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Could Public-private Partnerships Save NY State Parks?

Knox Farm State Park

No Walk in the Park

In response to Governor David Paterson’s plan to save New York State $6.5 million by cutting funding to state parks, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said this week that corporate sponsorships could be the answer. Levy is a Democrat who has said he would turn Republican if it would help his run for governor this year.

“Creating a public private partnership may be an ideal way to allow our residents to enjoy the parks this summer,” he is quoted as saying in an Associated Press article.

One example of a public-private partnership already in place is that of Delaware North Companies in their capacity as operators of the swank Gideon Putnam Resort, located in Saratoga Spa State Park. Rooms there start at $131 for two, or you can get the $409 “Share the Romance” package that includes one night of lodging, dinner for two on your night of arrival, breakfast for two, a bottle of wine served in Gideon Putnam wine glasses, chocolate-covered strawberries, and a Swedish massage for two.

A 40-minute mineral bath at the famous Roosevelt Spa is $30 extra, or you can order “The Roosevelt Indulgence” spa package from $315. Be forwarned: “The Finishing Touch” will run you $65 more.

In order for the state to save $6.5 million, it would have to close 41 parks and 14 historic sites. There would be a cutback in services at 24 others. Saratoga Spa State Park is not on the list.

But around here, the proposal would reduce interpretive programs at Niagara Falls State Park. It would also close Joseph Davis State Park, Wilson-Tuscarora State Park, Woodlawn Beach State Park, and Knox Farm State Park.

While it’s nice for the public to be able to swim at Woodlawn Beach, and Wilson-Tuscarora State Park is nice for picnics, and Joseph Davis State Park is beloved by Frisbee golf enthusiasts, what is surely most concerning to members of a certain class is surely the threatened closing of Knox Farm State Park.

Knox Farm has been a state park for less than a decade. Located in East Aurora, the land was formerly owned by the Knox family—of Woolworth, Albright-Knox, and Buffalo Sabres fame. In late 1999, there were murmurs that the estate, assessed at $2.5 million at the time, might be sold to the state and made into a park.

The state finally came up with $5.1 million to buy it. It opened to the public in June 2002. Jean Knox, who’d been named chairwoman of the Niagara Frontier State Parks Commission by Governor George Pataki in 2000, remained on, living in the mansion there.

Over the years, there has been public debate about the accessibility of the park to the public. There have always been restrictions around the buildings and equestrian center. There is an area there that continues to be used by a soccer league. But every champagne-gargling member of the Buffalo Club should be choking on his caviar when he considers the effect Knox Farm State Park’s closing might have on the Tea Brook Polo Club, which holds its home matches there.

Although the horses are in Florida at the moment, summer is on its way, and the club will need a field to play on. And let’s face it—you’re going to need a place to wear that new white linen suit.

Here’s what you can do to help: Have your chauffeur contact Governor Paterson on speed dial. Tell him you will not stand for his outrageous plan to close Knox Farm State Park. Thank him for sparing Saratoga Spa State Park, and tell him you’ll see him at Saratoga for the Travers Stakes in August.

But on second thought, closing Knox Farm might be a good way to get back a little privacy that was lost when the state opened it up to…well, everyone.

Never mind, Belvedere, hang up the phone. Fetch me my mallet and pour me a mint julep. This should be the most enjoyable summer of polo since they started letting those damn bicyclists and birdwatchers in.

buck quigley

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