More than 700 people gathered at a boisterous rally Saturday in Heckscher State Park to protest proposed park closures and reductions, saying the green spaces are vital to residents' everyday lives and to Long Island's history and culture.
State parks officials have recommended shutting 41 parks and 14 historic sites statewide in the fiscal year starting April 1, with service reductions at 23 other parks and one historic site as the state faces an $8.2-billion budget deficit.
Six state parks on Long Island - Brookhaven State Park, Caleb Smith State Park Preserve, Cold Spring Harbor State Park, Orient Beach State Park, Trail View State Park and Nissequogue State Park - could be closed as part of the move.
Five other Long Island parks may face cutbacks from closed swimming pools and picnic areas to reduced hours. The cuts and closures are subject to the State Legislature's approval.
Long Island is home to more than 20 state parks and historic sites that attract nearly 20 million visitors annually, according to the state parks department.
"The overriding message is 'Mr. Governor: Keep our parks open,' " Horsley said. "The bottom line to all this is that when times are of trouble . . . this is where people go."
Horsley also said that closing parks would save the state only a small amount of money while severely hurting people's lives.
Several in the crowd held colorful signs that read "You Gotta Have A Park," "State Parks, Not State Politics" and "Say No To Beach Closings."
Robert Fioresi said the proposed parks closures could mean an end to the East Islip Rugby Club, a group of 75 boys and girls, ages 15 to 19, who use Heckscher State Park to regularly practice and as a home field.
Fioresi, 42, a sales engineer who lives in East Islip, said if the closures go through, the team might be forced to disband.
"This is a place for these kids to shine and come out of their shells," he said. "[If the park closes] the whole program would fall apart."
Carol Jansch, 55, an avid bird watcher, is a member of the Great South Bay Audubon Society. The group meets regularly and takes field trips to different parks. Jansch, of Oakdale, a technical manager at IBM, said closing Long Island parks "would be detrimental to the quality of life on Long Island and local economies."
Lindsay Carpluk, 13, of Great River, said she too is an inveterate park user. She said she rides her bike, plays soccer, camps with her family, and often goes on scavenger hunts in Heckscher Park.
"I have a lot of memories here," said Carpluk, a seventh-grader. "It would be awful if the parks closed."