On March 5, I participated in Park Advocacy Day in Albany. The event was organized by Parks & Trails New York. As you might suspect, even though the term “Historic Preservation” is contained within the name NYSOPRHP, the state organization also is responsible for 35 historic sites as was mentioned several times during the course of the presentations. That being said, I don’t recall any specific site being mentioned nor any program or advocacy geared towards those sites. The advocacy day was for parks and trails and also open spaces (Open Space Institute was a cosponsor).
In the language of the sessions, what are the takeaways from this advocacy as it relates to the history community?
PARKS ADVOCACY DAY IS AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT THE HISTORY COMMUNITY SHOULD BE DOING
In this instance, an advocacy group headquartered in Albany organized a day of meetings between park advocates from around the state and legislators to discuss specific “asks” related to the upcoming budget. I think the free registration was about 75 people but the actual turnout may have been less.
The registrants arrange themselves by Park regions which are different from REDC and I LoveNY regions. I am in the Taconic group for east of the Hudson and not in the Hudson Valley or Lower Hudson Valley region which encompasses both sides of the river. There is a team leader. In the past the person has been from Scenic Hudson which has its own parks lobbying effort for this region; this time the person was from Parks & Trails while Scenic Hudson led the Palisades group west of the Hudson. There were 12 people listed for our group with three no-shows and two additions from Walkway over the Hudson which encompasses both sides of the river. Two of the people were from Open Space Institute as representatives from that organization were scattered among the 11 regions. NYSOPRHP also has 11 regional park commissions and had scheduled a meeting with the commissioners from each region for the following day. I don’t know if those meetings are open to the public or not. In our group, we had a commissioner for the Taconic region.
In the afternoon, we me with eight legislators in a series a rapid sessions. By legislator, this normally means a member of the legislator’s staff. The legislators included representatives from both the Senate and the Assembly. Parks & Trails schedules the meetings. They generally last about 15 minutes. As it turns out, a lot can be presented in 15 minutes. Needless to say, we were not the only ones wandering around the corridors of the legislative buildings. Other lobbying groups were easily identified by their shirts, bags, or uniforms. We had green scarfs. Some groups like teachers and libraries, both chartered by the Education Department as are historical societies and museums, turn out in huge numbers. They can overwhelm the place.
The individual sessions can be very cut and dry. Each session started with the team leader identifying the “asks.” In our case, the process was pretty straightforward. We were asking for items already in the budget and which these elected officials had supported in the past. It’s not like guns, abortions, or immigrants. Two of the asks directly related to historic sites although not couched in those terms.
One program with a $500,000 statewide budget is to support local Friends groups within the NYSOPRHP system. Previously, I have written a blog about “Friends with Benefits,” the private organizations that take up the slack for what the state does not do at NYSOPRHP historic sites. I wrote about some individual historic sites. Of course, not all historic sites have friends groups and the financial resources of these groups varies. This program is open to the friends groups of any NYSOPRHP and is not limited to the 35 historic sites.
A second program is called “Connecting Kids to Parks.” It has a $1 million budget to pay up to $1000 for the field trip costs to visit NYSOPRHP sites. In a way, it is somewhat like what the Museum Education Act proposed by MANY will do for any museum site. Actually, the listing of sites eligible for funding of school visits isn’t limited to an NYSOPRHP location. For example, one history site is listed: the Chittenango Landing Canal Museum. A few non-state nature sites are included: Maurice D. Hinchey Catskill Interpretive Center, Montezuma Audubon Center, and Constitution Marsh Audubon Center and Sanctuary. While these are all legitimate venues, one doesn’t need to be a rocket scientist to recognize that they are included in the NYS Connecting Kids to Parks program because of their political juice.
WHERE ARE THE HISTORY SITES?
The absence of history sites was manifest in the morning presentations. One handout, legislator, and speaker after another extolled the benefits of the NYS parks system to the economy of the state and the wellbeing of its citizens. I do not intend to dispute anything that was said, only note the absence of the historic sites in the discussions.
For example, one major highlight is the $900 million capitalization program for 2015-2020. A handout identified 16 items in the 2017 capital budget. All were recreational and nature oriented. Perhaps the list was compiled with this particular audience in mind and one wonders about the capital funding for historic sites.
The situation was made clear in the presentation by Rose Harvey, the Commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The first item she mentioned was Jones Beach. The second place she discussed was Niagara Falls. When she came to the end of her talk she said “Finally…” and mentioned one history-related item – the expiring tax credit for historic preservation. This item has been a major advocacy item for the preservation groups and will not be discussed here (note – there is a preservation conference in Albany in April). Perhaps at a different conference Rose would have spoken more about the state of the 35 New York State history sites for which she is responsible. Which conference? And what are the asks of her in that capacity?
The next day, New York State and Parks & Trails New York has announced $450,000 in state grants to 21 organizations dedicated to the stewardship and promotion of New York State parks, historic sites and public lands. Parks & Trails administers a funding stream from the Environmental Protection Fund separate from the REDC funding. As part of the packet attendees received there was a list of the awardees from 2015 and 2016. Examining the lists is of interest. I will focus only on the history-related ones from 2017 and 2016 as best I can determine them. In any event, I suspect many people in the history community are not aware of this funding source and should investigate it. Contact Sarah Braymer at firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the ptny.org website.
2017 [from a press release]
Friends of Clermont: $4,000 to create a planned giving program to raise funds to provide more programs, including marketing materials, a planned giving and named endowment policy, and training for the board of trustees.
The Friends of U.S. Grant Cottage: $19,500 to provide critical administrative support and focus on acquiring and maintaining sustainable income sources for the organization.
Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum: $20,400 to create a new education program entitled “The Story of the Water STEM Program: Erie Canal Connections.” The program will allow the museum to research water systems related to the Erie Canal and create STEM educational programming. Additional components of the new STEM program will be a summer STEM camp, and a “Story of the Water” series of talks. The new education program will enable visitors to explore how humans impact the canal water system today.
Finger Lakes Region
Friends of Ganondagan: $50,000 to fund the restoration and replacement of the Seneca Bark Longhouse roof using new, “flexbark/Elm Bark” roofing panels. The exiting roof is leaking and the new roof is necessary and critical to ensure the viability of the Seneca Bark Longhouse structure, and safety of the artifacts, reproductions, and interpretive materials housed within.
Long Island Region
Friends of Mills Mansion: $48,000 to fund the purchase of historically-accurate, custom-made fabric, trim, and as well as decorative trim, tie-backs and hanging hardware needed to reproduce the historic draperies in Staatsburgh’s formal dining room. These will replace the existing drapes that have been hanging for over 100 years and are in very poor condition.
Friends of The Old Croton Aqueduct: $27,200 to cover the cost of a coordinator to support the needs of the recently opened Keeper’s House Education and Visitor Center. The coordinator will develop and manage the volunteer docent program, including recruiting new volunteers to assist with all the activities at the Center and improve the visitor’s experience.
Mohawk Valley Region
Friends of Johnson Hall: $9,905 for of a historic floor cloth, a “painted carpet” for the Front Hallway of Johnson Hall State Historic Site. This reproduction floor cloth will help protect the original wooden floor from heavy wear by visitors, and will complete the restoration of the decorative finishes on the first floor of this site. Funds will also be used to produce a detailed color booklet, postcards and a website update to summarize all the restorations projects that have been competed or are underway.
New York City Region
North Country Region
Western New York Region
2016 [from a handout]
Central Region – $34, 231
Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum $5,798 for an education/visitor experience intern to study, document, research and host tours, produce a general Chittenango Landing tour, and create materials and videos for PR and museum education
Finger Lakes Region – $37,364
Friends of Ganondagan $19,239 to hire a program assistant to develop interpretive programming and events that feature Iroquois White Corn from an agricultural, traditional and food perspective
Genesee Region – $41,310
Long Island Region – $67,535
Friends of Connetquot $17,535 to develop new educational programs for the Mill Museum, videos, and brochures to complement the completion of the Nicol Grist Mill restoration
Walt Whitman Birthplace Association $25,000 to modernize exhibit space
New York City Region – $25,000
Niagara Region – $25,000
Saratoga/Capital Region – $78,000
Friends of Schuyler Mansion $30,000 for two reproduction Brussels carpets
John Brown Lives – $48,000 to hire the organization’s first paid employee for a part-time position to support the John Brown Farm State Historic Site
Taconic Region- $107,085
Friends of Philpse Manor Hall $14,875 to purchase audio-visual equipment and hire consultants for an oral history project at Philipse Manor State Historic Site
Thousand Islands Region – $39,475
Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum is an obvious favorite for grants as with “Connecting Kids.” It also was the recipient of a $45,625 grant in 2015 to upgrade the position of Executive Director from part-time to full-time to better serve the educational needs of the area and boost tourism. How many history organizations would love to have a grant like that?! Ironically that Executive Director recently left the position for one in the Oneida Community Mansion House. I am unable to determine from the website if she has been replaced.
I conclude this post with three takeaways:
- Parks & Trail New York provides one model for history community to emulate for a statewide organization and advocacy.
- Historic preservation is area worth investigating for its own organizations and advocacy efforts.
- History community asks for NYSOPRHP need to be developed following an analysis of what it is doing and should be doing.