Monday, February 22, 2010

Advocating for State Parks (My soap-box post)

I am sorry that I did not post anything last week. Instead of blogging, I have been busy writing letters to my NY State legislators. It came to my attention last week that NY is closing or reducing services at somewhere between 40-64 state parks and 15 historic sites to solve part of our budget crisis. It's my understanding that this is happening all over the country, including Washington State and California. I find this incredibly upsetting- in fact, I'm pissed as hell about it!

I am not one to get politically active- sure, I have my own opinions and participate in elections but I never feel the urge to protest or write letters. Well, this issue has me pretty fired up. Gavin and I will be attending our first political protest on March 3rd to try and help save Thacher Park, one of the parks on the chopping block. Thacher is the park that I've written several posts about- it's an absolutely beautiful park that has been the setting for many of our weekend hikes this year.

From what I have been researching, closing these parks will save NY State about $6.3 million- our budget deficit is $8.3 BILLION. I understand that cuts need to be made in hard economic times but I think this is the worst place to be looking for money savings. I can bet you that even when the economy turns around, the budget is never going to be at such a surplus that the parks will be reopened. The amount of administrative bureaucracy is mind-boggling. You know the saying, how many people does it take to screw in a light-bulb? Well, how many politicians does it take to accomplish absolutely nothing? We pay over twice as much in tax dollars living in NY State as we did in Washington. Our property taxes alone, are double what we paid for our Seattle home. We now pay a state income tax. We also pay sales tax comparable to Seattle's. We pay tolls to take the thruways and turnpikes. What are they doing with this money? At the very least, we should be able to enjoy the park system and historical sites that the state has to offer. Otherwise, why would people choose to live here?

However, the biggest reason this fires me up is the message that it sends to communities. At at time when people are becoming increasingly out-of-shape and so narrowly focused on consumerism, our government leaders should be promoting park usage and quality lifestyles. We need to move our bodies and appreciate our natural environments. I understand that we need to stimulate the economy and job creation by giving business tax credits, etc. but at a certain point we have to learn that we can't just consume our way out of our problems. We have to start focusing on the quality of our lives and make decisions that will better the entire community. Sure, I'll continue to buy my kids toys and expose them to new technology, but I also want them to get excited about spending a few hours without all that crap. Even at age 2, the look on Gavin's face when he puts on his boots and knows we're heading out to the park is priceless.

I didn't mean for this to turn into a soap-box post. Believe it or not, I actually restrained myself. I could have gone on for several more paragraphs! I didn't even go into lost tourism revenues or increasing percentages of childhood obesity- I saved those arguments for my letter writing. If this is an issue that has you concerned- I encourage you to write to your own government legislators. This truly is not an issue for hippies or hard-core environmentalists. If you don't believe me, maybe you need to take a hike (literally!)


Anonymous said...


- jb

MBbbfish said...

I would love to know more of what one of your actual letters said??!! I heard that of the parks here in Washington... that two of them are Wallace Falls and Snow Lake. (base of Alpental ski area) TWO of the BEST hikes here...and of course Brian and I have done both of them. So glad you are taking the time to do this for NY. Like Julie said... "You go Girl!!"

Emily said...

This totally pisses me off – I’m so glad you’re taking action! The best part about living in North Bend is having several parks and hiking trails in every direction w/in 5 minutes of our house. I was devastated when I read about possible Mt. Si closures. I’d even be willing to pay a fee every time I use the park … but like you said the point is that parks are the last place where they should be trying to save money!

Steve said...

You are a modern day Theodore Roosevelt. Go get em Jenny!

But to be pragmatic, why do you think the legislature targets parks? I'm thinking it is based on low usage versus operating costs. What is a solution to generate usage or revenue to make the parks sustainable?

Steve said...

Oh, I thought of another reason.

Shutting down parks could be a way to get people to pay attention to the need to increase taxes or cut other programs.

By "saving" the parks the politicians can put in place cuts in other areas that people would have previously rejected.

What else do you think?

Jenny said...

It'd be interesting to figure out the math on how much states are losing on parks. I don't know how they exactly measure park usage - we visit these parks almost weekly and have never seen an attendant or signed in our visits. When I visited the NY State Parks' website, it said that park usage was up significantly over the past two years. This is in no doubt due to the economy. When family's can't afford to go on vacations or go to movies on the weekends, parks offer a great alternative for family fun.

To your other point, I guess that's the silver lining to this whole issue. I realize that I need to be focusing more of my attention on my local government. We may not be able to control what's going on at a federal level, but might have more influence over our local leadership. If we are not vocal about what we want our government doing for us, legislation like this gets passed.

Jenny said...

Oh and to answer your question on potential solutions, here are my ramblings:

It's been suggested to start collecting fees to use the park system. I'd be open to this as opposed to closing the parks.

I do not like the idea of park privatization. I like that these are publicly owned- by the tax payers of the state. If corporations wanted to sponsor a park, to help their public image, that might work.

Volunteer staffing has been suggested in many cases to help maintain the parks. Again, I'd be willing to volunteer my time to do this. Better yet, I'd love to see politicians out there with a shovel and chain-saw. They get paid a lot of money to be lifetime politicians and unfortunately spend a lot of time catering to lobbyists.

Finally, promoting park usage should be encouraged for many reasons. Keeping communities healthy and in shape has been discussed at length. Using parks and the outdoors, reminds us that we need to protect natural areas. Promote the parks to increase tourism revenues. Part of the equation is measuring the benefits that may not be fully tangible...

Jenny said...

As a follow up to this post, I should mention that the state has revised its budget and is not closing the parks. The budget was reduced but at least our voices were heard. It's energized me to stay involved with legislation that matters to me.