Oswego, NY – Local officials are not willing to let Fort Ontario sit idle for the entire summer.
At a meeting of the county's Tourism Advisory Council this week, county officials and local tourism business owners decided to ask the state if there's a way to get the fort open. Fort Ontario is one of 55 state parks, historic sites and golf courses that either closed or were not allowed to open for the summer because state lawmakers have not approved a state budget yet.
The fort was on Governor David Paterson's list of parks to stay closed for the year to help make up a $9 billion deficit.
Oswego County Legislator Louella LeClair (R-Fulton), a member of the Tourism Advisory Council, said, "This is a national treasure that should never be looked on as a dollars and cents situation."
She worries that vandals will damage the fort if it stays closed, believes that the tourism dollars the fort brings in is important, and is concerned that the burial place of soldiers who died at the fort would deteriorate.
LeClair says people have called to volunteer their help if the state will allow volunteers to work at the fort.
"We're looking at everything," she said. "What the public can do, what the Friends of the Fort can do, what the county can do."
"Can volunteers do this," asked Legislator Morris Sorbello (R-Granby). "We don't know. Liability is the issue in any case."
He said they would know more after they meet with the state official in charge of parks in the Central New York region.
They agree that Fort Ontario is a critical part of the region's summer tourism effort. Two major historical reenactments scheduled for the fort this summer have been canceled because of the budget issue. While it's unlikely that those events can be saved, getting the park open for regular tourist visits is important to all of the county's other tourist attractions, according to one business owner.
"We have people come from outside the state and they visit Fort Ontario as well as some of the other historic places," said Ed Lighthall, a Tourism Advisory Council member who operates Jellystone Park campground in Mexico. "Those people that come in from out of state, they're spending money and that helps Oswego County as well as New York State. It's an important thing to keep going."