VOLUME I – February 24th, 2010
LOCALS RALLY TO SAVE JOHN BOYD THACHER PARK
ALBANY – You may have seen the features on the local news. You may have heard the outrage on the local radio air waves and you may have received the invitation to join one of the many Thacher Park support groups.
But all of these efforts echo one common message; Do Not Take Our Parks!
Recently, Governor David Patterson announced that budget cuts will force the closing of many state parks and for the past few weeks many locals have wondered just which parks would suffer.
Last week the list was announced and many 518 locals’ fears became a reality. John Boyd Thacher Park was on the chopping block.
Many of the Governor’s decisions have been questioned throughout his tenure but none have been met with so much backlash and outrage than his decision on the future of our beloved state parks.
But our voices can be heard. Your voice can be heard. We can all unite for one common cause and make a difference.
Many locals have taken those sentiments and have taken action.
In this edition of Fever Confidential we put the spotlight on Anni P. Murray who is the organizer of one of the largest and most popular groups on Facebook.
With over 8,000 members Murray’s group not only encourages petition signings but also organizes protests. Recently, Murray has received some local media coverage for her efforts.
Fever Confidential had a chance to sit down with Anni P. Murray:
Why did you feel the need to get involved in starting this movement “Save John Boyd Thacher State Park”
Just like everyone else, I found out about the potential closing of Thacher Park from Fred LeBrun’s Times Union article on the 14th. I was completely outraged and decided this was a cause I might actually be able to do something about. Two minutes later I was on the Internet making a Facebook Page, Twitter account, a gmail address and harassing everyone I know to join up.
Why is Thacher Park so special to you? Why do you think it means so much to others?
My fiancé and I go to Thacher every single weekend and hike for hours in all weather. We especially love the single-digit winter days with lots of snow to trudge through, when everything is sparkly and fresh. I work in an office park by the airport. Thacher gets me through my week. It keeps me happy, healthy and engaged with the natural world.
The history of the park is fascinating: Four hundred years ago the Indian Ladder Trail was used by the Iroquois to reach Henry Hudson’s trading post. In 1777, Jacob Salsbury hid from the settlers in Tory Cave during the Burgoyne Invasion. The Helderberg Escarpment is one of the richest fossil-bearing formations in the country.
Our state parks stayed open during the Great Depression. To paraphrase a Times Union editorial: “The parks aren’t just luxuries when times are good, they are refuges when times are bad.”
And then there is the principle of the thing: People need parks. We are animals. We need more than concrete, cars and advertising. How can you expect anyone to want to care for the environment when they never get to see it? People need to be reminded that they came from nature once. You can’t put a dollar value on that.
How did you go about building such a large following on Twitter and your Facebook group?
Honestly, it wasn’t that hard. People really care about the park and they jumped at the chance to be part of the campaign. I’ve done my best to be attentive, respond to people quickly and populate the pages with calls to action and useful information. I’m trying to be a reporter about it– researching the issue as much as possible, contacting everyone I can who has anything to do with the park and then publishing what I find. I’ve also tried very hard to be an organizing force. Social networking is great in that it allows anyone to get vocal about an issue but it can become a hindrance when too many people start their own pages and split the crowd. At the beginning, that was tough. Now, we’ve got our protest coming up, plans have taken shape and people are really rallying behind the cause. It is a beautiful thing.
I imagine that the feedback is pretty overwhelming on your Facebook and Twitter pages, can you share some of your favorite feedback?
Yes, if by overwhelming you mean awesome!
I love reading all of the personal stories about people’s experiences at the park. Marriages, the first steps of babies, senior skip days, family picnics – Thacher Park is a real community center and it is so dear to so many. I also love seeing people get fired up. The parks issue is a real microcosm for all of the problems we see in the government. It represents our quality of life. It demonstrates the fact that the priorities of the people and the priorities of the government are not the same. The government is supposed to work for the people. It isn’t. That has to change.
What are your goals with these groups?
First, my goal is to save the parks. If the way our tax money gets allocated becomes more transparent in the process, that would be wonderful. If our government starts prioritizing our natural resources so that we can all enjoy them for generations to come, even better.
Have you had any correspondence with local government?
Some. I have sent letters to all of our representatives and I spend a few hours every day making phone calls. Legislator Brian Scavo has been vocal on our Facebook page in support of the cause. I know we have some other champions as well. I’m really looking forward to meeting all of them on advocacy day.
If you were to speak with Governor Paterson for 5 minutes what would you say to him?
I would tell him that it doesn’t make fiscal sense to close our parks. Not only do they comprise a tiny fraction of the budget (four thousandths of one percent), but they generate money for the state. The parks and historic sites in New York bring in $5 for every $1 we invest. 55 million people visited these sites last year, up 2 million from the year before, contributing nearly $2 billion to the state’s economy. If these places close, the economies of the towns that depend on them will collapse. People will lose their jobs. Closing our state parks and historic sites will make our fiscal situation worse, not better. I would tell him that his priorities are all wrong. I would tell him that these priceless landscapes and ecosystems improve our physical and mental health and enhance our quality of life. I would tell him that making the tough decisions isn’t the same as making uninformed, wrong-headed decisions that hurt the state and its people.
The proposed budget plan seems to be upsetting a ton of locals, do you have any suggestions on a better plan?
Well, I’m no expert, just a concerned citizen but it seems to me there are many places in the budget where money is being mismanaged. $170 million dollars was allocated last year for legislative earmarks. These are non-transparent member items or pet projects, some of which are great noble causes but many of which are not (the Stuffing Pockets Project, for example). What about capping government salaries at $100,000, or cutting some of the funding for SUNY sports programs? I’ll never understand why a state school needs to be in division one, spending millions of tax dollars every year. And then there is the Tourism Marketing budget. Why are we paying to market New York tourist attractions when we can’t even afford to keep open the places tourists visit? Some creative cutting of these kinds of items could quickly round up the money we need to keep the parks open while inflicting minimal damage on the rest of the system. I have heard many other suggestions, all of which logically pick apart current expenditures and propose minor, across-the-board cuts that would save the parks.
The parks budget is such a small amount of money in the scheme of things, I keep thinking there must be some other reason Paterson’s going after them. I just can’t figure his angle!
Are there any other plans outside of the internet that you plan on utilizing to spread your message and gain support?
Absolutely. I’ve been putting up fliers and leafletting at the park. I’m getting a new flier together that folks can download and print up for themselves to post in their own areas. Then, of course, there is the protest on March 3rd. At 9:30 in the morning, we’re inviting folks who want to sit down and talk with legislators to meet us at the Parks and Trails NY office, 29 Elk Street, in downtown Albany. Those people should register (http://bit.ly/aDO6DB) so we know how big of a room we need. For everyone else, the protest starts at 12 at the capitol. We are still waiting on approval of our permit, so the exact location still isn’t settled. I will be advertising that as soon as I have it.
If a local wanted to get involved with your cause how could they go about doing so?
Anyone who would like to get involved should come join our Facebook group: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Save-John-Boyd-Thacher-State-Park/301652704530
And I welcome folks to contact me directly:
Most important of all, I urge anyone who can to come to the protest. We’re really working to get our numbers as high as possible. Let’s save the parks!