Pride of Place, Sense of History

Rose Harvey has a big job. As Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, she oversees 179 state parks and 35 historic sites, which are visited by 60 million people annually. 

Published May 16, 2014 5:00 AM
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pride-thRose Harvey has a big job. As Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, she oversees 179 state parks and 35 historic sites, which are visited by 60 million people annually. 

By Margot Clark-Junkins

PrideRose Harvey has a big job. As Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, she oversees 179 state parks and 35 historic sites, which are visited by 60 million people annually.  

On April 29, Commissioner Harvey came to Rye to present the Jay Heritage Center’s annual John Jay Lecture. She was introduced by David Yassky, Dean of Pace Law School, and Shelby Green, Associate Professor of Law at Pace, who honored Harvey with the Pace Law Medal. In her remarks, Harvey noted that both the Jay and Pace Law School had done important work in the fields of historic preservation and environmental awareness.

In her lecture, “Stewardship of New York’s Cultural and Natural History,” Harvey acknowledged that New York’s state parks had experienced “four decades of no real capital investment…four decades of neglect and decay.” But that is changing, she said, thanks to the efforts of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who recently announced he would dedicate $90 million in 2014-15 to improve and repair the State’s parks and historic sites. The “NY Works” initiative — now in its third year — has already distributed funds totaling $266 million to 81 parks and historic sites and 53 additional locations have been named.  

Commissioner Harvey, who has an impressive track record of environmental stewardship and advocacy, stated in a press release that the “transformation of our park system will enhance our environment, preserve our heritage, connect people with healthy, active outdoor recreation, and rev the engines of local economies.”

New York State has the unique privilege and problem of being home to sites of national importance, which are tied to America’s very identity, such as Ellis Island, the Statue of Liberty, and Niagara Falls. The task of protecting these sites, while making them accessible, is monumentally expensive. Jones Beach, for example, will receive $65 million this year, and $50 million in improvements to Niagara Falls are already well underway.   

We can help, too. Harvey explained the importance of Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives, which provide tax-credits to commercial investors if they can find a way to reuse historic buildings. She described the growing need to repurpose large buildings like churches, which were once community centers but are now abandoned. She pointed to the room she was standing in — the Jay Heritage Center’s Carriage House — as one very successful example. She also emphasized the value of volunteers who work at sites all over the State.

Perhaps the most sobering reminder to come from Harvey was the urgent need to communicate the value of our land and our history — our pride of place — to young people; if they do not connect with these sites, she said, they will not protect these sites, and funding will be all the more difficult to obtain.
Harvey quoted Wendell Berry, a living American novelist, poet, and environmental activist, who said: “You cannot know who you are until you know where you are.”

 

 

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