Battlefield on list of N.Y. park budget cuts

Friday February 19, 2010

HOOSICK, N.Y. -- It’s official: The Bennington Battlefield is on a list of proposed parks and historic sites that could be cut from the state budget.

The announcement, made by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, includes a list of 41 parks and 14 historic sites to be closed outright, with service reductions to be made at 23 parks and one historic site.

Eileen Larrabee, a spokeswoman for the parks office, said that if the cuts are approved, it would save $6 million from the state’s budget. She said the recommendations from the office of parks to Gov. David Paterson’s office also include $4 million in fee increases at the remaining sites.

Closure means different things for different sites, she said, adding that "Every park and every historical site is unique."

No state resources

In general terms, she said that closure means that no state resources will be directed at the closed area. Roads will not be plowed, grass will not be mowed, trails will not be maintained, bathrooms won’t be open, and there will be no staff present. In some places, access will be cut off naturally while in others, where public safety or maintenance is a concern, gates may be shut.

Larrabee said the state is open to working with local groups and municipalities that have the financial and organizational means to take over some of the operations. She said a number of agreements already exist with towns and vary based on the exact situation.

Hoosick Town Supervisor Keith Cipperly said the town will examine the possibility of taking a role in the Bennington Battlefield’s operation. "We are at least going to try our best," he said, "but we have a lack of funding the same way the state and county do. You can’t get blood from a stone."

Larrabee said the office of parks is facing a $20 million shortfall and has had to streamline administration, put off purchases and delay maintenance where it can. She said 85 percent of the budget goes directly to the operation and maintenance of the parks and historic sites. "We hope that this is a short-term problem," Larrabee said, adding that the office of parks hopes to reopen any sites that do close once funding is available.

Last year, the office of parks cut back the hours on a number of its sites, including Grafton Lakes State Park and Cherry Plain State Park in Rensselaer County. The cuts irked county officials, as did recent word of the proposed closures.

"It is with great disappointment that I read the list of state park closures," said Rensselaer County Executive Kathleen Jimino, who indicated that upstate New York parks will be hit harder than those in the southern regions of the state.

"Making matters worse is the appearance that while our region has parks being closed outright, many downstate facilities seem to be having services at their state parks reduced though the parks remain open," she said. "In my opinion, closing our upstate parks while cutting polo grounds, shortening the golf season, and eliminating fireworks at downstate parks is far from equitable."

"Closing these state parks will only punish residents who are already paying outrageous state taxes and can probably expect to pay even more because of the chaos in the state government," said County Legislator Lester Goodermote, R-Hoosick. "Worst of all is that these closures will not reduce the state’s budget gap. This is an unfair and wrong-headed move by the state."

County Republicans said in a prepared statement that the cuts to Cherry Plain and the Grafton parks only saved $70,000, which they added was a negligible amount.

The Bennington Battlefield marks the site of the Battle of Bennington, which was fought as part of the American Revolutionary War on Aug. 16, 1777, in Hoosick, N.Y., located off what is now Route 67.

British and Hessian soldiers fought American troops and militia led by Brigadier Gen. John Stark and Col. Seth Warner. The British were attempting to capture an ammunition and supply depot in Bennington, Vt., but were defeated by the Americans and driven back toward the main British army under Gen. John Burgoyne near Saratoga, where they were eventually defeated and surrendered that fall.

In 2008, there was talk in the Vermont state government of making cuts to its own historic sites, such as the Bennington Battle Monument, a 306-foot obelisk which opened to the public in 1891 on the site of the former Continental Army storehouse the British had attempted to capture.

No cuts were made, and representatives from Gov. James Douglas’ office said Friday that no new cuts to the state parks are being considered.

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