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State working with town, village to develop plan for Knox Farm

The state's 633-acre Knox Farm State Park is officially closed, although visitors are still allowed to walk or cross-country ski on the vast property.

The state followed through with its threatened closing of the park timed with the start of the new year and has since disbanded the park's animal program, giving its 12 sheep, four goats and a llama to the SPCA Serving Erie County to find them homes.

A plan for some sort of a management contract between the state and Aurora and East Aurora officials is still in the works but has not yet been formally hammered out. In the interim, the state has continued to plow the entrance to the park.

A draft plowing agreement with town officials is being reviewed by the town, and Supervisor Jolene M. Jeffe said Monday that she expects an agreement can be in place with State Parks officials by Jan. 24, when the town would be looking to vote on it.

The town and village offered to help plow the main driveway, parking lot and exit drive so that the park could remain minimally open to the public during the winter, although the state has closed all of its buildings, including the public restrooms, and transferred staff.

"That's the state we're in right now," said Mark Thomas, western region director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, based in Niagara Falls. "Our conversations right now are with the town."

East Aurora Mayor Allan Kasprzak last week told the Village Board he had understood that possible liability issues now existed with the state. He wondered how that could impact any hope for local leaders to help keep the park going.

"The state is basically doing nothing. If we're going to have to cover liability insurance, then the state should give us the park," Kasprzak said.

The mayor expressed frustration with park buildings that continue to deteriorate.

"You work on one project at a time, like if you own a house," he said. "You can't do everything at once. But you don't want demolition by neglect. Some of the buildings are in rough shape. The state has no resurrection plan to bring this park back."

Thomas acknowledged that the draft agreement the state sent to the town addresses what he called "indemnification issues." He declined to elaborate. "The mayor can say what he wants," Thomas said. "We're working with the town."

Jeffe said the big question she has is the liability issue. She is waiting for a review by the town attorney on the matter.

"The town has liability umbrella coverage for any area that we [maintain]," she said in an interview. "I'm not sure if this increases our liability or if we need adjustments to be properly covered. I will make sure we do the right thing."

Village trustees last week seemed less than enthused about taking on any maintenance of the state park. Others pointed out that the village has enough on its plate just trying to properly manage its parks, namely Hamlin Park.

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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