Project will dramatically improve visitor experience to top state destination
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced a $6.5 million project to transform the main entrance to Watkins Glen State Park. The project will relocate the parking area away from the gorge, creating a less congested and more welcoming approach to this leading Finger Lakes tourism destination. The main entrance parking lot will be returned to green space, creating new park amenities and enhanced interpretation of Watkin Glen’s unique natural and cultural history.
“Watkins Glen State Park is one of New York’s greatest tourism success stories, and as more and more people visit the park each year, we must ensure it remains a premier destination,” Governor Cuomo said. “This project will do just that and we will continue to invest in our natural assets to attract more visitors and economic activity to regions across the state.”
“Families love New York State Parks, and that’s especially true of Watkins Glen State Park,” said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. “As one of the top-ranked State Parks in the nation, Governor Cuomo’s investment here will further enhance Watkins Glen’s standing as one of New York’s best tourism and recreational destinations.”
Rose Harvey, Commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation said, “Governor Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 plan is transforming our parks – and in doing so better connecting new visitors and tourists to these incredible places. This project will help visitors to have richer and more rewarding experiences at the park, while vastly improving the gateway to the village of Watkins Glen. I am grateful to the Open Space Institute for helping make this project a reality.”
The major overhaul of the park gateway is advancing with the acquisition of two properties adjacent to the entrance by The Open Space Institute, which expects to transfer the properties to New York State Parks within months. State Parks will utilize the Environmental Protection Fund for the $300,000 purchase of the two properties.
OSI President and Chief Executive Officer Kim Elliman said, “Watkins Glen State Park is among New York’s most cherished and spectacular recreational destinations and a significant economic asset for the Finger Lakes region. For too long, however, the approach to this majestic park has detracted from the park’s exquisite beauty and grandeur. These acquisitions will allow the state to move forward with overhaul the gateway and improve overall visitor experience.”
Redevelopment of the park’s entrance will include relocating the parking area away from the gorge and across Franklin Street, which will improve vehicular traffic flow on village streets as well as pedestrian traffic flow in the park. The two newly-acquired properties will be joined by a vacant lot already owned by State Parks to create a new parking lot.
The state’s $5 million commitment is expected to leverage an additional $1.5 million in grants and private investment. The hardscape entrance to the gorge will be transformed into a more natural landscaped park setting. The area will include a new visitor welcome center where park staff can provide information about the park and the Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce will have a counter to provide information about other attractions in the region. Other improvements will include a small outdoor amphitheater and improved educational displays on the park’s human history and natural and geologic features, including a touchable model of the gorge, and a new overlook at the base of the gorge where people with mobility challenges will be able to enjoy the waterfalls. Other improvements include renovating the park’s existing concession/rest room building and reopening the “Indian Trail,” which has been closed for over 50 years.
Construction is expected to begin this summer and be complete for the 2017 summer season. Access to the gorge will be maintained during the project.
State Senator Tom O’Mara said, “One of the nation’s greatest state parks certainly deserves a grand entrance. We’re grateful to Governor Cuomo and everyone at the State Office of Parks and Recreation for this long-awaited enhancement to Watkins Glen State Park. We’ve been extremely proud here in the Finger Lakes region to have Watkins Glen recognized as the third best state park in America, and we’re appreciative to have a park entrance that’s a worthy welcome to all of the natural wonders awaiting the park’s hundreds of thousands of annual visitors.”
Assemblyman Philip Palmesano said, “We appreciate Governor Cuomo and the Office of Parks for their commitment to enhancing what is already one of the great attractions in the Finger Lakes region, New York State and, in fact, the nation. Watkins Glen State Park draws nearly a million visitors a year and this new entrance promises to be an exciting and worthy welcome to America’s third best state park."
Watkins Glen Mayor Samuel Schimizzi said, “The Village of Watkins Glen understands the importance of the Watkins Glen State Park to its future development. We are pleased to see this project coming to fruition in the upcoming year. Congratulations!”
Rebekah LaMoreaux, President & CEO Watkins Glen Area Chamber of Commerce said, “Our Chamber of Commerce could not be more excited about our future partnership with the NYS Office of Parks! Having the opportunity to take part in welcoming visitors to Watkins Glen State Park will spark additional tourist foot traffic in our downtown; therefore generating more interest in staying, dining, and shopping in Schuyler County. It’s a great development for all of us!”
Funding for State Parks to acquire the properties from OSI comes from New York State’s Environmental Protection Fund. As part of his 2016-17 Executive Budget, the Governor announced that New York State will allocate $300 million for the EPF – the highest amount ever for the fund and more than double the fund’s level when the Governor first took office.
The visitor entrance renovations will be funded through Governor Cuomo’s New York Parks 2020 program, a multi-year commitment to leverage $900 million in private and public funding for State Parks from 2011 to 2020. The Governor included $90 million toward this initiative in his 2016-17 Executive Budget.
Last April, Watkins Glen State Park was selected as the third-best state park in the country through a USA Today Reader’s Choice Poll. Located near the southern end of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes Region, the park is one of the most heavily-visited in New York. The 1,000-acre park’s trails take visitors through a 400-foot-deep gorge and along 19 waterfalls by way of stone bridges and stone steps. The park also features 300 campsites, a playground, and an Olympic-sized swimming pool.
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