---- — Millions more people visited state parks this year than last, yet it wasn’t so long ago that New York was considering shutting some down, including a few North Country sites.
The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation recently reported that about 43.7 million people visited state parks and historic sites from Jan. 1 through the last weekend of August, a 2.3 million increase over 2011.
State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey attributed the 5.6 percent increase in visits to the beautiful weather this summer, along with a number of well-attended events across the state. It certainly was an amazing season, with sunny skies and moderate temperatures almost every weekend.
Tens of thousands of people visited state sites in the North Country this year. Point au Roche in Beekmantown tops the local list with 53,638 visitors, with 7,064 recorded at the state boat launch there. The John Brown Farm in Lake Placid was second in this region with 42,078.
Cumberland Bay State Park had 28,087 people pass through the gates. (Plattsburgh City Beach next door, though not a state park, also reported robust use numbers this summer.) Macomb Reservation in Schuyler Falls had 24,394 visitors; Crown Point Historic Site, 17,344; and the Great Chazy Boat Launch, 15,289.
In the news release heralding higher attendance this year, the state commissioner gushed about the attractiveness of state parks. But the picture was very different two years ago, with a budget crisis under way in the state.
In May 2010, in an effort to save money, the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation began shutting down 41 parks and 14 historic sites, including, in this area, Point au Roche, Macomb and the John Brown Farm.
It was residents who came to the rescue. Local people and visitors who valued North Country parks raised a ruckus about the intended closures. Friends of the parks groups formed and sponsored rallies, letter-writing campaigns and other action to save the parks. The same kind of rebellion was seen in other areas of the state.
It worked. The State Legislature came through with the money, and the parks were saved by Memorial Day weekend that year.
Now, two years later, they continue to prove their worth. With the nation continuing to struggle in recovering from the Great Recession, people have scaled down their vacation plans. Where it used to be standard to travel to Disney or to the Caribbean, many families are staying closer to home.
And that is where the 178 state parks and 35 historic sites are showing their value. People are discovering that they can find magnificent settings and interesting attractions practically in their backyards.
If you haven’t checked out the state parks in our area, you are missing something that tens of thousands of people enjoy every summer.