LI State Park Cutbacks
Some blame the economy. Some blame the governor and the Legislature. And others point the finger at Washington.
But whomever they blame, Long Island officials and parkgoers are unhappy that some Long Island state park facilities will be closed this summer and the hours at others curtailed to help solve New York’s budget crisis.
The Long Island parks region’s $24 million operating budget will be slashed by $1.6 million, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said Wednesday. That cut – the largest to any state park region – will hit Jones Beach and five other parks.
Area state beaches and pools will not hire new lifeguards to replace those who don’t return, and other seasonal employees will be reduced. Parks and union officials hope to avoid laying off full-time employees.
“We use millions of dollars in public money to buy the private Montauk vista of comedian Dick Cavett and then close the Jones Beach swimming pool because we have a government deficit,” said Desmond Ryan, executive director of the business group Association for a Better Long Island. “What is happening to our priorities when the taxpayer is shut out from using the public parks they paid for . . . ?” Suffolk County, state and town of East Hampton split the $18 million cost of Cavett’s 76.8-acre property last year.
State Sen. Charles Fuschillo (R-Merrick) said “families who are trying to save money in this economy by not going away on vacation will be relying even more on Jones Beach and other local parks. This is just another example of residents being forced to pay more to receive less.”
But parks committee chairman Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket) said “the parks department has done as best as it could without benefit of federal stimulus money” that went to all other major state agencies.
State parks spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee said the Island saw the biggest cuts “because it has the biggest budget.”
The Jones Beach East Bathhouse pool, used by more than 13,000 people last year, will be closed. The park’s West End 2 beach will also be closed. Caleb Smith State Park Preserve in Smithtown will close Tuesdays as well as Mondays. Caumsett State Historic Park in Lloyd Neck will close at 5 p.m. instead of 8 weeknights. The Heckscher State Park pool season is shrinking by four weeks. And the Hempstead Lake State Park carousel will close weekdays.
Some parkgoers were unfazed. Kyung Coon Kim, director of the Agape Nursery School in Flushing, which has sent children to the East Bathhouse for nine years, said “it’s no problem” because they will now use the West Bathhouse.
Edith Fox of Merrick, who goes to Jones Beach every summer, said she’s not disturbed by the cuts. “The pools we don’t really use, and we don’t use that field [West End 2] either.” And the East Bathhouse pool “was only open to the public on weekends and during the week just for summer camps.”
State parks regional director Ronald Foley said the state hired 496 lifeguards last year. He said more than 50 new lifeguards are usually hired every year to replace those who don’t return. But that won’t happen this year.
“I’m worried that there won’t be places for everybody” who wants to return, said Tom Donovan, president of the lifeguard union. So “job sharing and leaves of absence are two ideas we proposed.”
Paul D’Aleo, president of CSEA Local 102, which represents other park employees, said “a lot of summer seasonals are not going to be hired. The people who are here [full time] are safe for now.”