Catskill Park advocates step up their lobbying efforts in Albany

Above: A promotional video for the Catskill Park, produced by Catskill Mountainkeeper. 

The squeaky wheel gets the grease, at least in Albany. And until recently, the Catskills were pretty quiet when it came to asking New York’s legislature and governor for money.

That changed in 2013, when a group of organizations working together as the Catskill Park Coalition began heading to the Capitol in person for a formal lobbying effort called Catskill Park Awareness Day. The idea is to knock on the doors of legislators and let them know, in person, that the Catskill Park exists, and that it needs support in the state’s budget.

“Our goal is to encourage Catskill stakeholders to become advocates for the resources needed to make the Catskill Park more accessible and to increase NYS's commitment to fund capital improvements and stewardship,” wrote Alan White, the executive director of the Catskill Center, one of the Coalition’s founding members, in an email to the Watershed Post. 

Does lobbying work? In 2014, after 45 people came to Albany on Feb. 25, the Coalition declared victory in a press release, pointing out that the state responded to some of its requests, including preserving land around Balsam Mountain and funding the Catskill Interpretive Center in Mount Tremper and the Catskill Association of Tourism Services, which markets the Catskills.

This year, the Coalition is hoping to get 100 people to show up at this year’s Catskill Park Awareness lobbying day, which is scheduled for next Tuesday, Feb. 10.

The group has five requests for the state. The biggest one is new: Advocates are asking for $4 million in funding that will be specifically earmarked for the Catskill Park in the state’s Environmental Protection Fund, which funds cleanup, land conservation programs and outdoor recreational programs throughout New York.

No one has asked for specially earmarked funds for the Catskills out of the state’s catch-all environmental fund before, and White admits that it may be a tough sell.

“This is the first year we are requesting EPF funding and it may take a while to navigate through some very complicated politics,” he wrote.

The group is also asking for an EPF budget of $200 million. In his proposed budget for fiscal year 2015 to 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed an EPF budget of $172 million, a $10 million increase over last year. The budget will be finalized in June.

In their five-point plan for the 2015 lobbying push, the Catskill Park lobbyists are also requesting more funding for Catskills Forest Rangers in the New York State Department of Conservation (DEC), a set of land purchases including acreage near Bearpen Mountain and Spruceton, an additional $100,000 for the Catskill Association of Tourism Services for marketing the region and funding for a new Catskill Park Recreation Plan.

The governor’s proposed budget includes $11 million in increased funding for the DEC, and $12 million for soil and water conservation initiatives that are funded out of the EFP. Those funds may indirectly benefit the Catskill Park.

But locals want a more dedicated committment to the Catskills in the budget. 

“The Catskills region does benefit from some of the existing EPF lines,” White said. “But funding to help us build a modern park has proven to be very competitive. DEC does a great job of managing the Park with very limited resources.  We are asking for a new funding approach so that we can make progress faster."

For folks who can't make it up to Albany to lobby in person, the Coalition is asking supporters of the region to contact their state representatives. It's prepared a list of talking points on a dedicated website.

The Daily Mail has more on the Catskill Park Awareness Day, including an interview with Ramsay Adams, the head of Catskill Mountainkeeper, another member of the coalition:

“If we’re going to market this region — a priority of the governor’s, I understand — they have to figure out a way to get us money,” [Adams] said. “The Catskills do the best they can with what little they get.” “We generate millions and millions and millions of dollars (into the state’s economy),” he said, adding it would be only fair to get a more appropriate share back.