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Cuomo: Amid the coronavirus pandemic, a record year for state parks

Crowds surge onto the sand at Jones Beach

Crowds surge onto the sand at Jones Beach in July. The state park was the most popular on Long Island in 2020, with 8.3 million visitors, statistics show.   Credit: All Island Aerial.com/Kevin P. Coughlin

A record 78 million visitors traveled to state parks, campgrounds, trails and historic sites in 2020, despite the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said Tuesday.

For the first time in recent memory, Wantagh’s Jones Beach — with 8.3 million attendees — eclipsed Niagara Reservation; the Falls only drew 5.97 million visitors because tourism plunged and staying close to home was preferred.

This year’s total for Long Island’s most popular park even surpassed the 2019 head count of 8.16 million. That same year Niagara had 9.6 million visitors.

Robert Moses State Park in Babylon drew 5.93 million in 2020, up from 4.3 million the year before.

"In 2020, our State parks became an even more critical resource than before as New Yorkers sought safe places for solace, exercise and relief from the pandemic," Cuomo said in a statement.

The Democrat has proposed a second round of investments totaling $440 million over the next four years, now that his $1.2 billion 10-year funding plan has ended.

"New York remains fully committed to the continued modernization of our parks system," Cuomo said, "and with the recent completion of the 750-mile Empire State Trail, we are ensuring New Yorkers and visitors alike, have unparalleled recreational opportunities, especially during these unprecedented times."

Long Island state parks accounted for nearly half of all visitors to New York State parks last year, with its 31 sites attracting 32.1 million visitors.

The Island's most popular state parks in 2020 besides Jones Beach and Robert Moses included Sunken Meadow, Captree and Heckscher.

Cuomo singled out improvements made at facilities last year, including Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center and a revitalized West Games Area at Jones Beach State Park; a new visitor center at upstate Minnewaska State Park, an expanded National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in Orange County, new cottages at Westcott Beach State Park in the upstate Thousands Islands region, and a new recreation complex at Letchworth State Park in Genesee County.

Closings due to COVID-19 did, however, hurt attendance at at least one Long Island park, most notably the Walt Whitman House, which only had 1,705 visitors, down from 7,053 in 2019, according to the latest state statistics.

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