Ithaca Times

Speakeasy: Fred Bonn takes over as regional director of state parks in Finger Lakes

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Posted: Wednesday, August 21, 2013 12:00 am

Long-time Trumansburg resident Fred Bonn just managed to get a shorter commute. After working at the Ithaca/Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce on East Shore Drive in Ithaca for 20 years—the last 13 years as director of the Convention and Visitors Bureau—Bonn has been appointed to the position the regional director of state parks in the Finger Lakes.

The office is at Taughannock Falls State Park in Trumansburg. The Finger Lakes region is one of 11 in the parks system in New York state and includes 23 parks and historic sites from Fillmore Glen in the east to Stonybrook in the west, and from Lake Ontario to the north down to Soaring Eagles Golf Course near Elmira in the south, the last state-owned set of links.

After a months-long interview process Bonn started work on July 22, succeeding former county legislative chair Tim Joseph, who has retired.


Ithaca Times: What does the regional director of state parks do?

Fred Bonn: Right now I'm learning. I have to understand staff patterns and resource challenges, and get up to speed on capital projects. For example, locally we are in the process of reconfiguring the overlook space at [Taughannock Falls]. Construction will begin next spring. There will be a new rest station and we'll be moving the parking away from the overlook itself.

Also we had a setback on the Black Diamond Trail project due to that flooding last week, so that has to be cleaned up. And there is one small parcel that is still to be acquired from Holochuck [Homes].

I will be implementing [state parks] commissioner Rose Harvey's goal to bring more people to the parks and increase the value of the educational programs in the parks. My job is to figure out how to re-purpose money to do this because funding is flat.

[Across the region] I will be working with other state and local agencies to deal with flood damage. The guys from  Monterey Shock Incarceration [correctional facility] in Schuyler County work in the parks to do a lot of heavy work, and right now the Cornell freshman orientation crews are in Robert Treman cleaning up the trails.

We will be redoing the entrance to Watkins Glen, getting new cabins built at Sampson. The governor has committed $90 million over the next five years to address deferred maintenance and construction, this being year one. Through this recession we had some staff reductions: the park police numbers are down, the staff here [at the regional office] is down two positions. But there has been increased attendance at the parks through the recession and camping has become more popular.


IT: How are you settling in?

FB: I've been meeting with all the park managers and getting tours of each of the parks, meeting park patrons, and I will be attending an open house at Keuka State Park that is focussed on talking with day-users and campers at the park. That park is a possible site for the Finger Lakes Museum; that's one of my big projects.

One of the biggest challenges right now is finding enough lifeguards. We can't find people who are certified and have passed the state test, so I'm working with administration to recruit more lifeguards. We did manage to re-open swimming at Stonybrook this year; it had been closed for two years.

Kathie Notarfonzo, the assistant regional director, is a lifelong park employee. She's been very helpful at getting me up to speed.

People take pride and ownership in the parks throughout the region, and we manage the parks for them. You know the New York system is seen as one of the greatest in the U.S. and Canada.


IT: Why were you interested in this job?

FB: Actually my first job was being a lifeguard at Taughannock Falls. During my summers during high school and college I worked at Treman, Taughannock, and Buttermilk. I had a job sitting next to a waterfall; it doesn't get better than that.

Even before that the parks were a part of my life. When I was a little kid my family moved up here from Brooklyn and we rented a house by [Robert] Treman and that park was my playground. I value and enjoy everything that the parks stand for: families getting together, people from around the world visiting and experiencing them, the camps—swimming and recreational—that the parks host. They are important spaces and places.

The parks have been a part of my life. I got married at the Taughannock overlook. My wife and I took over the concert series at Taughannock from Laurel Guy and ran it for six years, and we've had many family gatherings at the parks. They are places and spaces that make living here special.


IT: What made you a good candidate for this job?

FB: Well, my familiarity with local and regional resources and the strong working network that I built up during my years with the CVB. Working at the CVB helped me to understand that people will travel to get a specific park experience. And as a life-long resident I understand how the locals feel about the parks.

Over the years I've built a strong network in the business community in Ithaca and the region. I will be looking for concession opportunities for local businesses. I see a lot of opportunity.

Welcome to the discussion.