Donations will save Orient park

05/20/2010 12:00 AM |

A protester at Orient Beach State Park in March delivered a message that has won the day, as the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has granted a reprieve and plans to keep the park open this year thanks to private donations.

Orient Beach State Park lives for another season.

It was only two months ago on a cold and windy day that 150 people rallied at the park to protest its closing this summer due to state budget cuts. Speakers promised to seek corporate saviors or have Southold Town or the people of Orient take over the park if the state closed it. But until last weekend, it was uncertain whether any of those pledges had borne fruit.

George Gorman, deputy regional director for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, this week confirmed that the park will stay open this summer because money has been found to close a $75,000 budget gap.

He said he has one organization that has kicked in $25,000 and some corporate donors on the line with promises to pay the additional $50,000. He doesn’t want to identify them until the gifts are in hand, he said.

As for whether or not that means salvation or just a one-year reprieve, nobody’s talking.

Parks officials have been trying to work with a $29 million cut in state funding that resulted from Gov. David Paterson’s efforts to close a $9 billion gap. With the budget still in limbo, no one knows if the legislature might restore any of the funding to the parks department, parks commissioner Carol Ash said in a speech in early April.

But park officials know that their department will be no different from all others in having to take a deep hit in funding this year, Ms. Ash said. To increase revenues, officials have increased greens fees at state golf courses and parking fees at beaches, and they have put a surcharge on campsites rented by out-of-state visitors.

Initially, the parks department was planning on shutting down 41 parks and 14 historic sites statewide, according to department spokesman Eileen Larrabee.

Since word came in February that Orient Beach State Park was among 10 Long Island state parks targeted for closing, residents and politicians have been protesting.

At the March 1 rally at Orient State Beach Park, the event’s organizer, Suffolk County Legislator Ed Romaine, said, “If the state doesn’t come to its senses, the people of Orient will take back what is theirs.”

When the land was turned over to the state in 1929 by the people of Orient, it was with a proviso that it remain open for public use, Southold Town Councilman Albert Krupski Jr. said. He recommended that the town look into taking the land back if the state were to default on its commitment to maintain the park.

At the rally, Quintessentials Bed and Breakfast owner Sylvia Daley talked about how important the park is to her business. Visitors come to the East End and want to spend time at the state park, she said. Because it’s one of the main attractions her guests value on their visits, “Shutting down this park is shutting down revenues,” she said.

Others worried that the pristine parkland, if left unattended, would become a dumping ground for garbage.

When Mr. Romaine recently learned that Orient had been struck from the list of parks slated to close this year, he issued a written statement:

“I am pleased to see this park will remain open as Orient State Park is an integral part of the North Fork that creates a great deal of economic activity beneficial to local residents. The people of Orient turned this park over to the State of New York for enjoyment by all residents of our state and as such, this park should have never been included among those being considered for closure,” he said.

Had the park closed, the nearest open state park would have been Wildwood, more than 30 miles west. Orient Beach State Park director Sue Wuehler wasn’t available for comment. She would have faced transfer to another park had Orient closed.

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