November 29, 2021

County officials want gates closed at park

Photo by S.N. Briere/ staff reporter

Children play in the creek at Dwyer Memorial Park in Preble on Wednesday. The county, during a Highway and Solid Waste meeting, discussed how to ensure the gates to the park get closed at night to try and prevent vandalism.

Thomas Bonyak, 10, pointed in the creek at Dwyer Memorial Park on Wednesday, as the six other kids looked carefully.

“It’s minnows, I think,” he said.

The seven kids, ranging in age from 9 to 15, were spending the afternoon in the park, playing in the creek and enjoying the picnic that Stacie Kellaway had packed. Kellaway had decided it was a beautiful and hot day, so why not take her kids and some friends to the park with her mom, Jerri Duane.

“I’ve been coming here since I was little,” said Duane, who is 68. “They should definitely preserve it. The volunteers have been amazing with what they’ve done.”

Back then there were rides and someone would even bring monkeys.

Jerald Edwards of Syracuse had visited the park to fish for the first time Wednesday. He said he liked how relaxing the park felt, how it was maintained and that he would definitely bring his family here.

S.N. Briere/staff reporter

Jerald Edwards, of Syracuse, fishes for the first time at Dwyer Memorial Park in Preble on Wednesday.

But in order to preserve the park, some Cortland County Legislators want to see the gates to the park locked at night, ensuring that people won’t be able to drive into the park and participate in activities like dumping trash, which Legislator Linda Jones (RHomer) said has happened in the past.

“I have a real issue with the way our staffing has been cut at our park,” Jones said during a Highway and Solid Waste Committee meeting. “It’s open for about four months. It’ very well used. It’s a beautiful park. We keep talking about putting more money in it and instead of having the staff to take care of what we have.”

One concern: because park attendant staffing was cut at the park, there is no one there to lock the gate at 8 p.m.

Highway Superintendent Charlie Sudbrink said the attendants are there between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. That is when they open the bathrooms, clean the park and do maintenance.

“If you don’t close the gates at night you’re setting our liability into the night — anything can happen,” said Legislator George Wagner (R-Marathon, Lapeer).

“Well, we don’t police the park and even when we did lock the gates at 8 p.m., when we did have attendants, they would just ask the residents to bring their vehicles outside the gates,” Sudbrink said.

He said the park is used year-round, 24/7 and people will just park outside the gates and walk in.

“Do we have money that we can throw at this thing?” Wagner asked.

“We don’t have any money,” said Rob Corpora, the county administrator. “We have less than no money. I don’t like it either, but I don’t like having to furlough 60-something people either. We have to make decisions in every place and this was one. Some people didn’t want to open the park.”

Jones said she knew someone who lived along the lake who was willing to voluntarily lock the gates. However, she also said it’s a little more than locking the gates. The person would need to drive through the park giving a warning that the park would be closing soon and then drive-through and let them know when it was closing. But that could cause an issue as well because the county would want to avoid confrontations.

“Maybe a deputy could go lock it once in a while,” said Legislator Ron Van Dee (D-Cortland).

Sudbrink said the Sheriff’s Office will patrol the park a couple times at night to make sure people aren’t doing things like camping there.

Committee Chairman Christopher Newell (R-Cortlandville) asked that the use of a volunteer be looked into.

Clerk of the Legislature Eric Mulvihill said Wednesday that he is hoping to get security cameras installed at the park within the next month, as well.

The other issue at the park was that the bathrooms also closed early, Jones said.

“As far as I know, the bathrooms are being closed at 4 p.m. because the staff has to leave, so anyone that’s having a picnic with their family at the park, yeah, there’s a PortaJohn, but that does not help the handicapped,” Jones said.

Mulvihill said he would talk to the portable restroom company to see if they could exchange the one they have for a handicapped-accessible one.

At the end of the day though, Sudbrink said that what gets done at the park falls to the Legislature.

“I maintain the park to the ability I’m funded to maintain it,” he said.