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Several state parks, swim areas to be closed

DCR tries to absorb major budget cuts

By Milton J. Valencia
Globe Staff / May 23, 2009
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As the summer approaches, the state Department of Conservation and Recreation announced yesterday that it will close several state parks and swimming areas throughout Massachusetts as the agency struggles to absorb budget cuts for the next fiscal year.

The announcement came in the same week that the department said it will increase fees, including parking at state beaches and other recreational sites, as a way to manage a 6 to 11 percent budget cut for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

To make sure residents still know about other DCR programs, the agency will distribute fliers and post information on its website directing park goers to nearby sites.

"It is unfortunate that this agency will not be able to keep all our parks and forests fully staffed this season," DCR Commissioner Richard K. Sullivan Jr. said in a statement. "But in these difficult and trying economic times, we remain committed to offering recreational opportunities to everyone."

Sullivan said the agency is seeing the same budget problems as its counterparts in other states, including New York, which will shorten hours of operation at some of its facilities.

In Massachusetts, the agency faces a funding loss of more than $13 million, according to the Senate proposal, which would reduce the DCR budget from $95.9 million this year to $82.8 million. Last year, the agen cy had a $99.6 million spending plan.

The budget cuts would mean that the agency will operate with about 330 fewer seasonal staff members compared with last year, representing a drop of more than 15 percent. Meanwhile, recently vacated full-time positions will remain unfilled.

Three DCR-run swimming ponds will remain closed this year because they have no lifeguards. They are Berry Pond in the Harold Parker State Forest, North Andover; Dean Pond in Brimfield State Forest; and Fearings Pond in Myles Standish State Forest, Plymouth.

In addition, the agency will eliminate staff at five state parks; Ashland State Park in Ashland; Chester Blandford State Forest in Chester/Blandford; Lake Lorraine State Park in Springfield; Streeter Point Recreation Area in Sturbridge; and Windsor State Forest in Windsor. Some state parks have swimming areas that might be closed.

The parks will remain open, but the agency will close its parking lots and restrooms to avoid having people congregating without staff supervision.

William T. Foley, president of the Springfield City Council, said the decision to close Lake Lorraine State Park will hurt an urban area with a large number of youths who count on the park and massive lake for summer recreation. He said he would lobby the city's legislative delegation to push for keeping the park open and ask the mayor and head of the city Department of Public Works to see if Springfield could do anything to help with staffing.

"Any opportunities we can have to give kids the opportunity to swim, play, is greatly appreciated in this city," he said. "Without that, it sets us back a little more."

Milton Valencia can be reached at mvalencia@globe.com.