What is the Palisades Parks Conservancy?

With the desire to raise increased awareness of the Commission and its work to protect open space and offer recreation and education programs as well as to improve our facilities, the Palisades Parks Conservancy was created with the following mission:

“This corporation is established exclusively for charitable objectives to receive and maintain funds and apply such funds for the improvement of and activities in the Palisades Interstate Park Commission, and for the purposes of promoting and expanding the preservation of natural, historical, and cultural resources in the Park for the benefit of the public.”

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Rebuilding The Harriman Group Camps

Within the sprawling 47,000 acres of Harriman State Park are 32 lakefront children’s relief camps. As they have been since they were started in the 1920s, each camp is operated by accredited welfare and other national and regional organizations. The camps are comprised of sleeping cabins, lean-tos, meeting halls, kitchens, dining rooms, shower-restroom facilities, nurses’ stations, recreation buildings, administrative offices, baseball and soccer fields, lakefront beaches, and docks – many in need of repair!

Over the past ten years, the PIPC, OPRHP, and the Conservancy have worked with private foundations, corporate donors, state government, and individual donors to raise funds to restore the infrastructure of the Harriman State Park group camps. Thanks to $10 million in capital support as part of the Governor’s executive budget, improvements to the drinking water, septic, and electrical infrastructure of the camps and bathing beaches will be undertaken over the next two years.

Some of the highlights of completed restoration work include:

– Each year, for the last five years, with the financial help of the Harriman family we have replaced between 30 and 45 roofs.
– With support from the State of NY, we have repaired the Cohasset Lakes sewer plant and upgraded the electrical system through the camps.
– Recently, the water systems for all the 32 camps have been brought up to code.
– We continue to replace failing roofs, repair sleeping platforms, repave entry roads, and rebuild sleeping cabins and lean-tos.

However, much more needs to be done.

Collaboration with social organizations helps stretch resources. We provide the buildings and grounds and the organizations provide the programs. The camps are rented by the YMCA, YWCA, Hudson valley DDSO, Homes for the Homeless, the Coalition for the Homeless, and others that serve the homeless, the disadvantaged, and the handicapped. For example, each summer Camps Homeward Bound, Lanowa, Kanawauke and Wakonda provide two-week retreats for 26,000 homeless children, allowing them to explore the outdoors and enjoy a break from inner city life. The majority come from New York City with some coming from Orange and Rockland Counties in New York.

Many children are touched by poverty. During the summer, the problem becomes more acute as children who during the school year are in school participating in breakfast/lunch programs are now on the streets left to fend for themselves. Youngsters in these circumstances can experience a profound loss of confidence and self-esteem and find themselves in trouble when they have no supervision and little constructive to do. PIPC’s Group Camp programs help children learn life skills and develop strategies to overcome their difficult home environment. They also provide safe housing and nutritious meals for this needy population. Our camps are safe and provide a supportive atmosphere.

Within a natural, caring, fun-filled setting, children are given a respite from the harsh reality of their lives and they respond to it. They learn and practice traditional camp activities like nature study, arts and crafts, hiking, canoeing, swimming, and dramatics. The rugged settings and small cabins promote a sense of personal responsibility while inspiring group loyalty.

The Group Camp program has been successful for nearly 100 years because of champions who have supported them financially and put in long hours providing programming and spending time with the neediest children. Unfortunately, the conditions within some camps make it even harder to provide formative experiences for those who visit. Won’t you take up the mantle of past champions and help us to continue providing the highest quality outdoor camp experience?
There are significant capital needs for rehabilitating and making safe these camp structures to ensure their long-term purposes and viability.

Two critical factors make it urgently necessary to improve these facilities:

1) More and more children are homeless and require care and an understanding environment, a situation that has severely stretched the capacity of our program. For example, our camp program served 6,800 homeless children in 2004 alone.
2) Our buildings, grounds, and infrastructure are in seriously deteriorated conditions due to their age and continued use. Many were constructed in the 1930s and 1940s and need rehabilitation.

Leaky roofs, eroding roads, rotting docks, dilapidated porches, and broken windows, and an ancient electrical infrastructure may create future hazards. Extreme weather and regular large storms bring down trees, wreak havoc on plumbing, and wash out roads, creating a continued need for repairs. Also, only a few camps have access for the physically challenged, which means that we can serve very few children from this population.

The large backlog of repairs has led to camp closures making a summer camp experience available to fewer children. For instance, PIPC served 90,000 children in 2000, but only 48,000 in 2011. Nearly half of the campers who attended were homeless.

However, obtaining funds for constructing new buildings or repairing the old ones at each of the 32 sites is proving a daunting challenge. To help with this project, the Palisades Parks Conservancy was established in 2002 as a separate 501 (c) 3 non-profit organization to help solicit tax-deductible donations from foundations and individuals.

Unfortunately, the response often given by potential funders is that either the public sector should take care of this or that those who rent the sites should make the improvements. Certainly both strategies have been pursued tenaciously with some success – this year alone, the PIPC has received three million from NY State to make health mandated infrastructure repairs. But, the accelerating rate of deterioration far outpaces the rate of fund raising success. Moreover, because the camp users don’t own the facilities and are themselves strapped for cash, they don’t have the wherewithal to help. So, where does that leave the kids for whom summer camp is an escape from their everyday lives? The necessity for immediate action has become imperative!

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The Palisades Parks Conservancy
3006 Seven Lakes Drive

P.O. Box 427
Bear Mountain, NY 10911.
Phone: 845-786-2701 extension 281. Fax: 845 786-1784.