A $900 million state parks improvement plan unveiled Monday will include a new classroom building and a number of other improvements at Saratoga Spa State Park.
The Parks 2020 plan was included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal, but significant new details were released Monday.
“There is going to be a complete and total transformation of this already fabulous park system,” state Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey said at a news conference at Spa State Park.
Cuomo said it will position New York as a recreation destination, with the parks helping boost local economies.
About $7 million will be invested at Saratoga. In addition to the classroom building near Geyser Creek, the park would see improvements to picnic areas, pavilions and trails.
Elsewhere in the Capital Region, John Boyd Thatcher Park in Albany County is in line for a new visitors’ center, and the closing of the Mt. McGregor prison in Wilton could lead to hundreds of acres being added to the natural features at Moreau Lake State Park.
Cuomo and Harvey said they’re trying to reverse decades of decline during which the capital needs of the park system were mostly neglected.
“We plan to invest in the natural and historic grandeur and also make the parks more relevant and modern for the 21st century,” Harvey said at Spa State Park’s administration building.
Prior to the current round of investments, New York parks had developed a reputation for looking rundown, with deteriorating visitor infrastructure. There was even talk of closing parks during budget crises that followed the 2008 recession.
“As I took office, my administration found a backlog of overdue capital repairs, including critical projects that had been left unaddressed for decades,” Cuomo wrote in an introduction to the parks 2020 plan.
Since 2011, statewide park visitorship has increased from 57 million to 62 million last year. Harvey said the goal is to keep attendance growing by about 1 percent each year, as facilities are improved.
The park system has received $90 million in capital funding in each of the past three state budgets — and Cuomo has proposed spending $110 million on capital projects in the 2015 budget.
The spending requires approval from the state Legislature, but it has approved Cuomo’s previous parks capital spending requests.
As the Capital Region’s “flagship” park, Saratoga has already gotten a new entrance sign. Upcoming work will include improvements to picnic pavilions and playgrounds, renovations to bathhouses, the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and trails.
Harvey said the Hathorn playground is going to be rebuilt and expanded as part of a stated goal of increasing active outdoor recreation.
The Geyser Creek classroom building is currently being designed, to be built at the site of a comfort station in the creek valley at the center of the park. The goal is open it in 2016.
“It’s going to be a big addition for us. We don’t have that kind of space now,” said Alane Chinian, the park system’s Saratoga-Capital region director.
Also, the Polaris Pavilion at the Peerless Pool will be getting a new shelter and handicapped-accessible bathrooms, and the Karista mineral water spring will be rehabilitated.
“We’re going to do the rest [of the springs], all that are available to the public,” Harvey said.
At SPAC, the state built a permeable-pavement “green” parking lot that will see its first public use this spring.
About 2 million people a year visit Saratoga Spa State Park — a number park manager Michael Greenslade said has been growing due to concerts, farmers markets and visits to the museums of dance and automobiles.
Across the system of 180 parks, improvements are also planned at such popular parks as Niagara Falls, Jones Beach and Robert Moses state parks.
Of the $900 million to be spent by 2020, Harvey said about $640 million will come from the New York Works program and about $200 million will come from other state agencies. There will also be some federal money and some private fundraising.
Locally, Heather Mabee, chairwoman of the Saratoga-Capital Region Park Commission, said Adirondack Trust Co. and Allerdice Building Supply have funded some of the recent improvements at Spa State Park.
Peter Martin, a Saratoga Springs representative on the Saratoga County Board of Supervisors, said he’s especially excited about planned trail improvements. “The work they’re talking about on trails will be a magnificent addition to the park,” he said, noting it could lead to extending the county’s Zim Smith trail from Ballston Spa to the park.
In Moreau, Harvey said she was “very optimistic” that 763 acres around the closed Mt. McGregor prison will be added to the natural lands at Moreau Lake State Park. It is now owned by the state Department of Corrections.
Mabee said the budgets since Cuomo took office have been the first to actually earmark capital funding for the park system. Before that, regional commissioners like herself had to lobby local state legislators for money when they had specific projects.
“We are grateful to Governor Cuomo for recognizing the importance of investing in the parks,” Mabee said.
Tuesday is Parks Advocacy Day at the State Capitol, when a number of park supporters will descend on the state Capital to lobby for parks funding.
One group, Parks & Trails New York, estimated the park system needs $1 billion in infrastructure and critical safety repairs.
“Our state parks and historic sites are a public treasure of New York,” said Parks & Trails New York Executive Director Robin Dropkin.