Holiday campsite reservations for most area state parks are equal to or better than last Fourth of July, while state park attendance has seen another increase so far this season.
And the controversy over the closing of dozens of state parks and historic sites during the budget impasse in May might have more than a little to do with it.
The state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation released attendance figures for the spring on Thursday, as well as campground reservation statistics for the holiday weekend.
State Parks Commissioner Carol Ash says there were 13.2 million visitors from April through the third weekend of June. That’s an increase of 1.3 million visitors compared to the same period in 2009, or 11 percent.
Statewide, July Fourth holiday weekend camping reservations reflect 90 percent occupancy, according to Ash. Some area state campgrounds have exceeded that figure.
State parks office spokesman Dan Keefe said that as of Wednesday, 99.3 percent of campsites at Moreau Lake State Park in Saratoga County were reserved.
Keefe said that meant that only one more site was available. Keefe said Moreau’s campsites were nearly fully booked for the Fourth of July weekend last year as well.
Ninety-four percent of Thompson’s Lake State Park’s campsites in Albany County have been reserved. Last year, the park had 97 percent of its sites reserved for the holiday weekend, according to Keefe.
Keefe said the Max V. Shaul State Park in Schoharie County has seen a significant jump in Independence Day weekend campsite reservations. In 2009, 72 percent of campsites were reserved. This year, the figure is 85 percent.
Shaul was one of 55 state-owned sites that was closed in May before a deal between lawmakers and Gov. David Paterson was reached to re-open the sites prior to Memorial Day weekend. The snafu meant more publicity for the parks, and Keefe belives the threat of long-term closures had an emotional impact on many residents.
“People are very happy that these parks are available. Most see it as an opportunity to enjoy the site again now that it’s re-open,” Keefe said.
Keefe added that a very favorable weather forecast may also be a factor in higher reservation rates, in addition to the continued cash crunch for many residents due to the recession.
“We’re still viewed as a reasonable and very affordable option for families to enjoy the outdoors,” he said.
Meanwhile, Keefe said attendance for the Capital Region’s 23 state parks and historic sites increased by 37 percent for the spring 2010 time period.
The Caroga Lake and Northampton state parks in Fulton County are located in the Adirondack State Forest Preserve and run by the state Department of Environmental Conservation. Spokeswoman Maureen Wren said while reservations of available campsites at Northampton decreased from 68 to 60 percent, nearly all of Caroga Lake’s sites — 156 out of 161 — were booked.
Last year, 143 sites were reserved for the holiday weekend at the park.
Wren said campground reservations must be made three days in advance, so it’s unlikely any more bookings will be made for campsites this weekend.
As for attendance at DEC-owned state parks, Wren said they’ve seen an overall increase of about three percent over 2009.
While residents continue to consider state parks to be an affordable option in a down economy, Wren also cited more favorable weather as a factor in the attendance increase this year.
“The weather has been good for the holiday weekends. We’ve been relatively lucky in that regard,” Wren said.
Privately owned campgrounds are also showing a jump in business.
Nickerson Park Campground, located along the Schoharie Creek in Gilboa, has seen an increase in visitors since the economy starting going south two years ago, according to owner Doug Brown. But he believes there are other factors.
“I’d like to thing it’s a combination of things: one, camping being affordable, and two, the improvements in amenities that we’ve made,” Brown said.
Brown said new playground equipment and picnic tables have been installed and the camp now promotes theme weekends to attract families. Brown added that they also offer campside trash collection.
“It’s not just dollars and cents. We’re now a more attractive facility,” he said.