State parks officials are scrambling to plug holes in their regional management team after managers of three Long Island parks took early retirement, two others left for new jobs and another died in the past few months.
"We haven't promoted anybody into these positions yet," said Ronald Foley, regional director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "We've asked people to voluntarily and temporarily step in to fill these vacancies until we get a plan for replacing the people who left."
Statewide, the number of park employees, not counting police, has dropped from 2,244 two years ago to a projected 1,861 by the end of December, not counting any additional layoffs, and from 435 to 349 on Long Island.
Park police numbers have gone from 304 to 247 statewide and from 80 to 61 on the Island.
Gov. David A. Paterson has said he will cut another 90 park jobs statewide by the end of the year.
Foley said it's not yet clear whether he will be able to replace any or all of those who left or whether he will be able to fill the jobs that the temporary managers left.
"We don't know what actions are coming, so don't know what the implications will be," Foley said. "Our goal is to minimize the impact on the public."
In September, Sal Buonomo, the Belmont Lake State Park manager, and his top assistant took early retirement. So did Nissequogue River State Park manager Vance Crippen, and the Sunken Meadow State Park's top manager Eric Broecker and his deputy. Gary Lawton, the director of environmental education for all the Island parks, also left.
Bob Nellin, manager of Wildwood and Brookhaven state parks, died this year.
Those top managers represented 266 years of state park experience that will be hard to replace, if the state allows the jobs to be filled, Foley said. "The number of years of experience that went out the door all at once is significant and probably larger than has ever occurred," he said.
The managers who took early retirement were among more than 20 regional parks employees who left because of the incentives offered.
Four of the 20 have returned as seasonal or part-time employees.