After years of disinvestment, the New York park system is receiving the funding it needs to address more than a billion dollars of neglected maintenance across the state’s 213 parks and historic sites.
Despite the much needed $89 million of funding received in 2012, thanks to a push from Governor Andrew Cuomo and an audit from the state controller’s office which found sections in the park in such disrepair that they had to be closed to the public, many parks are unable to operate in their full capacity due to crumbling amenities.
The state plans to spend upwards of $900 million on improvements by 2020. This is a much-needed turnaround after 2010 when the state budget allotted no new money for improvements in the park system, triggering a report to be issued with the Alliance for New York State Parks called, Protect Their Future: New York State Parks in Crisis.
However, most of the funding allotted to date is desperately needed to repair bathrooms, fix electrical issues, and pave roads—critical amenities—rather than to advance and improve the century-old park system.
Compare this current situation to that of the 1950s and ’60s, when a federally sponsored program called Mission 66 spent more than $1 billion between 1956 and 1966 to create modern infrastructure and improvements in the parks. The program created the concept of visitor centers and built more than 100 of them during its decade-long run. Architects like Eero Saarinen and Richard Neutra were commissioned to make parks a destination for architecture as well as landscape, and explore how the built and natural environments could play off of each other.
That is not to knock the recent bout of funding, though. Letchworth State Park in Castile, New York, received a $5.75 million nature center in addition to a new electrical system and amenities; Niagara Falls has $50 million budgeted for upgrades to pedestrian walkways, lighting, and landscaping; and Jones Beach, on Long Island, is renovating a historic bathhouse and preparing the area to adapt to rising sea levels.
Additionally, in January, the Excelsior Conservation Corps will launch its first group of 50 young volunteers who will work and live in the park system in exchange for a stipend. There are hopes that this movement is the beginning of many to usher in an era of the park system.