Parkgoers who have driven to Jones Beach on the Friday before the Memorial Day weekend the past seven years to see a free preview of the air show will be in for an unpleasant surprise this year:
The dress rehearsal will now cost them $8 per car.
Facing a massive budget cut and possible facility closings, the state parks agency will be imposing the weekday entrance fee for the first time. Last year about 30,000 people went to the park on that Friday in 5,500 cars. The entrance fee could generate $44,000 this year.
"We have seen an increase each year since we've been hosting the air show because the public has become aware that there is a practice on that Friday," said George Gorman Jr., deputy regional director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "We wanted to capture that potential revenue."
The agency doesn't publicize the practice day because it is not guaranteed to occur and even when it is held, some participants, including the headlining precision pilots of the Navy's Blue Angels or the Air Force's Thunderbirds, don't always show up.
On each of the weekend days, the crowd averages about 200,000 for the Bethpage Federal Credit Union Air Show and the event generates a profit that is supposed to be used for park capital projects - but that is not always the case. This year the entrance fee will be $10, up $2 from last year, because of higher beach fees imposed as part of the governor's proposed budget. The fee jumps $2 on Memorial Day weekend, when lifeguards begin protecting the beaches.
The weekend air show is canceled in event of bad weather but the $8 fee will be in effect on Friday unless the weather is so bad that it does not pay to put staff in place to collect the fee, Gorman said.
Not surprisingly, the new fee is not popular.
"It would be more justifiable if they would give us a sense that they would be working to keep the parks open with revenues they derive from special opportunities like this," said Assemb. Steven Englebright (D-Setauket), chairman of the Tourism and Parks Committee.
Malcolm MacKay of Brooklyn, head of the Jones Beach Rescue Organization, a new support group, said "We really regret this extra charge, but on the other hand we recognize the state is in terrible financial condition."