Subscribe to the IHARE Blog

State of New York State History

History Advocacy: Should the History Community Advocate?

Adirondack Park Lobby Day

Once again it is time for history advocacy. It is the time of year when state legislatures normally are in session. Typically, a leading activity for them is the passage of the state budget. Although Covid still lingers, for the most part, life is back to normal. That means it is time for the history community to lobby our state legislators. Will we?


Let me begin with a gap in the lobbying efforts at least here in New York. The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) owns (but does not operate) 35 historic sites. In addition, it maintains a central location for the state archaeologists, curators, etc. NYSOPRHP follows the National Park Service structure of owning both historic sites and recreational sites. Obviously in these situations places like Jones Beach and the Grand Canyon experience greater public attendance than do any historic sites.

For several years pre-Covid, I have attended the Parks Advocacy Day in Albany. Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid frequently was a guest speaker at the event. During the presentations there always was a lot of discussion about state but nothing about the state historic sites of NYSOPRHP. We would hear about lifeguards for example but not education curators. I would mention this gap to some people and probably even wrote about it but nothing happened. Last month I saw Erik at the newly renovated Philipse Manor Hall and heard briefly about some of the things Parks was doing. That prompted this blog.

The following draws on the New York State experience which may or may not resemble what is happening in your state.

1. There is a New York State Historic Preservation Plan (2021-2026). This document is not a legal requirement. It is something NYSOPRHP prepares in conjunction with a report for the non-historic sites which it is required to do. If such a plan or something comparable does not exist in your state, I recommend advocating for one to be created.

Given a plan, how is the state organization doing in fulfilling the goals and objectives stated in the plan. I recommend an annual conference be held providing an update on the status of the plan including its successes and shortcomings. The latter would help identify where there is a need for advocacy. The conference even could be held at capital (in the morning) and then become the basis for after lunch meetings with the legislators.

2. According to the NYSOPRHP Plan, nine Friends groups participated in the preparation of the report. I have written about the role of Friends groups before (Friends With Benefits: NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, July 10, 2016; hard to believe it was nearly seven years ago!). Given the 35 historic sites, does that mean 26 sites do not have Friends groups? These groups serve as the eyes and ears at the local historic sites. Shouldn’t every state historic site have one? In addition these Friends groups should collaborate on a statewide basis. That would require the creation of a new entity or for an existing history group to include that function. These Friends groups would be the first ones to invite the annual update and advocacy day above.

3. According to the NYSOPRHP Plan, 16 site managers participated in the preparation of the report. Again based on 35 historic sites, what about the other 19 sites? Do they have site managers? In New York State, sometimes the site manager position or responsibility has been outsourced to the National Park Service or a private organization. Some site managers are responsible for multiple sites. That operational knowledge should be made public and included in the annual conference recommended above.

4. According to the NYSOPRHP Plan, inadequate funding was identified as the most critical item in nine of the ten regional economic districts (REDC) in the state and the second item in the tenth district. What are the specific funding lines in the budget that the history community should be aware of and advocating for given this inadequacy? Legislators want to know the “ask.” To lobby, we need to know the precise budget lines.

5. What are the staffing needs for site managers, educator curator, maintenance, and historic preservation at any central facility? Here again precise information is needed in order to lobby. This makes the conference in the first item all the more critical.

6. Looking ahead, what are the staffing needs for anniversaries of which there are a slew coming up? Besides the American Revolution 250th there is the Lafayette Bicentennial in 2024-2025 plus additional anniversaries for a particular state.

7. What are the educational needs of the staff? Does the history staff have access to ejournals and books? Are their dues paid for membership in academic history organizations (SHEAR, AHA, NCHE, NCPH) and attending their conferences at least when they are local?

8. What are the capital investment plans by the state? At the meeting at Philipse Manor Hall, the Park Commissioner informed us it was the largest capital expense for state-owned historic sites by the NYSOPRHP. What else is planned? Should the history community be advocating for more?

These items are the discussion points for the history community with the state history organization. Need-less-to-say, there are no state history organizations or venues for doing so at present. Even if we wanted to lobby on behalf of NYSOPRHP, we would not know what to ask.

Let’s turn now to two current examples.

We Need Your Help: EPF & HTC Advocacy

Here is an eblast I received from the Preservation League of NYS. As you read it, notice how specific the information is. This means the “ask” has been identified.

We have two important opportunities this week to make your voice heard in support of historic preservation in New York State!

1. Speak out against proposed cuts to Historic Preservation funding in the Environmental Protection Fund (EPF)

While the Governor’s budget proposal includes robust funding for the Environmental Protection Fund overall, a closer look at the numbers reveals a proposed $1 million cut to the Historic Preservation Grant Program within the EPF. This program is one of the few sources of bricks-and-mortar funding for preservation projects in our state, and the need is much greater than the available funding every year. To see a list of preservation projects funded through this grant program last year, click here, scroll to page 15, and look at the projects under “OPRHP EPF HP.”

We’re asking all preservation advocates to reach out to their state legislators this week; please ask Assemblymembers to contact Assemblymember Daniel O’Donnell, Chair of the Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts & Sports Development, and Senators to contact Senator José Serrano, Chair of the Committee on Cultural Affairs, Tourism, Parks & Recreation, with the following simple request: “Please do not allow cuts to the Historic Preservation Grant Program in the Environmental Protection Fund.”  If you know of a project in your area that received this funding in recent years, or found one on the list in the link above, please use it as an example of the great work being supported by this grant program.

2. Call in support of the HTC Extension and “White Elephant” Bill (A.2889 / S.4174)

Assemblymember Carrie Woerner and Senator Tim Kennedy have proposed a 10-year extension to the NYS Historic Tax Credits and additional provisions to facilitate the use of the commercial credit for the rehabilitation of large, vacant buildings (“white elephants”). We want to line up as many co-sponsors for the legislation as possible, to demonstrate broad support for including this language in the state budget. While you are reaching out to legislators regarding the Historic Preservation grant funding cut, please also ask if they would be willing to co-sponsor A.2889 / S.4174 to support the extension and enhancement of the NYS Historic Tax Credits.

Calls and emails on both of these issues will be most helpful before March 13. Thank you for your advocacy!

The history preservation community is generally much more organized than is the history community as whole is with its additional interests in education and tourism. Partnering with arts organizations may be useful in some areas especially depending on how the state legislature and budget are configured. In the example above, the state history organization disburses funds to individual history organizations as well. There is however no lobbying on behalf of the state-owned historic sites.

Nearly 100 people attend Adirondack Park Lobby Day in Albany

Nearly 100 people from 20 different Adirondack organizations met with 50 state legislators and their staff during Adirondack Park Lobby Day to advocate for funding and policy advancements for the Adirondack Park. A group of Eagle Scouts from Queens, NY took the bus to Albany to help the group make a collective case for Wilderness, Clean Water and Green Jobs, including:

* $4 million for a Survey of Climate Change and Adirondack Lakes ecosystems;
* At least $500 million for clean water projects, including road salt pollution prevention;
* $2 million for the Timbuctoo Summer Climate and Careers Institute, a partnership exposing high school students from the City of New  York to training and possible careers in natural resources in the Adirondack Park;
* Doubling and diversifying the number of DEC Forest Rangers;
* $40 million for open space protection, and $21 million for preserving farmland;
* $12.8 million for Forest Preserve stewardship, and visitor use management;
* $500,000 for Visitor Interpretive Centers at Newcomb and Paul Smith’s;
* $400,000 for the Adirondack Diversity Initiative.

In addition, the group urged passage of non-budgetary legislative action, including:

* the passage of Ecological Integrity, Wildlife and Open Space legislation in the Adirondack Park (Assembly 4608 by Assembly Member Deborah Glick) to mark the 50th anniversary of the Adirondack Park Agency Act of 1973;
* nominating and confirming committed, knowledgeable environmental voices to the Adirondack Park Agency this year;
* and passing legislation to prohibit wildlife killing contests (Assembly 2917/Senate 4099).

Participants included members of the Adirondack Council, Adirondack Diversity Initiative, Adirondack Experience, Adirondack Mountain Club, Adirondack North Country Association, Adirondack Wild: Friends of the Forest Preserve, Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation, Ausable River Association, Champlain Area Trails, Citizens Campaign for the Environment, Environmental Advocates NY, Essex Farm Institute, John Brown Lives!, New York League of Conservation Voters, Paul Smith’s College Adirondack Watershed Institute and Visitor Interpretive Center, Protect the Adirondacks, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry Newcomb Campus, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter.

Here again, you can see the specificity of the asks. The point is not the merits of these actions. It is that the Adirondack Council organized the lobbyists, identified the asks, and scheduled the meetings. Notice also that besides the money there is an anniversary in the mix.

This review of the NYSOPRHP, Preservation League of NYS, and the Adirondack Council highlight what can be done and what needs to be done by the history community in each state. Since the Adirondack region is bigger than many states, I will refer it here in state terms. If there is a comparable statewide effort in your state, please share that information with me and I will include in a future blog. If there is no such effort in your state, then there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

4 thoughts on “History Advocacy: Should the History Community Advocate?

    1. Ron, MANY could take on this responsibility. But keep in mind it covers zoos. aquariums, science museums, and art museums. I ‘ll mention it again to Erika at the upcoming MANY conference. Peter

  1. One explanation for why the Adirondacks lobby is so strong, is that former Gov. Andrew Cuomo placed a big emphasis on that area and was active in promoting it. It also has pockets of great wealth and residents who both advocate and donate. The Adirondack museum is a fine example of a small gem of an educational site. Conservation efforts in the area have been going on for well over 100 years. How can you argue with popular themes like conservation and recreational activity? Plus, economic development is needed in the region.

  2. I appreciate your attention to the New York State Historic Sites. NYSOPRHP manages all the State Historic Sites and operates all of them except for possibly one or two State Historic Sites. Parks hires qualified Historic Site managers, and in the central office of the State Historic Sites program there are professional curators, historians, collections managers, restoration architects, and archaeologists dedicated specifically to the Historic Sites.

Comments are closed.