The Parks of New York

When most New Yorkers think of the pride of our state, the state park system doesn't always come to mind. Sure, the Adirondack and Catskill parks are awesome, but the humble little parks, like Chenango Valley, Green Lakes, Bowman Lakes or the Conesus Lake Boat Launch, often simply blend into the landscape.

However, as I looked into them more, I have come to realize that we have a true gem here in our state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. There are 306 units within the system, the largest of any state in the Union. For comparison, the next highest is California (278 units) and the lowest are Louisiana (19 units) and Delaware (14 units). The national average is 65 (did the counting and math myself [1]). While the Office is the trustee for parks, beaches, boating facilities, historic sites and golf courses, the 306 does not include: the Adirondack or Catskill Parks (administered by the DEC), our State Forests and wildlife preserves.

New York is the home to the first state park (the Niagara Reservation) and the largest state park (the Adirondacks, which, at 6 million acres, is roughly the size of Massachusetts) in the United States. The Adirondack and Catskill parks are the only Constitutionally protected lands in the world, a status that has been renewed several times over the years. The simple number "306" also does not reveal a long history of expanding existing parks (further committment).

What makes New Yorkers so fond of state parks? Perhaps a more accurate question would be, why would New York's elected officials believe that building and expanding parks would win them votes? What makes New York different?

Is it because of the City? Well, that probably has some effect (the ADK probably wouldn't exist without it), but there are other great cities, like Chicago and LA, that don't have similar park systems.

Another possible excuse might be our lack of national parks and forests, like many western cities and states have. But that still doesn't explain Massachusetts (45 parks), Illinois (54) or Virginia (43).

In the end I believe that there is something special about New York, it's unique combination of Upstate natural abundance and Downstate wealth and population, combined with a shared love of wide open spaces, that has made New York, for over a century, the leader in park creation. Heck, often times our Republicans (e.g. Rockefellar and Pataki) are the biggest proponents and expanders of the system. Despite the State's problems, no-one speaks of selling off or closing down the parks, that would be political suicide; in fact, we're still establishing more.

What are your thoughts on the myriad of state-owned recreational areas here in Upstate New York? Do we have enough parks? Do parks have drawbacks or are they an "always win" situation? Why do you think we have such a bounty of them in comparison to other states? I look forward to your thoughts.

-Posted by Jesse

[1] Which confirms my suspicion that I really need to get out of this town.


Jesse's back

Hello everyone,
After a two-week-and-some-change trip to Turkey, I'm back and ready to get back into the swing of blogging. I've been following Natalie's posts and I've been nothing but astounded at the difference that having a computer at home makes for her participation. I've been getting ideas together in my mind for posts on maple syrup production, Upstate manhunts, the interpretation of historic houses and this fantastic ice cream place I went to in Richford. Can't wait to hear your comments.


New York Politics: New Linkage

Here at York Staters, we don't deal much with individual political races, but we understand that especially in an election year, it's worth being at least somewhat informed. So we're adding some new links.

On the sidebar, you'll notice a New York Political Blogs catagory, which is for blogs addressing (you guessed it) New York State politics! There are a lot of political and election-year blogs around (along the lines of "Elect or Get Rid Of [Insert Political Candidates Name Here]") but we'd like to showcase some sources of information focused on statewide politics.

Thus far the links are:

Room Eight is a cooperative weblog about state politics, with BuffaloPundit currently repping upstate as a contributer.

Empire Zone is a New York Times endeavor which is chronicling election year politics in graphic detail. NYCO's comment: "
Welcome to the party, New York Times! We’ve already torn through all the chips and drunk all the beer, but you’re welcome to what we didn’t get to! Looking forward to that expansive I-87 perspective."

ReformNY NYU's Brennan Center for Justice now has a blog about New York State law and policy.

Any questions, comments, additions, subtractions, divisions, submissions or suggestions can be sent to york.staters@gmail.com

Posted by Natalie


New York Times Says Youth Flight Causes Alarm; Upstate Says "Duh!"

Until recently, it has been unusual for the New York Times to cast its eye upwards. Suddenly, Upstate is on their radar, and I for one am fine with that. It's can't be a bad thing to let downstate and the rest of the world know what we've known for a long time.

Check out the NYT article on youth flight, the NYT article on the upstate economy as an election issue, NYCO's analysis, and previous York Staters posts on youth flight and brain drain.

Posted by Natalie


Flag Day Festivities in Hudson, NY

The City of Hudson, NY takes their Flag Day pretty seriously. In addition to the parade (pictured below) there is a fireworks display at the waterfront after dark. Despite the unseasonably chilly weather, it was a well-attended, vibrant celebration. Organizations, bands, and emergency service vehicles participated in the parade from all over the southern part of Columbia County, and even some from Greene County across the river. The parade route went down Warren Street, the city's main thoroughfare and the place most changed by Hudson's recent resurgence as an antique destination.

It's worth noting, perhaps, that Hudson's population is economically diverse. There are those who are part of the city's gentrification, and there is the more hard luck populace, I guess you could say, as there are still some gritty parts of Hudson. The sector of Hudson's population that seems the most threatened are the elder statesmen and those who remember Hudson in a different time, the type of working/middle class folk who fill the ranks of the Masons and the Shriners and The Order of the Star, many of whom were in the parade yesterday.

Posted by Natalie


What's in a Name No.6: Niskayuna

I've heard the place name "Niskayuna" around, specifically during this week's WAMC fund drive as the locations of donating parties were announced, and it has piqued my curiosity.* What kind of name is Niskayuna? It looks and sounds like a name better suited to a Japaneses island than an upstate town. So I decided to investigate.

Niskayuna is the name of both a township and a hamlet in Schenectady county on the Mohawk River, formed from Watervilet in Albany County in 1809. The name in the region is a much longer history, from when the area was settled in the the late 17th century by the Dutch, and prior to that was home to the a tribe known as Conistigione (also spelled Canastagione, and about five other ways on early deeds.) This word, in its many spellings and variations, is also noted in histories of the area as the Indian word meaning "extensive corn flats" from which the town's name is somehow derived. [1] Other sources indicate that the word "Niskayuna" means "extensive corn flats" and that the Conistigione was the name of the place before Niskayuna, and was named after the tribe of Indians (who themselves were named Canastagione because they spent too much time playing Canasta) [2] A Shaker community that settled in the area where the Albany Airport is currently called their settlement Niskayuna.

It seems unlikely at first that the name Niskayuna could be derived from a word like Casnastagione (or one of it's variants) but it could indeed be the case if you use your imagination. A patent for the area granted in the early 18th century is called the Nestigione Patent, and this term may be the missing link between the two words, especially considering the lack of standardized spelling into the 19th century. [3] Albany resident Herman Melville makes mention of the Shakers in Moby Dick, spelling the name 'Neskyeuna'. [2]

While the origins of the place name Niskayuna in an American Indian word are clear, it's journey from contact period place name to the town name we know today is a nebulous one. Similarly, many elements of our nation's (comparatively short) history are clouded in uncertainty or dispute.

Thank you for joining us for this edition of What's in a Name.

Posted by Natalie

*The WAMC fund drive is more entertaining to listen to in the morning than silence or commercials on TV. Though I'm getting a bit tired of hearing "Don't Let the Light Go Out."
[1] From Austin A. Yates' Schenectady County, New York: Its History to the Close of the Nineteenth CenturySchenetady Digital History Archive
[2] Ed Reilly's How Far from Canastagione to Niskayuna? Talk of the Town, from the Schenectady County Historical Society
[3] From A Gazetteer of the State of New-York, Embracing an Ample Survey and Description of Its Counties, Towns, Cities, Villages, Canals, Mountains, Lakes, Rivers, Creeks and Natural Topography. Arranged in One Series, Alphabetically: With an Appendix… by Horatio Gates Spafford, LL.D. (1824)
Chapter XXVII (pp. 410-416)


New York Historical Society

Fellow York Staters, I have a confession to make: I visit New York City. Frequently.

The majority of my friends live in NYC these days, and like tendrils of its influence, the Metro North rail lines (operated by the MTA) are within easy driving distance of many upstate residents, including myself. From Poughkeepsie, the Hudson line follows the river down to Manhattan, making for a train ride even my European friend called the most beautiful she's taken.* My visiting the city, however, often makes me feel as though I'm betraying upstate. For in a city as important and self-important as New York City, what's a York Stater to do?

The New York Historical Society

It was a quiet, rainy afternoon at New York's first museum when I visited with York Stater Heather (who now resides in NYC.) The museum has lately had a higher profile due to its successful exhibition Slavery in New York, an exhibition so popular and a topic so important that the museum is currently adapting it for permanent display. The exhibition on view now in the museum's first floor galleries is Group Dynamics, exploring the social and family issues presented by group portraiture within a greater cultural context. Recognizable family names from New York's prominent families abound, and offers an excellent interpretation of artwork too often considered droll.

If a favorite part of a museum can be judged by time spent looking at a particular thing, Heather and my favorite was the 1847 map of the Hudson River from Manhattan to Waterford, with each side illustrated with homes and landmarks as seen from the river, with notes about the places and occupants jotted around them. The affable museum guard allowed me to take this picture of Heather in front of the map:

This map was located in the hall just outside the New York Historical Society's galleries displaying a three-year rotating series of exhibitions on the Hudson River School. Most of the painting in this rotation were of Hudson River School artists depicting scenes outside the valley, be it South America or scenes of the imagination, such as Thomas Cole's The Course of Empire. Though there was one very striking, very upstate painting by George Henry Boughton of a winter scene, which I could not find an image of, though I did find the following painting also by Boughton of a similar scene:

These are just some of the interesting and entertaining things on view at the New York Historical Society, so the next time you're on the Upper West Side and need a dose of York State, it's an excellent place to go to learn about the history of the city, of the rest of the state, and their common ground.

Posted by Natalie

*There's a lot of impressive rail transportation in Europe, so I assume she knows what she's talking about.


Tastes of the Region #9: Road Food

For those who, like myself, love diners, mom-and-pop restaurants, fish fries, hot dog stands and their like, I’m proud to devote this post to www.roadfood.com. The authors of the book Road Food: The Coast to Coast Guide to 600 of the Best Barbeque Joints, Lobster Shacks, Ice Cream Parlors, Highway Diners and Much Much More have gathered up their notes to launch a website dedicated to helping hungry travelers and ignorant locals discover the culinary delights of most larger towns across America.

Don’t expect fancy foods here, this is a website dedicated to plebian cuisine. Here in Upstate New York, that typically means 50’s era diners serving deep fried items and various types of meats. For example, in my neighboring city of Binghamton, Danny’s Diner
and Sharkey’s Bar and Grill are featured but the ritzier spots like the Number 5 and Za Zou are completely ignored. To put it another way, this is a website for the hash brown connoisseur.

Their search engine offers several neat features. Each location is rated in three categories: “Visit Again,” “Food” and “Atmosphere.” It then (somehow) calculates how many miles the spot is worth driving out of your way to visit. An average meal price is given as well as prices for the more popular items. There are also extensive write-ups and specific details on making reservations, maps on how to get there, etc.

For example “Duffs
” in Buffalo is introduced with the line: “In the Buffalo world of wings, there's Anchor Bar, which everyone in America knows about, there's Duff's, which everyone in Buffalo knows about, and then there's just about every other restaurant and bar in the city (where most Buffalo wings are actually consumed).” The bar is given a 100% rating for “visit again,” 70% for “food,” 80% for “atmosphere” and is worth driving 20 miles out of your way to visit. There are four descriptive paragraphs and four photos of food and the place’s exterior.

Overall, www.roadfood.com
is a fascinating website that allows your to discover diamonds in your own backyard or give you a taste of real local food when you’re out traveling.

-By Jesse