ALBANY — Robert Maher remembers back in the 1970s when 300 or more buses filled the parking lots at Rockland Lake State Park, bringing thousands of New York City residents to enjoy the park's two huge swimming pools on scorching summer days.
Rockland Lake, just 30 miles north of Midtown Manhattan, was among the most popular of New York's state-run parks, drawing about 2 million visitors a year in its heyday, Maher said. Attendance last year was 610,000. Maher said much of the blame lies with the state for allowing the pools to deteriorate to the point where one is closed and the other "is basically being held together by duct tape."
"People don't like to go to a place that looks like it's about to fall down," said Maher, 48, the president of Friends of Rockland Lake and Hook Mountain, Inc., a local state parks support organization.
Things are about to change for Rockland Lake, one in a string of state parks along the Hudson River's west bank in Rockland County. The $132 billion state budget approved by the Legislature late last month includes $89 million in New York Works capital projects for the state-run system of 178 parks and 35 historic sites.
The funding breakdown released earlier this month includes:
- $25 million for Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in the nation's oldest state parks system, and the most-visited, with 8 million visitors a year.
- $33.6 million for Jones Beach State Park, the system's second most-visited park, and six other parks on Long Island.
- $9.7 million for two parks in New York City, one in the Bronx and one in Manhattan.
- $5 million to fix and reopen Rockland Lake's leaky North Pool.
The other $12.7 million is being split between more than two dozen other parks and historic sites from Westchester County to the St. Lawrence River for projects ranging from road paving to ball field improvements.