Good weather, poor economy boost state parks attendance

Liz Bissessar, of Franklin Square, holds her dog Liz Bissessar, of Franklin Square, holds her dog 'Princess" at Valley Stream State Park, Thursday. (July 1, 2010) Photo Credit: Sally Morrow

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Warmer weather, a weak economy and media coverage of the temporary closing of some facilities have helped boost state park attendance so far this season.

Since the beginning of April, attendance at state parks increased 11 percent or 1.3 million visitors over the same period last year, even though 41 parks and 14 historic sites were closed for part of May until the State Legislature agreed to Gov. David A. Paterson's plan to fund them.

And on Long Island, the region with the most parks, attendance jumped even more - 14 percent - despite the state raising beach admission from $8 to $10 per car and increasing fees at major inland parks.

"New Yorkers love their state parks and strongly connect with the variety of experiences and adventures these special places provide," Commissioner Carol Ash said Thursday. "As we head into the holiday weekend, we expect continued strength in visitor numbers."

"Weather always plays a big factor in our attendance numbers," said parks spokeswoman Eileen Larrabee, who noted last spring was cooler and rainier.

Robin Dropkin, executive director of the advocacy group Parks & Trails New York, said, "I think it's the visibility that parks got" because of the closings and public outcry that resulted. "People were reminded about what they almost lost."

Larrabee said the continuing weak economy is also still a factor. "People are staying closer to home," she said.

Picnic parks like Belmont Lake in North Babylon - up 52 percent - and Valley Stream - up 49 percent - had the biggest gains.

Ronald Foley, the parks regional director, said the picnic parks had an attendance bump because the water is too cold at the beaches for most people to swim yet. "The water temperature is still in the upper 60s, and you don't start seeing a real big push until we get into the 75-degree range," he said.

Still, Orient Beach, which was threatened with closing, is up 41 percent. Jones Beach is 8 percent higher and Robert Moses is up 26 percent.

Brentwood had the biggest increase - 514 percent - because it was not fully open last year.

Bethpage dropped 38 percent compared with last year, when the U.S. Open attracted thousands of spectators. Caleb Smith Preserve in Smithtown, where programs were suspended during the budget debate, was down 26 percent, and Nissequogue River in Kings Park, which was closed for part of May, was down 7 percent.

To keep the visitation and revenue growing, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation is launching a new summer publicity campaign called "Find Your Fun" on its website, nysparks.com, as well as on Facebook and Twitter.

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