When Graham Skea arrived in Orange County to become Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Conservation, the County park’s system consisted of one park with 405 acres. Thirty-two years later, the County boasts nine parks of 3,000 acres and four historic sites. Two golf courses and horse show arenas, 11 miles of walking, skating, and biking trails, snow tubing area, fishing ponds, campsites, tennis courts, and more are available.
Mr. Skea credits the Park Commission and Parks Advisory Board, Board of Supervisors and County Legislatures, County Executives and the Orange County Citizens Foundation for their vision and financial support to create a recreation system that benefits all residences. While some of the credit belongs to this tireless, knowledgeable and patience leader, Skea said that no one person can accomplish this alone and points to his outstanding and dedicated staff for the major developments.
Skea recounts that a visionary Board of Supervisors created the Orange County Park Commission in 1963 and appropriated $800,000, an unheard of sum at the time, for the acquisition of parklands.
Community leaders like Charles Shaughnessy, James H. Ottaway Sr., Herbert Fabricant and Mrs. Roberta Mills were among the strongest advocates of the Park Commission. In the early 60s many Orange County leaders and residents could not imagine the need for preserving open space for recreation. Many saw the county as one big open space for hiking and farmlands with beautiful scenery.
With Orange County’s population explosion, however, it has become evident that those community leaders who called for development of picnic groves, golf course, historic sites, camping and boating throughout the County were on the right track.
As part of these leaders’ vision, Skea was brought to Orange County from New Jersey to succeed Austin Palmer, who served as Director for 18 months.
Skea has served as Superintendent of Recreation in the East Orange, NJ, park system after attending Upsala College on a basketball scholarship and serving in the US Navy. When Skea arrived in Orange County with his wife and six children, he began expanding and improving our recreation areas.
By the end of 1968 Orange County boasted among its facilities a golf/ski center, golf course and historic Hill-Hold Museum site and two more parkland acquisitions. The county expended $1,344,000 for the acquisition of parkland. Ten-federal grants totaling $2,255,000 paid for more than 50% of the parkland acquisition and development costs. An additional sum of $162,000 was provided by the Orange County Citizens Foundation.
Skea is a strong advocate for public and private partnerships and has worked closely with the Citizens Foundation and other groups and individuals to reach the Park Commissioner’s goals.
For example: The Parks Department and Citizens Foundation worked together with the Neversink Valley Area Museum to acquire the D&H Canal Park, the Orange County Heritage Trail in partnership with Orange Pathways, and most recently, the development of the Orange County Arboretum with committed citizens.
Among his May achievements as Commissioner, Mr. Skea has overseen the donation and dedication of the Hill-Hold Museum with 189 acres of land, and the Charles B. Hill Brick House with its rustic 177-acres of open space.
Both homes are listed on the National Register of Historic Places and are actively shown as replicating 1870 life. Their value as education tools to visitors in unparalleled.
The National Park Service’s Pride in America Award was presented to Skea in 1989.
The Nicholas B Ottaway Foundation has been generous to the County Park system on numerous occasions.
Recently the Foundation donated $250,000 toward the construction of an educational center at the Orange County Arboretum, Thomas Bull Memorial Park. Currently Mr. Skea is working with the Arboretum Committee to raise additional funds to plant specimen trees and to build raised gardens for environmental education. A September 11th Remembrance Walkway and Garden, highlighted by a six-foot granite globe rimmed with bronze plaques listing the names of the 44 Orange county heroes who lost their lives, was dedicated October 13, 2002.
Over the years Mr. Skea has immersed himself in Orange County life. He lent his skills to County causes such as Human Rights Commission, Youth Bureau Advisory Board, Goshen Historic Track, Arts Council of O.C., among others.
Skea is a member and past Trustee of National Recreation and Parks Association, New York State Recreation and Parks Society, and Hudson Valley Leisure Services Association. Skea hosted the NRPA as president of the New Jersey Society in Atlantic City in 1957. NRPA Board of Trustees was hosted by the NJ and NY State Societies at a memorable 1993 Spring Meeting at West Point, NY. The meeting included a ferry ride around the Statue of Liberty and an international dinner at Ellis Island with the NY City skyline in the background. Skea chaired the event.
He is a frequent speaker at local, county state and national meetings. And has been honored by the National Recreation and Parks Association with its Outstanding Professional Achievement award and most recently, the American Park and Recreation Society Distinguished Fellow Award, as well as the Citizens Branch Achievement Award. He is also a Cornelius Pugsley Award recipient.
Mr. Skea has dedicated his life to bettering the lives of Orange County residents by providing exceptional recreation areas for all and by sharing his knowledge with others. His contribution to Orange County is immeasurable. In 2000, The Citizens Foundation presented the James H. Ottaway, Sr. Medal in recognition of his achievements.