John Boyd Thacher State Park is slated to close as a result of reductions in the 2010-2011 executive budget.
The announcement came Friday, Feb. 19, from the governor’s office just two days after officials from the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Preservation said that no definitive decisions had been made on which parks, or how many parks will have to be closed as a result of the 20 percent cut the office took in the proposed 2010-2011 budget.
On Wednesday, Feb. 17, Dan Keefe, deputy public information officer for the parks office, said there were no specific parks singled out for closure.
Reports of specific park closings are inaccurate and misleading to the public, said Keefe at the time.
However, later that week, the governor’s office released a statement that said 41 parks and 14 historic sites will be closed in the 2010-2011 fiscal year, including Thacher Park.
`In an environment when we have to cut funding to schools, hospitals, nursing homes and social services, no area of state spending, including parks and historic sites, could be exempt from reductions,` said Gov. David A. Paterson, in the release.
In same release, Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Preservation Commissioner Carol Ash said that in light of needed reductions in the 2010-2011 executive budget, the parks office put forward proposed closures and service reductions to meet its agency savings target.
`These actions were not recommended lightly, but they are necessary to address our state’s extraordinary fiscal difficulties,` said Ash.
Following the governor’s announcement, Keefe said the process in determining which parks would be closed was an imperfect one. `We looked at attendence, operation costs and availablity of other parks and recreation in the area,` said Keefe.
He said the office stands to save $255,000 through the closing of Thacher Park.
The prospect of the park closing has already drawn a tremendous public outcry.
John Kilroy, president of the group `Friends of Thacher Park,` said `If you think about it, this place has a big history, not only with Albany County, but also with the families of Albany County. This really is the crown jewel of the Capital Region,` he said.
He also said that Thacher provides a needed respite for many people struggling with hard times.
`Think about how many people are out of work and can’t afford a vacation. They can go up to Thacher Park, relax, and have a good time,` said Kilroy.
Online networking Web sites have helped the movement against the closing of the park pick up steam. The Facebook group `Save John Boyd Thacher Park` has attracted more than 5,000 fans in less then a week.
`People need parks,` said the founder of that group, Anni Murray of Albany. `We are animals. We need more than concrete, cars and advertising. How can you expect anyone to want to care for the environment when they never get to see it? People are extremely attached to this park and have jumped at the chance to be part of the campaign to save it.`
Another Facebook group, `2,000 to Save Thacher Park` has already registered more than 23,000 fans in less than a week.
The fate of the state-run parks will depend largely on the enacted budget for the 2010-2011, which is now in the hands of the legislature, and is scheduled to be voted on by Wednesday, March 31.
`We have voiced our concerns to the governor, and the Parks Department, closing Thacher Park would have a tremendous affect on the people of the Capital Region,` said Sen.Neil Breslin D-Delmar.
He said the park serves people from all walks of life, and is a popular location for school trips.
Breslin also said the park shouldn’t be closed for more practical reasons.
`It runs on a state road. They aren’t going to close the road down,` he said, referring to Route 157, which runs northward from the park’s southern entrance in the Town of New Scotland, to the park’s northern entrance in the Town of Knox.
Assemblyman John McEneny was unavailable to comment, but according to information from his office, one of his top priorities in his budget letter to Speaker Sheldon Silver was to keep state parks open.
According to Murray, a protest of the potential closing of Thacher Park is being planned for Wednesday, March 3, outside the capitol building.