News from State Parks, February

February 2021, Issue 63

Parks Sets Attendance Record at 78 Million Visitors 

New York’s State parks, historic sites, campgrounds, and trails welcomed a record-setting 78 million visitors in 2020. The milestone marks nine years of steady visitor growth and represents an overall increase of 34 percent, or more than 20 million visitors since 2011.

NY State Parks

This increase was driven by unprecedented growth during the spring and fall seasons, as New Yorkers turned to State Parks facilities for safe, healthy outdoor recreation during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

New Yorkers have more options than ever under as State Parks completed new facilities under the Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 Plan, including the 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, new cottages at Westcott Beach State Park and a new recreation complex at Letchworth State Park. Learn more.

Empire State Trail

Statewide Empire State Trail Completed

New Yorkers have a new way to explore all their state has to offer with completion of the 750-mile Empire State Trail, a year-round, multi-use recreational trail for cyclists, hikers, runners, cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

The trail runs from New York City through the Hudson and Champlain Valleys to Canada, and from Albany to Buffalo along the Erie Canal. Three-quarters of the trail is off-road. Projections call for 8.6 million people to use it each year.

Connecting 20 existing regional trails, the Empire State Trail was created by building more than 180 miles of new off-road trail and connecting 400 miles of previously disconnected, off-road trails. There are 45 gateways and trailheads along the trail, which includes signage, interpretive panels, bike racks and benches. Navigating the trail can be done through the trails web site, which includes an online map and the ability to print itinerary sheets for specific trail segments. Learn more.

Exploring New York's Black History

Westchester County State Historic Site to Focus on New York's African American History

Under Governor Cuomo's "Our Whole History" Initiative, which aims to broaden interpretations at state historic sites, Parks this year will designate Philipse Manor Hall State Historic Site as the first state historic site dedicated to the 400-year experience of African Americans in New York.

The Westchester County former Colonial estate was once home to enslaved Africans who labored there and exhibitions at the site will be expanded to include interpretation of that enslavement, the Underground Railroad abolitionist effort, emancipation, the Great Migration, and the Civil Rights movement to celebrate the countless ways in which African Americans have contributed to our shared culture.

The effort is part of State Parks’ priority to tell more of the under told stories that reflect the state’s diverse history.

Niagara Falls State Park, USA

In honor of Black History Month, Niagara Falls will be illuminated in red, black and green on February 13, beginning at 6 p.m., for a 15-minute period at the top of the hour continuing through 11 p.m. 

Learn more about Black History Month programming, events and virtual content at State Parks. Exploring New York's Black History

Bennington Battlefield State Park Cannon

Revolutionary War Battlefield Site Receives Cannon From Hessian Soldier’s Descendant

The Bennington Battlefield State Historic Site, an important Revolutionary War battlefield, now has a historic replica cannon donated by an American descendant of a badly wounded "Hessian" soldier who survived thanks to an act of battlefield compassion.

The donation came as State Parks also added 11 acres to the 416-acre historic site in Rensselaer County that marks a 1777 battle between several thousand patriot and British forces, which included loyalist and German troops, who were also known as “Hessians,” after the German region of Hesse.

Ohio resident Michael Kasler, whose ancestor Johann Michael Kasler was badly wounded during the battle and survived after a patriot soldier got him timely medical attention, donated a replica three-pounder British cannon, a model that was used during the battle.

The 11-acres of land recently added to the battlefield site is a portion of the “Tory Fort,” a breastwork defended by about 200 loyalist soldiers. Learn more.

Clarence Fahnestock State Park

State Parks Grow in the Hudson Valley

Three State Parks in the Hudson Valley added more than 260 acres of open space under $1.14 million in State funding from the Environmental Protection Fund and Hudson Highlands Conservation Act. Fahnestock State Park in Putnam County added 150 acres, which will protect natural resources and connect the park to a local Scout reservation that has a trail open to the public. The land was acquired in partnership with the Hudson Highlands Land Trust. Sterling Forest State Park in Orange County added 112 acres that will maintain biodiversity of the area, as well as create access to the 22,000-acre Sterling Forest State Park and to the Appalachian Trail from the western side of the park. The parcel was acquired in partnership with the Orange County Land Trust. Rockefeller State Park Preserve in Westchester County added one acre to allow creation of a formal entry, signage and parking to Rockwood Hall, a historic and impressive riverside section of the nearly 1,800-acre preserve. Learn more.

Orient Beach State Park

Park Staff on Long Island Go Extra Mile To Return Lost Memorial

A memorial to a young woman killed in a drunk driving accident in Rhode Island is back in the hands of her family thanks to efforts of park staff at Orient Beach State Park.

A simple wooden memorial to the woman had washed up on a remote beach at the park, where Manager Bill Bohach and carried it back to the office. Parks Aide Jorge Eusebio then used the internet to research the name carved into the memorial, and reached out to potential relatives on social media, ultimately making contact with family in Florida.

The memorial had been vandalized and floated for several months across Block Island Sound to Orient Beach. Learn more about how these extra efforts helped create a Christmas miracle for a family still grieving their daughter’s death in the New York State Parks Blog, where weekly posts cover a variety of historical, natural and other Parks topics. Hope Floats onto a State Parks Beach.

Historic Preservation Projects Honored Statewide

Governor Cuomo announced Historic Preservation Awards made to 11 projects across the state, including African American landownership on Long Island, renovation of a former Carnegie Library in the Southern Tier, and rehabilitation of a former 1930s vacant high school into affordable housing in Western New York. Photo Album

State Historic Preservation Awards

Created in 1980, the State Historic Preservation Awards are awarded by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation each year to honor excellence in the protection and revitalization of historic and cultural resources. Learn more.

Snowmobile Safety

Snowmobilers Reminded to Ride Safely

With a favorable season for snowmobiling under way, State Parks reminds snowmobilers to ride safely and consider the benefits of taking a snowmobile safety course.

Completion of the course results in the issuance of a NYS Snowmobile Safety Certificate, which is required for youth between ages 10 and 18 to operate a snowmobile.

Safety rules on speed limits, unsafe or reckless operation, and operating while intoxicated apply on all local and club trails, as well as the 10,500-mile Statewide Trail System, which traverses 45 counties and includes lands under the jurisdiction of State Parks, Department of Environmental Conservation, New York State Canal Corporation, local governments and many private landowners. Learn more.

Behind the Scenery: Christina Croll

Behind the Scenery

Christina Croll, Manager of GIS (Geographic Information System) Services

How long have you been with the agency? Twenty years – I started as a seasonal in 1999 working for Planning. I left for a year to work for Rensselaer County as a GIS Technician and then came back in 2001 as GIS Manager.

What does someone in your position do? I do quite a bit of project management, making sure that the mapping needs of the agency are being met. We make all the park trail maps as well as kiosk maps and camping maps. GIS staff spend time in the field using GPS to map trails, buildings, infrastructure and utilities. From there, they process the data and put it on a static map or interactive, online map. Recently we’ve been working on the mapping content for the Parks Explorer app.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve ever seen or done? Watching my kids watch Old Faithful erupt. However, when it comes to our park system, it’s hard to beat standing at the rail at Niagara Falls State Park and watch the water cascade over. The raw power of nature is amazing.

Is there a destination you’d recommend to someone? Sterling Forest State Park is one of the first parks that I mapped using GPS; I was all over those trails. I absolutely loved the time I spent down there, it’s such a beautiful park. Honestly, it’s very hard to pick. Every park I’ve been to is great and it’s because we have such great park managers and hearing them talk about their facility makes you love it as much as they do!

What inspired you to work in the park system? The summer I turned 12, I went on a cross country camping trip with my family. We visited national parks and state parks and I became a junior ranger in quite a few national parks. This trip was foundational in my higher education choice (SUNY ESF!) and career choice!