Boost in visits to New York State parks
Mild weather and tight travel budgets have helped boost visits to state parks across New York and on Long Island.
Statewide, there have been 43.7 million park visitors so far this year -- up 2.3 million, or 5.6 percent, over the same period in 2011, state officials said Friday.
The figures from the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation showed a 6.3 percent jump for state facilities on Long Island, to 14.1 million.
State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey attributed the surge to mild weather and special events at some facilities, but New York AAA said high gas prices and soaring travel costs were also a factor.
"State parks have emerged as lower-cost, alternative travel destinations, along with national historic sites and national parks," AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair said.
"Government support of these facilities makes them cheaper than theme parks and more attractive in a tough economy," he said.
While state parks have suffered from budget cuts in recent years, many are still strong attractions, according to Erik Kullenseid of the Alliance for New York State Park Programs, a parks advocacy group.
"There's no question there's a backlog of [repair] projects," Kullenseid said. "But you can't take away how beautiful the beach at Jones Beach is. Bathrooms do need repair, and boathouses do need repair, but it's still a beautiful beach."
Jones Beach remained far and away the most-visited state park on Long Island, with 4,219,343 visitors from January through August -- 77,624 more than the same period last year.
Robert Moses remained the second most-popular park on Long Island, drawing 2,701,507 visitors, up 91,170, state officials said.
Upstate, the park surrounding Niagara Falls continued to be the biggest draw in the state with 6,414,162 visitors so far this year, an increase of 48,027.
Some off-the-beaten-path parks also showed increased usage.
Eel Weir State Park in Ogdensburg near the Canadian border -- described by the state as small, secluded and "a perfect place to get away from it all" -- saw visits jump 36 percent, from 2,494 last year to 3,393 this year.
The increase at Niagara could have been caused by Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk across the falls June 15, and Jones Beach probably got a bump from the air show sponsored by the Bethpage Federal Credit Union, according to Harvey, the parks commissioner.
"New Yorkers are fortunate to have such high-quality and inviting state parks and historic sites across the state, and we hope to see even more visitors have fun at their parks this Labor Day weekend," Harvey said.
The park system is expecting a busy holiday weekend, with more than 90 percent of the system's campsites booked, she said.