the Historic Preservation Fund at its authorized level of $150 million. Preservation of our built environment is crucial to our nation's conservation efforts – historic preservation helps curtail sprawl, is intrinsically green and sustainable, and promotes open space conservation through use of existing resources. Conservation and historic preservation are two sides of the same coin and both need greater support from the federal government.

President Obama deserves great credit for beginning this conversation. I look forward to a productive dialogue between state and federal governments as well as our community partners – the philanthropies, friends groups, land trusts, and volunteers – to better our shared stewardship of the wonderful parks and landscapes in the Hudson Valley and throughout New York.