Park system sees unprecedented year-round usage during pandemic
Revitalized park system continues to see steady growth with another record-setting year
Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced New York's state parks, historic sites, campgrounds and trails welcomed a record-setting 78 million visits in 2020. The milestone marks nine years of steady visitor growth and represents an overall increase of 34% – more than 20 million visitors since the governor took office in 2011.
"In 2020, our state parks became an even more critical resource than before as New Yorkers sought safe places for solace, exercise and relief from the pandemic," Cuomo said. "New York remains fully committed to the continued modernization of our parks system and, with the recent completion of the 750-mile Empire State Trail, we are ensuring New Yorkers and visitors alike have unparalleled recreational opportunities, especially during these unprecedented times."
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul said, "In what has been a tremendously difficult year, our state parks have remained open for residents and visitors to enjoy, get out of the house and stay active. As we reimagine New York for the post-pandemic future, we will continue to improve our state parks to not only provide more recreational opportunities for New Yorkers, but also boost our local downtowns and regional tourism economies across the state."
New York state parks saw estimated visitation grow from the previous record of 77.1 million visits in 2019 to 78 million in 2020. The increase was driven by unprecedented visitation in the spring and fall, as New Yorkers turned to nearby state parks, trails and historic sites to escape the pandemic. Visitation during the summer, typically the busiest time in the park system, was held in check as state park beaches, pools, historic sites and trailheads operated with reduced capacity limits put in place to protect visitor health and promote social distancing. Attendance at some of the park system's traditionally most popular destinations was also impacted by limits on out-of-state and international visitors; cancelation of large concerts, festivals and events; and public messages urging people to recreate locally.
Continued improvements made through the governor's NY Parks 2020 plan promoted healthy outdoor recreation and encouraged families and visitors to explore state parks. In 2020, new improvements and facilities included: Jones Beach Energy and Nature Center and a revitalized West Games Area at Jones Beach State Park; a new visitor center at Minnewaska State Park; an expanded Purple Heart Hall of Honor and new cottages at Westcott Beach State Park; and a new recreation complex at Letchworth State Park.
Erik Kulleseid, commissioner of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said, "Gov. Cuomo deserves great credit for ensuring safe and healthy outdoor recreation remained available to New Yorkers during 2020. As other park systems were closing at the start of the pandemic, Gov. Cuomo focused on taking the necessary precautions to open them safely. Our state parks and open spaces proved to be true sanctuaries for people to escape inactivity and isolation during this difficult year."
A view of Niagara Falls from atop Niagara Falls State Park. (File photo)
New York State Executive Director of Tourism Ross D. Levi said, "New York's state parks system has long offered compelling attractions for visitors and residents alike in a safe and socially responsible setting. Last year provided families with the perfect opportunity to rediscover the natural beauty and world-class amenities of our state parks in their own backyard, and more visitors than ever before chose to experience what people from around the world have raved about for years."
Building on the success of the NY Parks 2020 initiative, Cuomo announced in his 2021 State of the State agenda that New York will launch “NY Parks 100,” renewing the historic commitment to investing and expanding the state park system by committing at least $440 million over the next four years. This period of revitalization will culminate in the 2024 celebration of the 100th anniversary of the State Park Act, which first created New York’s nation-leading state park system in 1924 under Gov. Al Smith. “
A press release said “NY Parks 100” will continue investments in park infrastructure while enhancing opportunities to reach the full range of New York state's recreational and cultural offerings, including local parks and trails, regional flagship parks and historic sites, and vast wilderness parks. The initiative will focus on creating places to recreate locally, relieving overcrowded parks, welcoming new visitors, and protecting New York's environmental and historic legacy. “This new plan will ensure people from all communities and across all ages and abilities can fully experience our outdoors, our culture, and our heritage.”
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 individual parks, historic sites, recreational trails and boat launches. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit parks.ny.gov, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518-474-0456.