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OPINION: Support Long Island's own natural treasures

Jacqueline M. Lowey, former deputy director of the National Park Service, lives in East Hampton.

 

Ken Burns' PBS series on the national parks has pointed a much needed spotlight on our natural and cultural treasures. The series not only highlights the beauty and uniqueness of these incomparable places, but also shows how neglect, uncertain funding, commercialism and even overuse have threatened their continued existence.

The series should prompt us all to start thinking and talking more about our parks - including state and local ones. All are components of a collective parks network deserving of first-rate stewardship.

In New York, our 213 state parks and historic sites make up the oldest and one of the most magnificent and varied state park systems in the nation. And for those of us who call Long Island home, who wouldn't agree that Jones Beach, Connetquot River, Wildwood and Montauk Point state parks are unique national treasures?

The budget for the National Park Service is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the total federal budget. Here in New York, funding for state parks is not much greater - less than one-quarter of 1 percent of the state's annual budget. With so little investment, it's no wonder there's a $650 million-plus backlog of capital needs for essentials like roads and water and sewage systems.

But investing in our state parks makes good economic sense. A recent Parks & Trails New York report revealed that our state parks annually return to the state more than $5 for every $1 invested - totaling nearly $2 billion in economic benefits - with more than $400 million of that total attributable to Long Island's state parks.

We can't take our parks for granted. Any further cuts to parks operations will result in closures. So what can we do?

Visit Long Island's state parks. Fall is a perfect time to visit Hither Hills, Orient Beach or Planting Fields. Attendance guides funding decisions, and it's easier to cut funding and staffing if visitation is down.

Call or e-mail the governor and your state senator and member of the Assembly. They ultimately decide the level of funding. Tell them our parks need sufficient money for upkeep and operations.

Let's use the Burns series to remind us what can be lost and inspire us to take action here at home. We need to ensure that our state parks will remain New York's "best idea" for generations.

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