State parks officials plan to install more automated pay systems at parks throughout the state this year after three trial runs last year, including one at the state boat launch on Saratoga Lake.
The state will install 12 new machines that take cash or credit cards at parks and historic sites across the state, including Grafton Lakes State Park in Rensselaer County, where a machine at the entrance is expected to speed up the line on weekends, said Bob Kuhn, assistant regional director for the Saratoga-Capital District Region of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
“These are sort of like pilot projects throughout the state,” Kuhn, who is overseeing the statewide initiative, said Thursday at the district’s quarterly board meeting in Saratoga Springs.
Putting in pay stations at 12 parks around the state will save $150,000 each year in staffing costs, he said. The machines cost $9,000 each and are a one-time expense, so the initiative saves money over time, Kuhn said.
The agency plans to use that money instead to hire more people in areas where they are needed, he said — as lifeguards or cleaners, for example.
At smaller parks, the booth workers have large amounts of down time.
“When nobody’s driving in, we’re paying those people to just sit there and do nothing,” Kuhn said.
At Grafton Lakes, the state will continue to employ a person to take cash at the entrance, but will also have an automated pay station in a second lane. A gate in that lane will open only after people have paid.
Most parks with the system will use it without a gate and without anyone at the entrance taking money. Instead, people will drive in and park, then get out of their cars, pay the machine and get a receipt to put on their dashboard.
That’s the procedure at the Saratoga Lake boat launch, where visitors are now required to pay the $8 entrance fee to the machine around the clock, a change from when someone used to staff the booth from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m. and some boaters came early to beat the system.
“It’s fair to everybody,” Kuhn said of the new rule. “If you come, you’re expected to pay.”
At other parks with the new system, people will be required to pay only during the hours when the parks normally charge, he said.
Of the state’s 178 parks and historic sites, 50 to 60 would be a good fit for the machines in the future if money is available, he said. The pay stations work best in smaller parks with one easily patrolled parking lot so staffers who come around to check whether people have paid can more easily do so, he said.
The Saratoga Spa State Park, which has the large Peerless Pool parking lot and many smaller lots and pavilions, probably won’t be able to use the machines. But they would work well at John Boyd Thacher State Park in Albany County because the state currently employs several people to staff booths at the park’s various entrances, Kuhn said.
“Thacher would be a perfect park for this kind of system,” he observed.
Moreau Lake State Park would be a little more difficult since the park has multiple parking lots and two types of patrons — day users who pay the fee and campers who pay once and then come and go as they please.
“In future years, we’re going to try to figure that out,” Kuhn said.
One downside to the machines is that they can’t give change. He said machines that dispense change are far more likely to break down and require restocking.
However, people can get change from the boat launch pay station if they bring their receipt to the administration building at Saratoga Spa State Park.