In the week since Thacher Park has been officially closed, local politicians and park advocates have been sounding off about the closure. Assemblyman John McEneny, D-Albany, and John Kilroy, president of Friends of Thacher Park both say the park is being used as a bargaining chip in the budget battle.
We are kind of as dumbfounded as the rest of the state that the governor went through with it, said Kilroy. `The ball is in the governor’s court. The governor seems to be using the people of the state as a bargaining chip with the legislature.`
McEneny agreed with Kilroy’s assessment.
`I think the people who patronize and need parks are being used as pawns in a budget battle, and I don’t think it’s right,` he said.
The closure of 41 state parks and 14 historical sites was first put on the table in February when the governor’s proposed budget included a $20 million cut in the amount of funding the Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historical Perseveration in the 2011-11 fiscal year.
Both houses of the legislature included a full restoration of funding for the parks in their versions of the proposed budget, however, the assembly, senate, and governor have yet to come up with a final version of the budget.
Since the budget deadline of Wednesday, March 31, the state has been operating on short-term emergency appropriations that provide for the bare-bones operation of state government until a permanent budget is passed.
Eileen Larrabee, communications director for the Office of Parks, Recreation, Historic Preservation, said that since the deadline, Thacher Park has been operating on a week to week basis, and with the onset of warmer weather, the staff could no longer sustain operations to meet the needs of the park.
`This is about the economic realities this agency, like other agencies, are dealing with,` said Larrabee.
`As a group, the Friends of Thacher Park are dismayed by the governor’s decision there. He is only hurting the people of New York state, and we can’t see how this is going to be good for New York state to close these parks,` said Kilroy. `Parks are money makers in the end. He has made a bad decision by doing this.`
McEneny said that although a permanent closure is unlikely, the current budget battle and temporary closure of the park could leave its scars on the future of the park.
`Sometimes temporary closures become permanent,` he said.
McEneny alluded to former Gov. Hugh Carey’s decision to temporarily cut back on the operations of the New York State Library in 1975, closing it on nights and weekends.
`It was a Mecca for downtown Albany,` said McEneny.
He said although originally supposed to be temporary, the library still operates on a nine to five schedule and closes on the weekends.
`The difference is, unlike a library, where you can close the doors, you can’t close the doors on the park,` said McEneny, adding that cutting back on park operations will leave open the possibility of graffiti, vandalism and safety hazards.
`I’m hopeful the park will be open after the budget crisis, but I’m worried the resource will be diminished,` he said.
Although Kilroy said a protest of the closing is not currently being planned by Friends of Thacher Park, Anni Murray, one of the grassroots organizers of the effort to keep the park open, said that certain groups are in the process of organizing a protest.
Murray, who spoke at the April protest outside the state Capitol, also expressed frustration with the legislators in Albany.
`It’s hard to understand how locking us out makes sense. … Now it’s just sitting there, falling to ruin as the legislators twiddle their thumbs.`
Murray said that a protest is being planned; however the details are still in the works. `We’re definitely not done fighting for Thacher,` she said.