State parks regional director Ronald Foley is retiring next week after earning widespread praise for his oversight of 32 Long Island sites during almost a dozen years.
Foley, 62, who supervised the region with the largest number of state parks during two stints in the position, is moving back upstate to Wellsville in Allegany County, the area where he grew up.
He hopes to remain active in parks management, either as a consultant or working for a nonprofit group. "I know I'm not done," said Foley, who said he and his wife bought a house to be near their elderly mothers in the rural southwestern corner of the state, where he grew up on a farm.
Deputy regional director George Gorman Jr. will serve as Foley's interim replacement until a permanent appointment is made.
"We will miss his leadership," said Rose Harvey, commissioner of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, "not only in the region, but across the entire state park system, where he has been a strong and respected voice."
Foley said "state parks were a part of my life from a very early age" when family outings were held at Letchworth State Park.
After beginning his public career as supervisor of the Town of Belfast in Allegany County, he served as state parks director for the Genesee region from 1983 to 1988, when he came to Long Island.
Foley likes to avoid public attention. But three years after he occupied the Belmont State Park office once used by Robert Moses, he left his comfort zone by proposing the closing of Robert Moses State Park rather than continue to make cuts at all parks to make up for a reduction in the agency's budget.
His proposal created outrage and demands for his removal. But eventually Gov. Mario Cuomo and the State Legislature came up with new funding mechanisms to reverse the decline of the parks and keep Robert Moses open.
Foley was called to Albany in 1994 to serve as executive deputy parks commissioner for a year. Then he worked as a consultant, for the City of Troy, and head of the advocacy group Parks & Trails New York before being hired as Suffolk County parks commissioner in 2003. He was named regional parks director for the second time in 2007.
"He's one of the few regional directors who actually knew about parks. He is a caring and compassionate person," said Paul D'Aleo, president of CSEA Local 102, which represents 1,500 state park employees on the Island.
Gil Bergen, manager of Connetquot River State Park Preserve since it was created in 1973, said, "He was a very fine general manager and a super person and everyone liked him."
Foley said that thanks to an increase in funding for rehabilitation projects, the Island's parks are in better shape than when he started, although staffing remains a challenge. He credits the employees for whom "it's more than just a job; it's a way of life."
Added Foley: "Being involved in something that somebody as terrific as Robert Moses built and sustaining it for people who need a break from their daily routine has just been a great honor."