By Arthur H. Gunther III
Any park in New York State -- Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a hands-on, folksy, decent fellow who hops on a hog and motorcycles throughout the Empire State, rolled up his sleeves and joined the second-annual “I Love My Park” volunteer cleanup this past Saturday. Good thing the state chief wasn’t at Tallman Mountain State Park in Sparkill. His Harley tires would have blown on potholes growing for at least 30 years.
Great photo op for yet another official on whose watch the great, terrible neglect of once-well kept parks in New York continues. Yes, Cuomo is in deep budget quicksand, but even in flush times, state parks were not sufficiently funded. Past governors and legislatures have cut budgets to meet overspending elsewhere and patronage projects. One bad example of this: In the late 1970s, park money was diverted to New York City to save nearly bankrupt Gotham.
At Tallman Park, where I was yesterday, vehicles could end up with broken axles and damaged tires because the asphalt pavement of the 1930s is in such disrepair. A once-grand stone shelter, built dry-set with no mortar by Great Depression craftsmen, has lost its windows. Its fireplaces are a mess, and there is still debris left from Super-storm Sandy.
But don’t blame the weather, though it ravaged this park and even more so Hook Mountain just up the Hudson River, where a long-neglected, trail along the shore was heavily damaged. Truth is, that trail was also hit in the great 1938 “Yankee Clipper” hurricane that took away a swimming beach and a dock for tourist boats. World War II came and repairs were delayed. After the war, very little was done, and now the main feature of the park is the neglected trail, left over from a former quarrying operation in the early part of the 20th century.
Hike up to Bear Mountain State Park, and the famous Inn’s dinning room remains closed, still not renovated after almost a decade. A fine hotel has been established below, and a beautiful gift shop, too, but the people’s place, the area in front of a massive fireplace outside the upstair’s dining room, is still not open to the public.
Applause, surely, for the thousands of volunteers who turned out for “I Love My Park,” but they cannot undue the damage wrought by uncaring administrations and legislatures over at least the past 50 years. Most of these parks sit on land placed in the public trust by wealthy families like the Harrimans, Rockefellers and Perkins. The trust has been broken.
Maybe other volunteers can form a conservancy and save our state parks, as was done with Central Park in New York City. Government failed there, too, bringing the Calvert Vaux-Frederick Olmsted place of genius to ghetto status in the 1970s. Guess the only green some politicians see is the color of money. Perhaps Gov. Cuomo can break the neglect and bring a “New New York” to the sad state parks.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.