New York state’s parks, historic sites and campgrounds saw a substantial increase in attendance last year, up more than 3.9 million more visitors from 2015.
According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, New York’s parks, historic sites and campgrounds hosted 69.3 million visitors in 2016, an increase of 6 percent from 2015. The number of visitors has increased by 21 percent from the 57.2 million visitors in 2011 when Cuomo took office.
The growth of attendance was boosted because of major improvements to facilities at West Bathhouse at Jones Beach, the renewal of Terrapin Point at Niagara Falls and very favorable weather this past year. With the summer weather being good until after Labor Day, the result was an extended swimming season and increased camping site visitation. Also, the new Connect Kids to Parks initiative offered free park entry to fourth-graders, giving all the more reason to visit the parks.
“New York parks are the heart of the tourism economy, and these numbers show that more and more people are discovering their unparalleled natural beauty and recreation opportunities that are available in every corner of the state,” Cuomo said. “This administration’s major investments to preserve and improve our parks, historic sites, and campgrounds are critical to attracting new visitors alike to explore everything our parks system has to offer.”
Cuomo emphasized the importance of the state’s parks, historic sites and campgrounds in his State of the State Address in January. His NY Parks 2020 program is a multi-year commitment to leverage $900 million in private and public funding for state parks through 2020.
He also proposed a plan to complete what will be named “The Empire State Trail” by 2020. The trail will be completed by finishing the Hudson Valley Greenway and the Erie Canalway trails. Once completed, the Empire State Trail will be the largest state-operated, multi-use trail in the nation.
To complete the trail, 350 miles of new trail will need to be created which will create in total a 750-mile long pathway for bikers and hikers alike. The FY 2018 Executive Budget includes $120 million towards this initiative.
The Empire State Trail will span much of New York, starting from the New York Harbor all the way to the Canadian border. The trail will then come back down from the shores of Lake Erie, along the Erie Canal and through the Capital Region.
“The scenic natural beauty that spans every corner of this state is key to our prosperity, vital to our future and part of who we are as New Yorkers,” Cuomo said. “The Empire State Trail, once completed, will be the nation’s largest state multi-use trail network, providing residents and visitors alike unprecedented access to New York’s outdoor treasures, driving tourism and economic activity to communities across the state and helping to protect our environmental resources for generations to come.”
Cuomo’s administration has also taken the initiative to launch a mobile app that will connect New Yorkers and tourists to parks, historic sites, campgrounds and statewide attractions. The app will feature a list of greenways, trails with descriptions of difficulty and conditions, services and attractions, emergency response, as well as tour maps, directions and points of interest along the trails.
The trail system could also help in the economic growth of New York state. The Empire State Trail will pass through or near several signature attractions across the state. Battery Park, the Walkway over the Hudson, Corning Preserve, Lake George, Schenectady Rivers Casino, the Erie Canal Museum, the Buffalo Naval Military Park, multiple local breweries and wineries, camp sites, lodging accommodations, family-friendly destinations and much more will be found near or along the trail.