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Cuomo calls for $440M to expand and improve state park system

Lifeguards on duty for the 16th annual Jones

Lifeguards on duty for the 16th annual Jones Beach Air Show at Jones Beach in Wantagh on May 25, 2019. The show was canceled last year because of the pandemic. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

State parks offer a scenic and safe refuge for quarantine-weary New Yorkers during the pandemic, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is launching a second round of investments to expand and improve them.

Called New York Parks 100, a name that reflects the 1924 creation of the state park system, Cuomo in his State of the State address asked for investing at least $440 million over the next four years.

The aim is to, for example, entice New Yorkers to walk, run or bike the Empire Trail that runs from northern Manhattan to Canada, create more drive-thru or drive-up events at parks, including at Jones Beach State Park in Wantagh, and host outdoor movies at some sites.

"The initiative will focus on creating places to recreate locally, relieving overcrowded parks, welcoming new visitors, and protecting New York State’s environmental and historic legacy," said the governor in his State of State plan issued over four days last week.

The new program follows the $1.2 billion of public and private funds invested over the past decade that paid for various upgrades at parks around the state, including new bathrooms, a new restaurant and a nature center at Jones Beach.

Among the Long Island state park projects to be done this summer are:

  • At Hempstead Lake, completing renovation of the tennis court complex and upgrades to the clay courts; $500,000
  • At Nissequogue River, completing a park administrative and visitor center renovation to enhance visitor education and orientation; $1 million
  • At Caumsett, reconstruction of the park entrance road and building a new environmentally sensitive overflow parking lot; $500,000.

Coming initiatives will enhance the state’s historic sites, Cuomo said.

The Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site in Yonkers will become a center for "interpreting and educating" visitors about almost 400 years of the Black experience in New York. Exhibits will concentrate on the Underground Railroad, emancipation, the Great Migration, when Blacks in the last century fled the South for what they hoped would be better lives in northern states, and civil rights battles.

"In addition, the Office of Historic Preservation will expand its capacity to inform programming and exhibits that tell the untold stories of Indian nations and indigenous cultures residing in New York," Cuomo said.

In 2020, state parks were estimated to have drawn 75 million visitors, and reservations for overnight stays in 2021 are running 23% ahead of last year.

Said Cuomo: "Even with a successful vaccine rollout in 2021, the ability to safely recreate outdoors will remain a critical complement to public health measures for months."

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