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Long IslandNassau

LI state parks: Attendance down, revenue up

Beachgoers enjoy the water at Robert Moses State

Beachgoers enjoy the water at Robert Moses State Park in Babylon. (Sept. 1, 2013) Credit: Steven Sunshine

A cold and rainy start to the summer tourist season at Long Island's state parks kept attendance low, but revenue stayed steady as visitors spent more money even as they took fewer trips.

More than 8.7 million people entered Long Island's state parks between Memorial Day and Aug. 29, according to statistics provided by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. That's more than a million fewer people than the 9.9 million at the Island's state parks during the same period in 2012, and less than the 9.2 million in 2011.

Still, revenue from Long Island state parks rose slightly as the facilities generated $16.5 million between May 27 and Aug. 29 this year. That's up from $16.3 million last year, though down slightly from $16.6 million in 2011.

That increase came from visitors spending more on activities such as golf or camping and at concessions during the "peak" season between Memorial Day and Labor Day, said Randy Simons, a spokesman for state parks.

"A cold, wet start to the spring may have dampened our attendance numbers just a bit, but our revenue is up from last year," state parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said.

Some of Long Island's most popular parks -- mainly those with beaches -- suffered the most from the adverse weather in early summer.

Jones Beach attendance dipped to a little less than 2.8 million people this year from slightly less than 3.4 million for the same period in 2012, state data show. Robert Moses State Park was down to a little less than 1.8 million visitors between Memorial Day and Labor Day from slightly more than 1.9 million last year. Sunken Meadow State Park attendance was down to about 810,000 people during the peak period this year from slightly less than 1.1 million last summer. And Heckscher State Park was down to 469,200 visitors from 573,000.

Patty Gregory, 58, of Levittown, went to Jones Beach Sunday, but other visits were rare this summer after she took a second job, she said.

"I'm working six days a week and I need one day to do food shopping and clean the house," she said. "If I didn't work Saturdays, I'd be here every weekend."

Nada Janceski, 51, a sales associate from Floral Park, Queens, said she visits Jones Beach from March through October and easily found parking in the normally crowded Field 4 lot this summer.

"I used to rush to be in here by 8:30," she said. "I never had to wait on line this year."

Her theories on why others stayed away included rough water, fears over Sandy debris in the water and less buzz than normal from the spring air show, which went on without the Blue Angels flying team because of federal budget constraints.

Dennis Bussert, 60, of Mineola, who is retired from the hotel business and walks the boardwalk daily, said he has also noticed thinner crowds.

"I can't understand it," he said. "To live this close to the ocean, to be able to enjoy it every day -- to me, it's a privilege."

At Sunken Meadow State Park on the North Shore, the best grill spots were taken Sunday afternoon, and families dotted the beach, but there was plenty of room for more.

In the boardwalk's mostly empty snack bar, manager Giacomo Martinez, 21, said he'd seen fewer customers this year, his seventh at the snack bar. "There used to be days when we had a line out the door," he said.

Superstorm Sandy repairs are still underway at some parks, but state officials said the storm damage and renovations had little impact on visitation.

Cleanup of downed or damaged trees continues at Connetquot River State Park and Belmont Lake, and as does the construction of a new bridge to replace a dike that washed out at Sunken Meadow, Simons said. Some boardwalk repairs are still being made at Robert Moses and Jones Beach, he said.

Attendance and revenue also were a mixed bag at county parks during this summer.

Suffolk parks' year-to-date revenue is about $1.3 million behind last year's figure of $9.2 million, and year-to-date attendance is down about 50,000 people from last year's 441,829 visitors, county spokeswoman Emily Lauri said.

In Nassau, park revenue is on track to match the 2012 year-end figure of slightly less than $20 million, and attendance could equal last year's total of just over 1 million, spokeswoman Mary Studdert said.

"At this point in the year we cannot make an accurate assumption as to whether attendance is down," Studdert said, adding that close to 600,000 people have attended Nassau parks so far in 2013.


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