On January 8, Governor Andrew Cuomo laid out his legislative priorities in his 2020 State of the State address. The Governor unveiled more than 30 concrete policy proposals, touching on health care, public safety, the environment, economic development, consumer protection, net neutrality, and the “scourge of robocalls,” among other areas, all organized under the slogan “Making Progress Happen.”
Perhaps the main takeaway was Governor Cuomo’s focus on environmental investment, a subject on which the governor has been criticized for not backing up his talk with action. To help combat the effects of climate change, Cuomo pitched his desire for a $3 billion Restore Mother Nature bond act, which would immediately allocate a decade’s worth of the $300 million annual New York State Environmental Protection Fund to support a variety of pressing environmental and climate-related issues.
The final details will be hammered out during state budget negotiations before being put to voters in November, but in his speech, Cuomo proposed the funding to:
Reduce flood risk and revitalize critical fish and wildlife habitats by connecting streams and waterways, right-sizing culverts and dams, restoring freshwater and tidal wetlands, reclaiming natural floodplains, restocking shellfish populations and upgrading fish hatcheries, preserving open space, conserving more forest areas, replanting more trees, reducing contamination from agricultural and storm water runoff, and expanding renewable energy.
Among the proposals are banning single-use styrofoam containers; investing in electric vehicles and electrifying upstate transit systems; and providing funds to retrofit homes and businesses to lower carbon emissions.
One of the proposals, which the Governor’s office has revealed in a press release three days earlier, would earmark $11.4 million of the state’s Environmental Protection Fund and the Hudson Highlands Conservation Act to preserve 2,000 additional acres of open space in the Mid-Hudson Valley. The land acquisitions would expand existing state parks, adding trails and viewpoints and protecting wildlife habitats, natural resources, and ecological corridors. This would be in addition to the nearly 2,000 acres of land that have already been acquired with $9.2 million in open space monies from the Environmental Protection Fund and Highlands Conservation Act, including land in Hudson Highlands and Minnewaska State Park Preserves and Schunnemunk and Harriman State Parks.
If approved, the proposal would expand on and improve six state parks in the region. It includes funding to:
- Add 633 acres to Minnewaska State Park Preserve, which is the third-largest state park in New York at 24,000 acres. The acquisition would add recreational opportunities to the north end of the park and protect several rocky summits, including Dickie Barre, Ronde Barre, and portions of Rock Hill, and a wilderness gorge through which the Peters Kill stream flows.
- Add nearly 160 acres to Schunnemunk State Park in Orange County, allowing a link to an anticipated public trail between the park and Storm King Arts Center while protecting the Moodna Creek Watershed.
- Add 112 acres to 22,000-acre Sterling Forest State Park, creating access to the Appalachian Trail from the western side of the park.
- Add 150 acres to protect natural resources at Fahnestock State Park, connecting it to a local Scout reservation that has a public trail.
- And add 965 acres to Hudson Highlands State Park Preserve, which currently has 8,900 acres. The additions would be two parcels: a 20-acre tract that would create new trail routes, provide new views of West Point and the Hudson River, and connect Arden Point with the remainder of the park, and the 945-acre Scofield Ridge, which Scenic Hudson purchased in 2018 and which is the largest remaining private inholding in the Hudson Highlands. The ridge links two of the region’s most popular hiking destinations: Breakneck Ridge and Mount Beacon.
“Scenic Hudson is especially delighted to ensure that the beautiful and ecologically important lands we protected atop Scofield Ridge will forever contribute to people’s enjoyment of the magnificent Hudson Highlands,” said Scenic Hudson President Ned Sullivan in a statement.
One day after the State of the State address, Kingston Mayor Steve Noble said that the state would use funds in the Restore Mother Nature bond act to purchase 508 acres along the Hudson River in Kingston and the town of Ulster, which Scenic Hudson bought from a private developer in October. That land would then be turned into a new state park.
In sum, more than 15,000 acres of open space have been added to New York State Parks since Governor Cuomo took office in 2011, and more than $900 million has been invested as part of the governor’s NY Parks 2020 initiative.
“The Mid-Hudson Valley is home to some of our state’s most breathtaking natural resources and open space, and we’re committed to ensuring these views and landscapes are protected for generations to come,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement.
Phillip Pantuso is the editor of The River, and has contributed to the Guardian, the New York Times, and Yes! Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @phillippantuso.