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State parks attendance grows

State parks attendance grows

Saratoga and Moreau Lake are up, John Boyd Thacher down
State parks attendance grows
Bird watchers observe soaring hawks at the overlook in Thacher Park in September 2013.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

CAPITAL REGION — Attendance at New York state parks set another record in 2017, with 71.5 million people visiting, about 900,000 more than the year before.

In the Capital Region, though, John Boyd Thacher State Park in the Helderberg Mountains saw attendance decline, even while Saratoga Spa State Park and Moreau Lake State Park in Saratoga County saw more visitors.

Thacher, which offers dramatic views from atop the Helderberg escarpment, saw a new visitors’ center open last year. But officials also had to close the popular Indian Ladder trail across the escarpment after a falling rock seriously injured a hiker in July.

Thacher Park had 508,626 visitors in 2017, down from 579,380, according to figures released by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

“There are always multiple factors when theorizing attendance fluctuation,” parks spokesman Randy Simons said. “Weather is always the predominant factor. Indian Ladder Trail is certainly another factor.”

The 2017 figure for Thacher is still far above the 2011-2015 average of 341,000 visitors, Simons noted. The park has said $10.4 in improvements since 2011, he said, including the new visitors center. “Even on a down year like 2017 we are still booming when taking prior year data into account,” he said.

Simons said the visitors center “has proven to be a popular gathering place and the common room downstairs was booked every weekend through the remainder of 2017 once the center opened.”

Saratoga Spa State Park, meanwhile, saw 3,065,282 visitors, a significant increase from just under 2.3 million people in 2016. Simons said 2016 was an unusually down year, and the recent average at Saratoga has been 2.8 million people. The numbers at Saratoga include people attending concerts and performances at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, which can fluctuate from season to season.

This coming summer is expected to see the reopening of the popular Peerless Pool, which had been closed unexpectedly last August due to deterioration.

Moreau Lake in northern Saratoga County, which offers a beach, cabins, and the chance to see bald eagles, experienced attendance growth from 366,567 in 2016 to 381,557 last year.

In announcing last year’s attendance figures, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said statewide attendance has now increased for the last seven years, overlapping with his NY Parks 2020 program to invest $90 million or more annually in parks repairs and upgrades.

“State parks energize our local economies by inviting visitors from all over to explore the history, beauty and great outdoors found in communities across New York state,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We have modernized the oldest park system in the nation by making strategic investments that will entice more and more visitors to make great memories with families and friends, while experiencing the natural beauty found in every New York community.”

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 518-395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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