State Parks, the Adirondacks in particular

This week two members of the State Assembly — Tim Gordon (I-Bethlehem) and RoAnn Destito (D-Rome) — opined on the question of whether the state should close some parks and reduce hours in others in order to help balance the budget as proposed by Gov. Paterson.

In the Troy Record, Gordon argues that the parks contribute more to the local economy than they cost. “The Assembly and Senate have put forth budget proposals that address the deficit wihtout sacrificing the state parks,” he writes.

Destito writing in the Observer-Dispatch argues that park closings would harm the state’s tourism industry, citing a study by a parks and trails advocacy group.

By couching the problem in terms of the state’s fiscal deficit, both deflect the argument away from the real source of the problem which is that it costs New York more to operate its parks than user fees bring in. Their argument is based on the unsound assumption that it’s okay for taxpayers to maintain state parks as a money-losing operation.

While park fees have been increased in recent years, the notion that it’s okay to lose money in running the parks has prevented the state from implementing solutions that could have minimized the impact of the state’s fiscal crisis on the parks system.

What Should Be Done?

First the Parks should charge users based on demand. If I want a campsite at a popular park July 4th week I should pay a lot more than if I want that campsite the last week in September. By developing a system of online bidding — allowing customers to set the price not only for specific parks but for individual campsites, the state could generate user fees commensurate with the VALUE they are providing to the user.

Secondly the park system should not lose money period! If budgeting around individual parks is impractical, then organize parks into logical geographic groupings and require each group as a whole to breakeven. That might mean some parks may need to be closed because there’s not enough DEMAND to justify keeping those parks open. Every park ought to exist because there are enough people who are wiling to pay enough in user fees to justify the state’s keeping that facility (by itself or as part of a geographic group) open.

Those are my views, but I may not have all of the facts and perhaps there are better solutions. That’s why I’ve invited the commissioners of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Department of Environmental Conservation to participate in a roundtable discussion on the topic. Carol Ash, Commissioner of Parks, has submitted the first response. I’ve asked the Empire Page’s regular columnists to submit their views, but I welcome either detailed responses or short comments from the Empire Page community of subscribers and readers.

The Adirondack Park represents a specific case within the larger debate about the state’s “environment” and thus we need to look specifically at some issues relating to the Park, including how it is run, how we pay for administering it, etc. To that end I’ll be publishing shortly an interview I conducted with Brian Houseal, executive director of the Adirondack Council. Further interviews and blog posts will follow on the Adirondacks and the environment. Again, readers are welcome to participate in the discussion.

To further gauge readers’ views on the State Parks issue, our poll question of the week asks you to tell us what the state should do to keep open those parks the Governor proposes be shuttered. You can vote your view on our home page.

Last week’s poll question concerned legalizing medical marijuana. Unfortunately, this issue, like too many others, has gotten caught up in the budget debate. Instead of being judged on its merits, some legislators may be tempted to vote on the basis of whether we ought to do it in order to generate new revenues.

Sixty-three (63) percent of our readers said maijuana ought to be legalized for medical use; twenty-five (25) percent said no. The rest elected to stay “on the fence”.

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