When was the last time you enjoyed a walk, hike or picnic in a park? Whether you’re a regular visitor or haven’t been to one of the state’s nearly 200 parks or over 30 historic sites, you may want to check one out on May 5 and show it and the environment some love.
Saturday, May 5, will be the first year of what organizers hope will be many I Love My Park Days. It’s a statewide effort to improve and enhance parks through volunteer efforts.
The event is sponsored by Parks & Trails New York along with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. It’s a chance to get the parks ready for spring and summer visitors, especially since many cuts at the state level means there are fewer employees to maintain them. The State parks system is down 1,500 employees, for example.
According to Renee Ludwiczak, assistant park and recreation supervisor with New York State Parks at Saratoga Spa State Park, maintenance needs in state parks and historic sites are “hard to meet right now” and due to those cuts, they are shorthanded.
`Our state parks and historic sites can’t thrive without dedicated partners and broad public support,` State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said. `I Love My Park Day is a great way for citizens to make a strong show of support for New York’s wonderful park system.
Laura DiBetta, director of relations for Parks & Trails New York, the private group that organized the event, said, “We wanted to do something new and exciting that would bring visibility to the entire state park system and give people a chance to be able to give back to the parks. We know that New Yorkers really love their parks as they showed two years ago when they were threatened with closure.”
The idea for the event had been percolating for a few years. This spring proved to be the right time to launch the effort and DiBetta added that it’s also a chance to remind elected officials that people the park system is important to their constituents.
The day will be host to over 30 local events across the state, and many will be helped by “Friends” groups that have formed in connection with individual parks. Those groups consist of volunteers who are dedicated to supporting parks in their areas, coordinating clean up events like I Love My Park Day and others throughout the year.
In the Capital Region there are Friends groups for many parks including at Schodack Island, Thatcher, Thompson Lake, Saratoga and Grafton.
Ludwiczak has met with the Friends group for the Saratoga Spa State Park who will be on site and working from 9 a.m. through noon for the day. The group plans on focusing on three areas for the day’s events including cleaning up the dog park, improving and clearing trials and clearing debris around the SPAC parking lot.
For the most part volunteers at all parks can expect to clear branches, debris and overgrowth along trails in addition to collecting garbage. Participants are asked to bring good working gloves, bug spray, a lot of energy and to dress appropriately. Refreshments and water will be provided at Saratoga Spa State Park as well as many others.
“We’ll also have T-shirts for the first 100 volunteers,” said Ludwiczak.
Dan Keefe, spokesperson for the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said the event is one that they welcome and he encourages people to get out.
“We hope to get parks in shape for spring and deepen people’s connections to their favorite parks. It’s important to people’s health and spirit to get out and exercise and enjoy the scenery,” he said.
He added kids in particular are easily connected to video games and electronics and this kind of event provides them a chance to get out and connect with nature.
DiBetta expects by the responses received so far there will likely be around 1,000 volunteers throughout the state participating, including those from scout organizations, schools, corporations and alumni groups.
“There has been a great response about it and a lot of enthusiasm. …I don’t know how many New Yorkers realize that the parks and historic sites are maintained by volunteers. Hopefully we’ll engage new volunteers by having this kind of event,” said DiBetta.
To find an event near you and/or to register to volunteer visit www.ptny.org.