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State parks boost Long Island’s economy, report says

From April 2015 to March 2016, 21.7 million

From April 2015 to March 2016, 21.7 million people went to Long Island's state parks, including Robert Moses State Park, and spent $1.3 billion. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

State parks on Long Island expanded the Island’s economy as visitors spent hundreds of millions and the parks supported thousands of jobs, a recent report said.

The report outlined but did not estimate the value of numerous other benefits, from cleaner water to improved public health. Its hard data keyed off attendance.

The 21.7 million people who went to the Island’s state parks from April 2015 to March 2016 spent $1.3 billion, adding jobs not just at the parks but at restaurants and hotels, and suppliers, from trucking firms to sporting goods stores.

That workforce of 14,114 is the Island’s sixth largest, just after the U.S. government with 16,391 workers and ahead of Suffolk County’s 11,075 workers, according to data analyzed by Newsday.

Park lovers argue that the sites’ beauty and value cannot be monetized.

Some economists say the parks’ impact is greater than estimated by the report, issued in November and prepared for advocates Parks & Trails New York by the University of Massachusetts’ Political Economy Research Institute.

“If anything, they understate the full benefits of the state park system insofar as they chose not to include estimates of the sizable indirect economic benefits of parks to our health, air and water pollution,” said Gregory DeFreitas, a Hofstra University economics professor.

“Nor do they include the millions in property appreciation for homeowners living near parks,” he said by email.

And, the report said, parks increase “social cohesion,” spurring ties among strangers and creating communities, potentially lowering crime.

All New York state parks were visited by 67 million people who spent $4 billion during the study period, the report said, supporting about 45,000 jobs.

Long Island’s state parks draw almost twice as many people as their closest rival: the Niagara Frontier area, which drew 12.3 million visitors who spent $677 million.

Long Island’s parks, mainly because they are so popular, cost the most to run. Their operating budget topped $102 million — more than twice Niagara’s. Still, the Island’s capital budget was only about $3 million more than Niagara’s.

Years of budget squeezes have caused many state parks to fall into disrepair. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo aims to make up for that with $900 million of public and private money over a decade.

“The study demonstrates that New York State parks are crucial to our tourism economy, and that we must continue working to modernize and improve this exceptional system so that it remains a strong economic asset for years to come,” Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said in a statement.

On average, day or local visitors spent around $44.18 on park fees, food and beverages and the like, the report said.

People who traveled at least 50 miles spent more: an average of $93.48 to $139.79, as they stayed in hotels or ate out more often, it said.

Overnight tourists probably spent close to the top end of the range because of Long Island’s high costs, the report said.

And without the parks, those tourists might have gone elsewhere, it said.

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