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Report: State parks attendance rose in 2016

Report: State parks attendance rose in 2016

Saratoga Spa State Park saw drop
Report: State parks attendance rose in 2016
John Boyd Thacher Park in Albany County.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

Many state parks in the Capital Region saw more visitors last year, as did most parks statewide, according to information from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

John Boyd Thacher Park in Albany County saw its attendance nearly double, though Saratoga Spa State Park — one of the most popular in the state — saw its attendance drop by 300,000 visitors. That park still welcomed nearly 2.3 million people last year, and despite the lower attendance, it was the sixth-most-visited park in the state.

Among other local state parks, Moreau Lake in Saratoga County, Peebles Island at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson rivers and the Saratoga Lake Boat Launch all welcomed more visitors in 2016 than in the prior year.

In all, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said state park attendance totaled 69.3 million last year, which he said was up 6 percent from 2015 and up 21 percent since 2011, the year Cuomo became governor.

"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 recreational opportunities that are available in every corner of the state," Cuomo said in a prepared statement.

In Saratoga, park attendance can fluctuate significantly from year to year because the totals include those who attend concerts at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. Parks spokesman Dan Keefe said attendance was also hurt in 2016 by the light winter in 2015-16, which meant the park's skate rinks didn't open. There was also no hockey tournament, and there were fewer cross-country skiers.

"Saratoga is pretty much a year-round park," Keefe said.

Thacher Park saw its attendance jump from 309,000 to nearly 580,000, for reasons that weren't clear this week. The park celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2014, and WMHT public television did a documentary in 2015 that brought the New Scotland park fresh attention. Publicity about construction of a new visitors center there may also be a factor.

"It seems to be undergoing a kind of renaissance," Keefe said.

Cuomo, in explaining the attendance increase, highlighted improvements made last year at Jones Beach in New York City and at Niagara Falls, but improvements are also being made at Capital Region parks.

Locally, the new Thacher Park visitors center is expected to cost $3.8 million. It will feature clifftop views from atop the Helderberg escarpment.

Also, a $664,000 environmental classroom building is being built in Saratoga, and six new rental cabins are being built at the Moreau park. Keefe said all those improvements are expected to be finished before the peak summer season this year.

Cuomo's 2018 state budget proposal would allocate $120 million to capital improvements at state parks, which is $30 million more than this year. The governor has pledged to spend $900 million in park upgrades between 2011 and 2020.

The state has 180 state parks or campgrounds and 35 state-managed historic sites.

The most popular state parks are the Niagara Reservation, which drew 9.5 million people last year; Jones Beach, which drew 5.9 million; and Robert Moses State Park on Long Island, which drew more than 4.2 million people.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

Capital Region State Park attendance

Park 2015 2016
John Boyd Thacher 309,263 579,380
Moreau Lake 357,848 366,567
Peebles Island 101,647 137,858
Saratoga Lake Boat Launch 99,803 115,781
Saratoga Spa 2,584,669 2,282,427
Thompson Lake 68,797 62,633

SOURCE: State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

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