Last week the Catskill Center led Catskill Park Awareness Day, joined with more than two dozen organizations represented by just under 50 volunteers to meet 56 legislators representing the Catskill Park and/or who led committees in the Senate and Assembly that can influence spending in the Catskills. As we've done for nearly five years, we met with our legilsators to share our passion for the region and why we think the Catskills are so vitally important to the state. From representatives of major international organizations that are a part of the Coalition, to the small local chamber of commerce down to an informal hiking group, we represented a diversity of interests speaking with one voice.
Outside of Catskill Park Awareness Day, the groups all have their independent desires and visions for the future of the region. There may even be some disagreement on major points outside of our work with the Catskill Park Coalition. Regardless of those disagreements, groups that would argue with one another about ways to reach a particular goal spoke with one voice to our legislators to argue for stronger state support for the region. We've found that if independent groups are rallying for their individual causes it's easy to be drowned out by all the groups vying for attention from Albany. But if we speak with one voice as a region to build a stronger Catskill Park we can make an impact, and Albany is now listening.
We see that recognition for the region in the appearances by the Governor in the Catskills, with the new Catskill Challenge program which raised the profile of the region in the minds of many of our state legislators, and of course we see it in the multimillion dollar international ad campaigns for the region. It's now up to us to hold the state to the Governor's proposal of supporting the Catskills with a minimum $5 million package for promotion and stewardship. It's incredibly important that we continue to promote the region and build the economic asset that is the Catskill Park and Forest Preserve. Those beloved public lands are what generate millions in economic impact, employ thousands of people and support our economy. But we now need to address the stewardship needs created by that increase in visitors.
That's why this year we're asking the state to create a $10 million "Catskills Package" that will support: the continuation of a $550,000 Aid to Localities line in the DEC budget to expand access and stewardship projects across the region, including $50,000 for the staffing and operations of the MDH Catskill Interpretive Center; $4M to support public/private partnerships for stewardship and maintenance of public lands as well as the continuation of the Catskill Environmental Research and Monitoring conference, to share knowledge about environmental issues of concern in the region; $2M to support the Save the Hemlocks initiative led by Cornell University; $2M to support ongoing funding for Catskill Area Tourism Services to advance home-grown promotion of the Catskills and direct outdoor recreation enthusiasts to the MDH Catskill Interpretive Center; $1M to expand the forest ranger academy to meet attrition and retirement and increase NYSDEC staffing to manage the Forest Preserve; and lastly $450,000 to support an economic study to take a snapshot of activity in the Catskills now that the Governor has advanced several major advertising campaigns for the region.
Senator Seward addressing volunteers in Albany for Catskill Park Awareness Day
Since 1969, the Catskill Center has led the effort to protect the Catskills. Our Mission is to protect and foster the environmental, cultural and economic well-being of the Catskill region.