Holding up a protest sign, Suffolk Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) led a crowd of about 150 people in Orient Monday in a simple chant: "Save our park. Save our park. Save our park."
Romaine had traveled from his office in Riverhead. For much of the crowd, it was a shorter trip.
But the way they measured it, it was a brief journey to show their support for a peaceful place they love.
Romaine agreed with them.
"This is a piece of paradise open to the public," Romaine said. "You don't have to be a millionaire to go here."
From the perspective of most of Long Island, Orient Beach State Park is an out-of-the way facility at the very tip of the North Fork. But, standing near its wide beach, Romaine looked in the other direction. "The closest active state park from here is 30 miles to the west," he said.
While there is no final list of state parks that will be closed because of New York State's still-unresolved budget crisis, state park officials have recommended shutting down 41 parks and 14 historic sites statewide beginning April 1.
Orient Beach State Park is one of six on Long Island that could be shut down.
Many in the crowd were local residents. Jim Duggan, wearing an East Marion Community Association tag on his jacket, said he had been coming to the beach for years. "I probably go to the pond [in the park] every day just to take a ride," he said.
Duggan said recreation and tourism is a big part of the economy at the tip of the North Fork, and that Orient Beach is a big part of what brings people out. "We've got a dozen bed-and-breakfasts in East Marion. What do you do when you come out here? You go to the park," he said.
People in the crowd talked about kayaking, or bird watching, or having a barbecue near the park's playground area.
Romaine said that Orient Beach costs New York State about $400,000 a year to operate, and that it brings in $300,000 a year. "For the lack of $100,000, they're going to close this park," he said, drawing boos from the crowd.
The park property was originally owned by Southold Town, and given as a gift to New York State in 1929. Town officials are reviewing the deed to see if it reverts back to the town, should it no longer be used as a park, local officials said.