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Long Island

Summer attendance at Long Island's state parks hits 10.6 million

Jones Beach State Park Life Guard Maggie Johns

Jones Beach State Park Life Guard Maggie Johns of Seaford blows the whistle to pull swimmers out of the water for the last time Sept. 1, 2014 as the sun sets on this years Labor day weekend closing the season. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

Long Island's surprisingly temperate summer of 2014 enticed more outdoor lovers to go hiking and biking instead of just cooling off with a swim.

Almost 1 million more people visited the Island's state parks from Memorial Day to Labor Day this year than in 2013, pushing the total to 10.6 million.

"We didn't have those high-90-degree days. We had more bearable temperatures that allowed people to get out and enjoy the parks, not just the beaches," said Randy Simons, spokesman for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Though all Long Island state parks had finished repairing much of superstorm Sandy's damage in time to open on Memorial Day in 2013, the rain that fell that day and a number of others kept people home.

This year, Jones Beach again led all the rest in attendance. It drew 3.5 million visitors, up from 2.9 million last year.

Robert Moses State Park ranked second, with 2.1 million people, increasing from nearly 1.9 million.

The third most popular park was Sunken Meadow State Park, visited by almost 1.25 million, a rise from 1.1 million. Captree State Park came in fourth, with 525,000 visitors, up from 502,000.

The total for Heckscher State Park, however, declined to 458,000 from 502,000, partly because the campgrounds remained closed due to the West Nile virus.

The state parks agency plans to examine how best to restore Heckscher, possibly even building a skating rink, according to Wayne Horsley, regional director of Long Island state parks.

New York State is in the midst of the five-year capital plan for its parks. The renovated West Bathhouse at Jones Beach opened this year, along with a SmorgasBar featuring different cuisines from competing vendors on the Central Mall, the main entrance.

"I think a lot of the reasons why people came to the parks this year was not only because they like their parks; we have worked on major improvements" across the system, Horsley said.

"I think we're looking at the beginning of an era when parks will become the focal point of Long Island society," he added.

The $65 million, five-year plan announced in March for Jones Beach includes a new year-round diner that will open next year on Field 6, the parking lot closest to the beach.

Overhauling the park's East Bathhouse and its vast interior pool, which might become a water playground, will be undertaken later.

A number of other Long Island parks also are getting upgrades and additions. Upper Brookville's Planting Fields Arboretum State Historic Park next year plans to open a sensory garden allowing individuals with disabilities such as blindness to get more enjoyment from plantings.

Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey also wants attendance to stay high throughout the year. "Equally excited as we are about the summer attendance increase, there are still so many great programs and activities during the fall season at state parks that expect to delight," she said in an emailed statement.

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