On February 28th a curious story appeared in The Daily Freeman. It stated that in order to close the State Budget deficit Minnewaska State Park would be shut down. After rubbing my eyes and reading a second time I saw that yes, this was what was printed. The next day Kevin Cahill’s office verified that the Governor had, in fact, proposed a budget which closed Minnewaska.
This was beyond absurd and action was required, so I formed a group on Facebook called Save Minnewaska; Albany needed to hear from us and hopefully this would be one method of getting people together. The first day the site had 15 members, mostly friends, but all were extremely upset and said they would let their friends know. Well, within a week Save Minnewaska had 7,000 members, after 2 weeks, 15,000. The term for this, apparently, is “going viral.” As of this morning over 21,000 individuals have signed up to be members of the Facebook Group Save Minnewaska. Since not everyone is a user of Facebook, we added www.SaveMinnewaska.org, where all of the important and breaking information could be obtained.
Save Minnewaska has received coverage in newspapers, radio and on television: among others, the Times Herald Record (front page) and WAMC’s Midday Magazine. The media were paying attention.
On Sunday, March 20, we had our first Save Minnewaska rally. It was in the parking lot next to Rock and Snow in New Paltz. Wow, what a gorgeous day—some said it was too nice a day, as many were enjoying it up in Minnewaska. Nature was cooperating and we had over 300 people, musicians, sign painting, many local business giveaways and some speakers.
The first person on stage was our State Assembly member, Kevin Cahill. I introduced him with a little story about a call I received from the Deputy Secretary of the Environment for NY State. The Deputy said that the Governor did not want to, or intend to, close Minnewaska. “Then why,” I had responded, “is Minnewaska on the Governor’s Closure List?” The Deputy explained that the list with Minnewaska on it was intended only for purposes of negotiating the budget with the legislature and was not intended for the public. It was Kevin Cahill who recognized the import of the possible closure and, wait for it … Kevin Cahill who decided to release it. Clearly he is the hero of this story.
Then we had Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, born and bred here in New Paltz, who could not imagine a world without Minnewaska for his children to visit. Next was our Congressperson Maurice Hinchey who had two groundbreaking announcements: first, that there is a law stating that any state park that accepts federal support is not allowed to close. And second, a bill just passed the House to study whether The Hudson River Valley should become a unit of The National Park Service. This could bring in needed federal funds to help run and maintain our cultural and natural treasures and, since Minnewaska has accepted federal funds, it might be required to remain open.
These are tough times, but even during The Great Depression we did not close state parks. And although our work is far from over, we are receiving feedback from Albany that they hear us loud and clear. The job of ensuring that Minnewaska remains open is not yet done. If you want to be heard, call your State Reps and the Governor’s Office. And please go to SaveMinnewaska.Org. Everything you need to know, as well as who to contact, will be posted and updated regularly.
So, after all of this, is Minnewaska really going to close? Not unless we become complacent. The stakes are so high though, that this is clearly a case where failure is not an option.