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State Parks announces expansion of free learn-to-swim programs at parks this summer

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Wed, Jul 20th 2016 02:10 pm

Expansion to introduce, teach thousands of children across the state lifelong skill of swimming

The Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recently announced New York will provide free learn-to-swim programs to approximately 3,000 children this summer at state parks across New York. The program, now in its fourth year, is offered through a partnership among State Parks, the American Red Cross, the National Swimming Pool Foundation, the Northeast Spa and Pool Association Foundation and the New York State Department of Health.

"We are thrilled that, this year, with the continued support of our partners, we are able to offer more free swim lessons than ever before, in every corner of New York," said State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, who welcomed children and families at a learn-to-swim event at Keewaydin State Park in Alexandria Bay. "We are proud to offer nearly 30 free learn-to-swim programs, where we expect to teach 3,000 more children to swim this summer."

Since the program's inception in 2013, State Parks has expanded the number of participating locations offering free learn-to-swim programs each year.

The State Department of Health provided $80,000 last year to help ensure the addition of even more locations through 2017. The National Swimming Pool Foundation and the Northeast Spa & Pool Association Foundation donated $15,000 to offset staff and program costs to enable State Parks to offer the free swim classes. The American Red Cross provides free training to state park lifeguards to obtain water safety instructor certification. This support has allowed for the certification of approximately 48 additional Water Safety Instructors. Lifeguard staff who currently possess WSI certification will also help provide more opportunities for swim lessons.

The 2016 season will see programs varying from swim lessons to water safety presentations at 26 locations, and build on the instruction offered at state park facilities as part of programs arranged by summer camps, municipalities and other partner organizations. This year, over 570 individual classes will be taught for all ages and levels.

"Swimming is a fun and healthy activity, especially on a hot summer day," said New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker. "New York's learn-to-swim program not only teaches children valuable skills and techniques that could be life-saving, it also teaches them a lifelong, health-promoting physical activity. Moreover, the learn-to-swim programs, which are held across the state, introduce children and their families to New York's most beautiful natural resources and tourist destinations: our wonderful state parks." 

"The American Red Cross commends our partner, New York State Parks, for their successful efforts in making water safety a priority," said Connie Harvey, director of the Red Cross Aquatics centennial campaign. "We are thrilled that now even more children and adults will have the opportunity to learn how to swim and about water safety at parks in every region of the state. It is amazing to see the impact when we all work together toward this mission to help prevent drowning."

"Participation in formal swim lessons can reduce the likelihood of childhood drowning death by 88 percent," said Thomas M. Lachocki, Ph.D., CEO with the NSPF, founder of the Step Into Swim Campaign. "What's more, being in and around the water makes people happier. As parents, teaching our children to swim protects them and brings them joy."

"We are proud to continue our longtime partnership with the New York park system as it grows its learn-to-swim program to reach more kids across the state. The value of this program is tremendous because, when we teach a child to swim, we not only introduce them to a fun outlet for exercise, but also give them a critical, life-saving skill," said Clive Ensher, president of the NESPA Foundation.

Enrollment for the learn-to-swim program for children is open at all participating New York state parks. Participants' parents are asked to sign up ahead of time, as space is limited and expected to fill up quickly. Each swim program is 40 to 45 minutes in duration. Participants who enroll in these lessons will receive a Red Cross learn-to-swim achievement booklet and a State Parks learn-to-swim kit that includes a knapsack, T-shirt and water bottle at the conclusion of the program.

Programs are free and pre-registration is required. For more information on locations, schedules and how to sign up, visit the learn-to-swim page at www.nysparks.com. Locally, lessons will be offered at Fort Niagara State Park.

Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the "Connect Kids to Parks" program, which provides free day-use park entry to fourth-grade students and their families, and creates a new $500,000 transportation grant program to help students from underserved schools visit state parks and historic sites.

State Parks oversees 180 state parks and 35 historic sites, which are visited by 65 million people annually. A recent study found New York parks generates $1.9 billion in economic activity annually and support 20,000 jobs. For more information, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.nysparks.com, connect on Facebook, or follow on Twitter.

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