The Parks of New York

When most New Yorkers think of the pride of our state, the state park system doesn't always come to mind. Sure, the Adirondack and Catskill parks are awesome, but the humble little parks, like Chenango Valley, Green Lakes, Bowman Lakes or the Conesus Lake Boat Launch, often simply blend into the landscape.

However, as I looked into them more, I have come to realize that we have a true gem here in our state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. There are 306 units within the system, the largest of any state in the Union. For comparison, the next highest is California (278 units) and the lowest are Louisiana (19 units) and Delaware (14 units). The national average is 65 (did the counting and math myself [1]). While the Office is the trustee for parks, beaches, boating facilities, historic sites and golf courses, the 306 does not include: the Adirondack or Catskill Parks (administered by the DEC), our State Forests and wildlife preserves.

New York is the home to the first state park (the Niagara Reservation) and the largest state park (the Adirondacks, which, at 6 million acres, is roughly the size of Massachusetts) in the United States. The Adirondack and Catskill parks are the only Constitutionally protected lands in the world, a status that has been renewed several times over the years. The simple number "306" also does not reveal a long history of expanding existing parks (further committment).

What makes New Yorkers so fond of state parks? Perhaps a more accurate question would be, why would New York's elected officials believe that building and expanding parks would win them votes? What makes New York different?

Is it because of the City? Well, that probably has some effect (the ADK probably wouldn't exist without it), but there are other great cities, like Chicago and LA, that don't have similar park systems.

Another possible excuse might be our lack of national parks and forests, like many western cities and states have. But that still doesn't explain Massachusetts (45 parks), Illinois (54) or Virginia (43).

In the end I believe that there is something special about New York, it's unique combination of Upstate natural abundance and Downstate wealth and population, combined with a shared love of wide open spaces, that has made New York, for over a century, the leader in park creation. Heck, often times our Republicans (e.g. Rockefellar and Pataki) are the biggest proponents and expanders of the system. Despite the State's problems, no-one speaks of selling off or closing down the parks, that would be political suicide; in fact, we're still establishing more.

What are your thoughts on the myriad of state-owned recreational areas here in Upstate New York? Do we have enough parks? Do parks have drawbacks or are they an "always win" situation? Why do you think we have such a bounty of them in comparison to other states? I look forward to your thoughts.

-Posted by Jesse

[1] Which confirms my suspicion that I really need to get out of this town.


wild turkey desire said...

And I qoute from the discourse
"Sure, the Adirondack and Catskill parks are awesome, but the humble little parks, like Chenango Valley, Green Lakes, Bowman Lakes or the Conesus Lake Boat Launch, often simply blend into the landscape."

I don't know much off hand about Chenango Valley, Green Lakes, or Bowman Lakes, but I can tell you for sure that if you consider the Conesus Lake Boat Launch to "simply blend into the landscape" then I must be blind, I hope you're joking.

Conesus Lake boat launch... is that actually considered a park of sorts? To make sure we are both on the same page here, I'm referencing the public boat launch on the east side of Conesus Lake.

I can honestly say that if you are counting places like the Conesus Lake Boat launch in your study then no wonder why New York has such a vast number of parks. Their are various public boat launches in the Finger Lakes region. Of course, it makes sense to all those folks with boats because this region retains one of the largest quanties of fresh water located in the entire world.

The other day I saw in the Democrat and Chronicle that Conesus Lake was one of the top places to retire or own lake front property; something like that. Well, yes indeed Conesus is over flowing with people, houses everywhere, speed boats, and who knows what, but in my perspective that is not what I view as a "park".

I picture "park" being some place natural without lot of human impact. Unfortunatlely, I think Conesus Lake is a prime example of what not to let happen to the ever so important sources of h20 in el mundo.

-not paying to park

wild turkey desire said...

And I qoute from the discourse,
"Sure, the Adirondack and Catskill parks are awesome, but the humble little parks, like Chenango Valley, Green Lakes, Bowman Lakes or the Conesus Lake Boat Launch, often simply blend into the landscape."

I don't know off hand about Chenango Valley, Green Lakes, or Bowman Lakes, but if the Conesus Lake Boat Launch simply blends into the landscape I feel drasticaly sorry for the rest of civilization.

In counting the number of parks in your study for NY, did you include places such as Conesus Lake Boat? If so, then my theory is...

The Finger Lakes and Great Lakes Region of New York have an enormous amount of public boat launches. After all, these regions hold a major percent of the fresh water world wide.

Just so we are on the same page, the Conesus Lake Boat Launch I'm refering to is located on the east side of the lake.


NYCO said...

NY State Parks? They're sometimes the only thing that takes the sting out of the state's high taxes. I love 'em. And I use 'em.

I try to get away for at least two camping trips a summer and that is nowhere near enough. Last weekend I stayed 2 1/2 days at Pixley Falls State Park, which is a teeny weeny park outside of Boonville (10 miles from Delta Lake State Park). Only 20 camping spaces and no electrical hookups, so the suburbanites with their rolling roadblocks (aka RV's) tend to stay away. Got there on Thursday afternoon and had the entire park to ourselves, including a fishing stream and waterfalls that would have made JRR Tolkien cry, until Friday at 6 pm when a grand total of four other camping groups set up for the weekend. And old Black River Canal locks right next door. And the bathroom? Ridiculously spotless.

As for the DEC sites... I can't say enough about Crown Point on Lake Champlain. It's just a campground really, but there's so much to see close by.

On the other hand, I had kind of a wretched time at Moreau Lake (near Gansevoort) last summer, although that might have been due to the excruciatingly hot weather. Crowded, too many campsites, noisy. Sort of the Albany-area equivalent of Green Lakes, really. I'm not real thrilled with parks if they're just crowd magnets.

I guess what I like most about the state park system is that I always feel pretty safe there when camping, and I've never encountered any jerkiness on the part of the staff. With very few exceptions they seem to have their acts together. And something else I like is that the parks are not cookie-cutter or overdeveloped. There's kind of still a 19th century attitude toward wilderness lurking in these parks where the hiking trails do NOT all have guardrails (eg at Letchworth, which I think is a best kept secret because few people come back alive from the hikes...)

Jesse said...

Wild Turkey Desire, I think you're missing some of what I'm arguing about here.

However, to clarify, included in my list are all "units" of the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. I'm not the one who decided that the Consesus Boat Launch deserves to be a unit (I assume because it is physically separate from other units) of the system, that was done by the State. However, I can assure you that only a small number of the state's units are boat launches, the majority are "parks" in the traditional sense, "some place natural without a lot of human impact."

However, this is not a universal standard of a park, or especially the legal distinction of a "state park." When I look through the state parks around the country, I find zoos, boat launches, reconstructed villages, monuments, game parks, boardwalks on beaches and even theme parks (this is big in the South it seems) considered to be State Parks.

In developing a system of comparison, I had to choose some sort of workable common denominator, a method for counting. What I settled upon was using the count of "units" governed by the state's parks agency (every state has one). Despite the fact that a few states put holdings that I consider to be outside of the perview of traditional park (especially working state forests), it seemed the best method. I certainly was not going to go through each of our nation's state parks individually using some sort of criteria.

Do you have a better method?

You seem to believe that the validity of my claim that NYS has more parks than any other state is in doubt since the wide spread of my net. However, the net is just as broad in all of the other states; I used the same basic criteria in all states. There must be some significance or importance to the fact that the national average of parks is 65 and NY has 306! If we go a step further and remove NY and CA the top two states (which statistically seem abberrantly large even for their large populations), we find that the national average drops to 52.

Your personal opinions of the Conesus Lake Boat Launch (which I chose not for its status as a "typical" unit of the NYS system, but in fact for its humbleness) aside, you do not seem to grasp the fact that what I am talking about is that the people of NY have invested incredible time and energy into creating the most numberous, diverse and innovative system of public recreation. I believe that the fact that the face of this system is quite humble, like the rambling trails of Chenango Valley State Park or the little old ladies giving tours at the historic houses of the Hudson, has led us to largely ignore this accomplishment and its ramifications. Your contempt of the Conesus Boat Launch is, perhaps, indicative of our broader lack of appreciation for the State Park system that I am talking about.

wild turkey desire! said...


Perhaps I was being a little pretentious when I responded in a seemingly joking manner about the "park" standing of the Conesus Lake Boat launch. I have lived almost my entire life near the boat launch and have actually used it many times to launch serveral boats. I remember the good old days when you didn't have to pay a fee in order to use the boat launch, but as they say their is no such thing as a free lunch or is it launch?

I'm sure that if you included the boat launch into your study, you might also have included the park located on the West Side known as Long Point and the other park located at the South End known as Vital Park. These two parks are very nice places to go for a swim, pinic, read a book, or sometimes listen to a free concert.

I just thought it was kind of funny mentioning the Conesus Lake Boat launch in the very begining of the piece amongst the many state parks of New York because I would much rather visit one of the two above parks mentioned instead of the boat launch, unless I was simply launching a boat.

The Ring of Fire, on July 3rd where at 10:00 pm or something like that, almost everyone on the lake will light up a series of flares upon the lakes shore, celebrating the Forth of July. All night long, live bands will be playing and professional and a lot of unprofession fire works will be going off around the lake.

It gets pretty crazy on the lake, and I can only imagine what it will look like after this night of celebration. I happen to feel that celebrations like these, while created out of joy, only end up hurting the ecosystem of the lake. I consider the pollution of the lake to be a very serious matter, yet the party must go on....

Contrary to how I may have sounded before, I do also appreciate the many parks of New York; there are some amazing places to go check out. It seems there are places which are really popular and then there are places that not a lot of people know about, the later are the ones I like best. There are many places that are amazing, but here are two that came to my memory first:

The Finger Lakes trail is a great way to go on some long hikes.

I also like the Finger Lakes National Forest near Trumansburg, which also allows you to check out the Taugghannock Falls State Park, one of the highest waterfalls in New York.

Is the Finger Lakes National Forest included in your study, or is it that because it is "National" that it is not included...?