News from NY State Parks

New York State Parks

December 2019  •  Issue 57 

Sampson State Park, photo by Jerome Davis

All-Time Attendance Record in 2019 for State Park Campgrounds

Attendance at State Park campgrounds surged to an all-time high this year, fueled in part by a camping discount in the flood-affected Lake Ontario and St. Lawrence River regions. Through Columbus Day, campsites, cabins, cottages, and yurts at State Parks campgrounds were occupied for 680,533 nights, surpassing the previous 2018 record of 663,953 nights. Total reservations so far this year were also up, to 213,153, surpassing the previous record of 212,358 set in 2016.

Since Governor Cuomo announced the 50 percent discount Aug. 1 on fees at more than 30 campgrounds, parks, and boat launches along Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence, those campgrounds received 10,263 new reservations, reflecting about 36,000 additional visitors to a region impacted by high lake levels.

Campground improvements are part of the Governor’s NY Parks 2020 plan to invest approximately $900 million in public and private funding in State Parks from 2015 to 2020. Total overnight stays at State Parks campgrounds have risen 26 percent since the initiative began in 2011, with reservations up 21 percent. Learn more

New Trail at Watkins Glen State Park

New Trails Added at Two Finger Lakes State Parks

This fall, State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid  kicked off trail openings in the Finger Lakes Region, where a long-closed trail at Watkins Glen State Park was restored and reopened, and an expanded, accessible trail network was added at Allan H. Treman State Marine Park on Cayuga Lake near Ithaca.

At Watkins Glen State Park, it took crews more than 4,300 hours of work – nearly all of it by hand – during the last two years to restore a steep, badly-eroded and unsafe section of trail from the park’s main entrance to the North Rim Trail at the top of the gorge that had been closed since 1983.

The new trail will allow visitors to bypass the sometimes-crowded gorge trail, as well as allow public access to the park when ice closes the gorge trail in winter.

At Allan H. Treman State Marine Park, 1.7 miles of paved asphalt or stone dust multi-use trails, compliant with the American with Disabilities Act, were added to the park's northern section. The trails connects the park to the city of Ithaca's Cayuga Waterfront Trail and improves access within Allan Treman to picnic areas, Cayuga Lake and Cayuga Inlet. Learn more

Rendering of pathway

Extension of Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway Begins

Work is underway to build the remaining 10-mile section of the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway Shared Use Path in the town of Oyster Bay, Nassau County, and the towns of Babylon and Islip in Suffolk County.

Compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, the new path will enhance safety for cyclists, walkers, runners, and skaters; promote green transportation; and attract people to the natural beauty of beaches and State Parks on Long Island when it opens in summer 2021. This final leg of the Ocean Parkway Coastal Greenway will extend the path on the northern side of the parkway from its current end at Tobay Beach to Captree State Park. Learn more 

National Purple Heart Hall of Honor

Expansion of National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in Hudson Valley Now Underway

Construction has begun on a project to expand the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in Orange County, not far from where George Washington first established the Badge of Military Merit, the inspiration for the modern Purple Heart.

Located in New Windsor, a few miles from the Washington Headquarters State Historic Site in Newburgh, the Hall of Honor is being expanded with about 4,300 square feet of new and refurbished exhibit space, with an increased emphasis on stories of individual award recipients.

Work is expected to be completed by November 2020.

Opened in 2006, the Hall of Honor is the first facility in the nation dedicated to an estimated 1.8 million recipients of the Purple Heart, which is awarded to American military personnel who have been wounded or killed by enemy action. The hall has drawn about 176,000 visitors through 2018. Learn more 

NIagara Falls Rescue.

State Park Police Make Dramatic Rescue Near Niagara Falls

On Nov. 7, Park Police rescued a man found clinging to a log in the Niagara River, just above Niagara Falls. Check out pictures of Park Police and the Niagara Falls Fire Department sending officers, Major Clyde Doty and Captain Christopher Rola, into the rapidly-flowing river to pull the man to safety. Rescue Photos.

SPAC rendering

Renovation Project Begins at Saratoga Performing Arts Center

Governor Cuomo announced that construction is underway on a $9.5 million renovation project at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, a world-class arts and culture destination located in Saratoga Spa State Park, to improve visitor services, restroom facilities, concession areas, and add four-season event space.

The project is supported by $8 million in private funding from Live Nation and Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The state is providing up to $1.5 million in grants from Empire State Development and State Parks, awarded through the governor's Regional Economic Development Council initiative.
Learn more

EP holiday

Early Bird Discount on Empire Pass Renewals for 2020 Season

People who keep their existing Empire Pass card and renew online will save, with the biggest reward going to those who do it early.

Those who renew before January 1, 2020 will get $15 off a single or multi-season pass. Renewals done from January 1 to March 31 will save $10, and renewals done April 1 or later get a $5 discount. Renewals can be done online at Renew My Pass

The Empire Pass program provides unlimited day-use vehicle entry to state parks, boat launch sites, arboretums, park preserves and Department of Environmental Conservation forest preserves.

New customers can purchase a single-season Empire Passes for $80 online at Parks Store or by phone 518-474-0458. Three-season and five-season Empire Passes are available to new customers for $205 and $320 respectively. The Lifetime Empire Passport can be purchased for just $750.

First Day Hikes

First Day Hikes 

Celebrate the New Year in the outdoors with a First Day Hike! Gather your family and friends and choose from 75+ guided hikes being held at state parks, historic sites, wildlife areas, trails, and public lands across New York State. This free event has become a annual tradition for many. To find and event near you visit

First Day Hike Logo
Park Manager, Erica Wheatley

Behind the Scenes

Erica Wheatley, Park Manager, Cayuga Lake State Park

How long have you been working with the agency? I started working seasonally at Green Lakes State Park in 2010 while I was attending college and became a full-time employee in 2014.  I also worked at Fair Haven Beach State Park for a year in 2015-2016 and have been at my current facility, Cayuga Lake State Park, for three years now.    

What does someone in your position do? I oversee all aspects of the park including beach operations, camping, staffing, and budgeting.  I try not to spend too much time in the office during our busy summer months, I like to get out to visit with patrons and staff in the different areas of the park.  The best part of my job is interacting with the campers and beach goers – it is so nice getting to know the people who come back year after year!

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen or done? A microburst hit the park late one afternoon during the summer of 2017 causing extensive damage from countless downed trees and limbs.  I quickly sent out an SOS to the other facilities in the region and by the next morning there was an entire crew ready to report for storm cleanup.  There were workers and equipment from all over the Finger Lakes Region helping in the park for almost two weeks during the absolute busiest time of the season.  That support, teamwork, and enthusiasm is definitely the coolest thing I’ve ever experienced working for parks and I will always be grateful to be part of such a remarkable region.

Is there a destination in the park/region you’d recommend to someone? I would recommend visiting any of the parks in the Finger Lakes Region, but my favorite to send patrons to is Taughannock Falls State Park.  There is something for everyone there: easy hikes, interesting gorge hikes, swimming, camping, a beautiful waterfall, and many different events!

What inspired you to work/volunteer in the park system? I grew up five minutes away from Green Lakes State Park and spent a lot of time there running or enjoying the picnic areas, so it was a no-brainer to apply there when I needed a new summer job in college.  After my first summer working there, I knew I wanted to have a career with this agency.  The rest is history!