OPRHP commissioner embarks on statewide tour to highlight diversity of activities throughout parks & historic sites system
Gov. Kathy Hochul on Wednesday previewed a year-long celebration of the centennial anniversary of the founding of New York’s statewide park and historic site system to take place in 2024. Her team said, “The celebration will both highlight and build upon one of New York state’s greatest environmental legacies.
“In 1924, Gove. Alfred E. Smith and the State Legislature created the New York State Council of Parks while voters approved a $15 million bond act to build and enlarge a network of state parks, forging the New York state park and historic site system that New York state residents and visitors know and cherish today.
Hochul said, “New York state led the nation in creating a state park system for our citizens 100 years ago. As we celebrate through next year, New York will continue to invest in our park system to support the state’s outdoor recreation economy, expand access to underserved communities, address the impacts of climate change, and position New York state as a top recreation destination.”
State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid is previewing the celebration with a two-day tour of parks and historic sites across the state, meeting with key partners and highlighting unique activities. Today, he was set to tour the landscape at Olana State Historic Site, ride a bike across the Walkway Over the Hudson State Historic Park, swim at Lake Welch in Harriman State Park, zipline and unveil a sand sculpture at Jones Beach State Park, and facilitate the nightly illumination of Niagara Falls State Park’s lights over the falls, making them parks’ green and gold centennial colors. On Thursday, he is slated to experience a cannon blast at Old Fort Niagara State Historic Site, descend into the Cave of the Winds at Niagara Falls State Park, tour the longhouse at Ganondagan State Historic Site, paddle a crystal kayak at Green Lakes State Park, and visit performance venues at Saratoga Spa State Park.
Across the state through 2024, New York will commemorate the state park centennial with hundreds of community celebrations, performances and special events led by the state park and historic site staff, the State Council of Parks and Park and Historic Site Friends Groups. There will be a new “Centennial Challenge” to encourage visitors to try a variety of new activities as they enjoy the parks and historic sites, special discounts on park admission fees and new opportunities to volunteer and promote park stewardship. A traveling exhibit on the history of New York State Parks will go on display at parks and historic sites. State Parks will collect and share stories and photographs from the public to celebrate the memories made during the past century, as well as a new line of centennial-themed State Parks merchandise from the parks store. New Yorkers can visit parks.ny.gov/100 to learn more about the centennial.
More About State Parks
The press release said, “While New York state had established a number of state parks and historic sites prior to 1924 to protect scenic and historic resources – such as Niagara Falls, George Washington’s Revolutionary War Headquarters, and Bear Mountain – the State Park Act was intended to directly connect citizens to outdoor recreation. When these limited preserves proved to be overwhelmingly popular, state leaders recognized the need to create more parks in proximity to urban centers.
“In 1923, Gov. Alfred E. Smith endorsed an ambitious plan for a statewide system of parks connected by scenic parkways and boulevards. In 1924, New York state established the State Council of Parks, and voters approved a $15 million bond to put the plan in action. Over the next decade, 55 new state parks were established.”
In addition, New York state will “prioritize investments and programs to preserve the park system as a model for the nation in the next century” by:
•Restoring and expanding visitor capacity: State Parks will continue the ongoing transformation of New York’s flagship parks and embark on critical infrastructure improvement projects. The state budget includes $200 million for capital improvement projects annually for five years, for a total of $1 billion through fiscal year 2028. The funding will help improve parks and restore facilities at such heavily visited parks as Bear Mountain, Heckscher, Jones Beach and Riverbank State Park.
•Reaching new and underserved audiences: The press release noted, “The State Parks centennial is an opportunity to expand and improve access and connections to all communities and to all people, regardless of background or physical ability. State Parks will expand its ‘Ladders to the Outdoors’ program statewide, enhancing the ‘Connect Kids’ field trip program. The continuing ‘Our Whole History’ initiative will more fully tell the story of the diversity of our state.”
•Facing forward into climate change: State Parks will meet Hochul’s goal to power all facilities with renewable energy by 2030, while making park facilities more resilient to climate change and sea level rise.
•Positioning New York as a recreation destination: Over the past century, State Parks have hosted visitors from around the world, including a record 79.5 million visitors in 2022.
The press release stated, “The park system is an anchor of local tourism economies and offers affordable destinations for recreational and cultural experiences for New York families. The centennial will offer opportunities to welcome these visitors and play a positive role in local economies, including the opening of the Ralph Wilson Visitor Center at Niagara Falls, the Frederic Church Center for Art and Landscape at Olana State Historic Site, and a new visitor center at Bayard Cutting Arboretum, as well as new trails connecting parks to their communities.”
•Strengthening community partnerships: The agency will work with partners to issue centennial reports on the status of parks, demographic trends and goals to ignite support for the state park system among a new generation of patrons.
Kulleseid said, “I am reminded every day of the immense pride and enjoyment New Yorkers take in the park and historic site system. We look forward to celebrating 100 years of connections between New York State Parks and Historic Sites, their communities and their partners – and laying the foundation for a vibrant, welcoming and sustainable park system for the next century.”
State Council of Parks Chair Bryan Erwin said, “One hundred years ago, New York state made a historic investment in establishing parks for all New Yorkers. Throughout this tumultuous century, through economic depressions, wars both hot and cold, the digital age and, of course, pandemics, our parks have been a constant for all New Yorkers to enjoy. Whether a camping trip at 4 Mile State Park, rafting at Letchworth State Park, a round of championship level golf at Bethpage, a day splashing in the surf at Jones Beach or a simple walk in the woods at Treman State Park, these places have been our own thin slice of heaven. We now embark on our second century, with another historic round of investment from our governor, and with the responsibility to continue to ensure that all New Yorkers – no matter where they are in our great state, no matter what figure is listed on their paycheck, no matter how they or their ancestors got to New York – have their own corner of the beach, their own open space to breath, their own place to just … be.”
Paul Steely White, executive director of Parks and Trails New York, said, “New York’s iconic state park system is a wealth of precious natural spaces and world-class recreational opportunities, rooted in rich history. We look forward to continuing our work to foster partnerships with grassroots organizations and volunteers, and expanding accessibility and enjoyment of these invaluable public lands for all New Yorkers. We are excited to support this milestone celebration and the opportunities that lay ahead for the next century of our parks system.”
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which saw a record 79.5 million visits in 2022. 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. Join in celebrating the centennial throughout 2024, and connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the OPRHP blog.