Tuesday, March 9, 2010

No Trespassing: The Importance of State Parks

When I was a child, I lived in the rectory of Grace Episcopal Church Millbrook, New York where my father was priest. The house and the yard did not belong to us or to any individual but to the church. The property was clearly communal with people dropping in on various errands at any time, not just Sundays. Several times a year, everyone got together to work on maintenance. The kids had the special job of painting the rocks along the driveway.

Next door to the church was an abandoned estate known as Wings Woods. It had a gate house with a turret that looked as though it was made of candy and gingerbread and, much deeper in, a mansion (surely haunted) that was slowly falling down, creaky board by creaky board. This property was posted with signs in large forbidding letters: NO TRESPASSING. The Episcopalian version of The Lord’s Prayers asks God to, “forgive us our trespasses,” which caused me a bit of theological confusion. Later I speculated that Episcopalians used the word trespass for sin, because many of their members came from the landowning classes.

I longed to trespass in that wood (and did before my father eventually secured permission for us to walk there). To this day the Wings Woods remains in my memory an enchanted place. It no longer exists anywhere else. The land was sold, and the magical wood turned into upscale condominium development. Although walking in a State park does not hold the thrill of trespass, I have always been deeply grateful that once private estates like Mills, Vanderbilt, Clermont, Roosevelt, Olana, to name a few near me, now belong to the State, which is to say: me, my family, my neighbors, the community.

Last month Governor David Paterson proposed the closure of 41 parks and 14 historic sites, and service reductions at 23 parks and 1 historic site to help make up a state deficit of $8.2 billion. The NYS legislature may be able to mitigate some of these closings and reductions of service by approving a measure that would allow $5 million to be spent from the Environmental Protection Fund. If you are a New York State resident, I urge you to write and call the Governor as well as your assembly member and senator. The lawmakers have an April 1st deadline for voting on the Governor’s proposal.

There are many economic arguments to make against park closures, such as the resulting loss of tourist revenue, the vandalism and decay that would follow and cost more later. In this time of increasing clamor for privatization of so many services, I want to put in a plug for the common good. If we lose our public land, we all become trespassers, except for the wealthy. Or we will stay inside our little boxes, our apartments, our tiny back yards, if we even have them.

On Sunday I visited the newly opened Walkway over the Hudson. It was thronged with people of all ages and all racial and socio-economic backgrounds. Signs along the bridge gave information about natural and historic features of the area. People weren’t just out for a stroll; we were taking in where we live—and with whom.

In our State Parks, we are not trespassing. We belong.

PS: The first comment posted below is from Maeve. She forgot to sign her name, but those of you who know her will recognize her voice. I really should get her a google idenity. For more about Maeve.


  1. The Celts I knew did not have private property per se, but territory over which they and flocks ranged. which could lead to cattle wars and very long poems to be memorized by the bards. The Romans did have private property--and I was a piece of it once. We need land that belongs to itself. State Parks come close to that. They are there to be enjoyed by people, but not exploited.

    Eliz needed to write this blog since some places she loves may be closed. She was going to write about sex. Maybe next week she will. It's about time, and she has me as a close consultant!

  2. I don't live in NY but I'll send my vote anyway. How can anyone even consider closing St. Parks? Is nothing sacred? Dumb ass question, I know even as I type it.

  3. as a foreigner i don't know if my voice would count but i don't want to see more condiminums when i travel... i get to know a country by visiting it's trees and rivers and oceans as much as i get to know it through meeting it's people, eating it's food...

    how do you explain to congressmen that trees and wild spaces are citizens too? i am reading a book on ecopsychologly that you recommended - the salmon in the spring and i am immersed in the truth that our societies need wild spaces, contact with wild/nature to survive and that in order to continue to do such shitty things to our planet we need that separation...

    menstrual and moon-y and i just need to go an sit under a tree - i just want to make sure my daughters have trees left to sit under

  4. ps here is my note to your governorplease please please don't close the parks you are planning to close - it is a travesty to take away places where people can go and recover their sense of the beauty of the planet...
    to keep the parks is an investment in the health of your community.

    I am writing from New Zealand so i can't offer you my vote if you decide to keep the parks but i can offer you my perspective as a traveller/tourist... i would much rather visit parks and wild places than another condiminium complex.

    Please reconsider.

    Warm regards

    Jane Cunningham

  5. This is one timely and important blog. There have to be other ways to make up a deficit besides barring us from the places that feed our souls. I, who rarely write to governors or senators, sure made my voice heard on this one. Thank you, Elizabeth, for making it easy with your links--and for sounding the call to preserve these beautiful sites.

  6. I hate the state controlling land and beautiful history without a propper reverence and respect for it. I had no idea about Governor Pattersons proposals to close down so many wonderfully rich places. I think part of mans down fall or disevolution comes from not seeing our connection to everything around us and or where we have come from or others before us have come from. These sites are needed!

  7. One of the things Elizabeth touched on was the role state parks play in community. To see people out there enjoying the land (or the water in the case of the Walkway over the Hudson), and to share it with them, builds a sense of community: oh, we live in this together; this is ours!

    Definitely a needed addition to the perspective, instead of only: oh, that empty land, that uninhabited mansion--sell it off so I can make money on it.

  8. We are so very fortunate in this country to have lands set aside for all to enjoy. And, whether they are state, federal, country or parish, they are precious and vital.

    So often we hear tragic references made that strike fear in our hearts, yet, I venture here to mediate that common ground where government and the governed can stand equally for the advancement and care of those who can't care for themselves. If we agree that each tree, each pond, and every stream is a citizen, that they are powerless and, hence, require our intercession on their behalf, then, do something we must.

    However,if we allow labels to be attached to these movements, such as, social-istic, commun-istic, etc; we have raised an alarm of fear and often that fear does not allow us to go forward.

    If, however, we regard this as a step toward a better democracy, society, government by the people, whatever you want to call it, then we all benefit...not just the few.

    Write on sisters!

  9. It is so important that none of us take our access to natural places for granted, for it can be taken away so easily if we are inattentive. Thank you, Elizabeth, for speaking out on this ill-advised action of Gov. Patterson, and urging others to do so as well.