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Cuomo appoints new state parks commissioner

Erik Kulleseid has been named the new commissioner

Erik Kulleseid has been named the new commissioner of New York State Parks. Credit: Mike Groll

New York State’s new parks commissioner will be Erik Kulleseid, who has spent more than two decades striving to expand and improve the state's parks and open spaces, raising donations and re-imagining ways to enjoy the outdoors.

On Long Island, Kulleseid, who is leaving the Open Space Institute as senior vice president, found contributors for the multimillion-dollar revitalization of Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh and the new nature center at Letchworth State Park in Castile, the New York City-based nonprofit institute said in a statement.

"I'm elated," Adrian Benepe, New York City's former parks commissioner said by telephone Saturday. Benepe now is a senior vice president and director of city park development for The Trust for Public Land, a nonprofit where Kulleseid previously worked for a dozen years.

"This is not a patronage pick; this is picking the right person with the right background,"  Benepe said. "It's somebody who really cares about parks. You couldn't find a more knowledgeable person about parks in New York."

Before joining the Open Space Institute, Kulleseid served three years as the state parks department's deputy commissioner for open space protection, the group said.

He holds a bachelor's degree from Yale University, where he also earned a master's in forestry. And he is a Stanford Law School graduate.

"This administration is laser focused on the advancement and enforcement of policies that improve the lives of residents in every corner of this state, from strengthening gun safety reforms and protecting our natural resources, to fostering economic opportunities that create new, 21st century jobs for New Yorkers," Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said in a news release announcing this and other appointments on Friday. 

Kulleseid succeeds Rose Harvey, who for eight years helped select designs and prioritize projects for Cuomo's 10-year, $900 million plan to restore many of the 180 state parks and 35 historic sites that fell into disrepair during budget crunches. Harvey also springs from The Trust for Public Land, where she held several leadership posts.

The new commissioner called leaving his current nonprofit post bittersweet. "Having the opportunity to build the Parks program at the Open Space Institute has been the most rewarding stretch of my career to date," his statement said.

His accomplishments include transforming Minnewaska State Park Preserve in upstate Kerhonkson, whose acreage nearly doubled in the past few decades, by restoring 10 miles of the carriage roads, and creating the six-mile River-to-Ridge Trail in New Paltz, officials said.

Benepe, recalling Kulleseid helped acquire much needed acres for open space and wetlands, from upstate to Brooklyn, said: "He's thoughtful, committed, fun, outdoorsy — all the things you look for in a park commissioner."

State & Region