Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Feb.28 announcement that the new state park on Ulster County’s riverfront will be named after renowned abolitionist (and Ulster native) Sojourner Truth should inspire more people to carry on her legacy to secure equality for all. The park’s creation — through a partnership with Scenic Hudson — also provides an inspiring example of the good that comes from strong state environmental funding.
In her executive budget, the governor seeks to increase this funding via a $100-million increase to the Environmental Protection Fund and by adding $1 billion to the Clean Water, Clean Air and Green Jobs Environmental Bond Act. If passed, they would make game-changing investments in confronting the climate crisis, improving drinking water quality, and reversing decades of environmental injustice.
A budget item that gets less attention is capital funding for state parks, critical for maintaining 215 parks and historic sites and creating new places to connect people with New York’s natural and cultural treasures. Gov. Hochul has proposed $200 million, an $80 million increase, signaling her recognition of the vital role parks play in promoting public health, providing jobs, and sustaining local economies. However, I urge the Legislature to make an even stronger investment, increasing capital funding to $300 million.
While the pandemic caused a surge in state park visitation — including an all-time high of 78 million visitors in 2021 — attendance had been growing steadily pre-COVID, up over 40 percent since 2008. Making these parks safer and more welcoming is critical for sustaining this influx.
Additional funding will help overcome a $1 billion backlog in deferred maintenance and allow for construction of new amenities to meet growing demand, like restoring the beach at Harriman State Park’s Sebago Lake. This once-popular swimming spot has been closed since devastating storms in 2012. Its reopening would alleviate overcrowding and ecological damage at the park’s other beaches.
Economically, growing state park capital funding makes sense. For every $1 New York spends on its parks, the state economy enjoys a $9 boost, via purchases made in nearby restaurants, shops, and lodging. Increased funding also will allow for investment in critical infrastructure, improving visitor experience and providing jobs, clean drinking water, and improved safety.
For example, the planned linear riverfront park in Putnam and Dutchess counties, spearheaded by the non-profit Hudson Highlands Fjord Trail Inc., unites Hudson Highlands State Park with a Metro-North Railroad stop, a New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection water facility, and a hugely popular trailhead. State capital funding is essential to match significant private funds to complete the trail’s first phase — reducing safety risks at Breakneck Ridge, one of the valley’s premier hiking destinations, where a snarl of road traffic and pedestrian hazards has plagued the trailhead for years. It would upgrade the rudimentary Metro-North station nearby, averting future hiker fatalities and injuries. A bridge across the tracks would provide safe passage for pedestrians and allow vehicle access for renovation and maintenance of a DEP facility essential for transporting drinking water from Catskills reservoirs to New York City.
I applaud the governor’s commitment to growing capital funding for state parks. By increasing her proposed investment to $300 million, the Legislature can further ensure that New York’s parks will remain among the nation’s finest for years to come.
Ned Sullivan is president of Scenic Hudson, an environmental organization based in Poughkeepsie.
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