Aug 20, 2009 Ami Olson Uncategorized
When County Executive Joanne Mahoney suggested that Carpenter’s Brook Fish Hatchery would be on the chopping block come September, a grassroots effort to save the facility was born.
In Elbridge, Leo Cooper has led a petition drive to gather signatures of locals who oppose the closing of the county park. Cooper, the senior program coordinator for the town of Elbridge, said he and his wife have lived in the Halfway area for 50 years and three generations of the family have enjoyed the hatchery.
“Our children and grandchildren have enjoyed feeding and seeing the fish, and it’s educational for all,” Cooper said.
Cooper said the J-E Seniors use the site each year for their summer picnic, which is where the petition drive officially began. The seniors invited Legislator Bob Warner to the picnic, who then alerted the media.
“We wanted to show everybody how busy the place was – there were a lot of cars, people walking around,” Cooper said, adding that the J-E Seniors alone accounted for 80 park visitors that day, “This is the only county park facility in our area out here in the west and we want them to know we want to keep it.”
Making a statement
Cooper said the petitions have been distributed throughout the Jordan-Elbridge community, though one had made its way out to Camillus.
The Elbridge Town Board formally took a stand against closing the hatchery, passing a resolution Wednesday Aug. 5 in support of the petition drive.
Supervisor Ken Bush said the town would relay to Mahoney that it was opposed to any plans to close the facility.
“The whole town needs to be aware of it, the whole county, really,” Cooper said. “That’s a great park.”
Fisherman’s internet forums are abuzz with the rumor, and mass e-mails are circulating urging residents to contact their county legislator and voice their support for the hatchery. A “sign-and-fax” campaign has begun, if mysteriously, in Marcellus. A stack of papers announcing “I fish and I vote,” encourage residents to sign a sheet and fax it to the county office. Village treasurer Julie Brissette said she wasn’t sure where the stack had come from but people had been picking them up.
The official word
While the community tries to fight the hatchery’s closing, the county isn’t saying much about the status of the facility.
Jon Cooley, director of recreation and programs at Onondaga County Parks Department, said the fate of the hatchery and all other parks and programs up for debate is on hold until September when Mahoney’s proposed budget goes before the county legislature.
But Cooley did offer some insight into why the hatchery might be higher on the list than other facilities: it costs about $500,000 a year to run and is not a revenue-producing park.
He noted that the hatchery fell around mid-range among the parks facilities in terms of yearly operating costs, and that it would be the county’s duty to consider not just the dollars and cents of keeping the hatchery running but the economic impact of the services provided by the facility.
“Ultimately how you evaluate a facility is how it benefits the community,” Cooley said. “We’re examining all elements of our operations, including the hatchery. But there have been no firm decisions made.”
He said the county was well aware of the public outcry in support of the hatchery, but he was not aware of the petition drive.
Operations Supervisor Travis Stanek has worked at the hatchery for 15 years and said so far this year around 28,000 people have visited the park, which is open year-round. On average around 40,000 people use the park annually, including school groups, day-hab programs and scout troops.
Listing the organizations that have visited the hatchery in 2009, Stanek noted several groups from outside Onondaga County.
Stanek said during the vacation season many from out of town and even out of state will visit the hatchery and comment how they “wish they had something like this” where they lived.
For the locals who already know what a gem they have at Carpenter’s Brook, the race is on to make sure they don’t wind up wishing the same thing.