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Area state parks shine in mid-summer

FINGER LAKES—The busy season for area state parks is here, and visitors keep coming to enjoy our area’s natural beauty.
Keuka Lake State Park Manager Jim Zimpfer said the season picks up now, in addition to swimming being allowed, because school starts letting out. He said the weekend the lake opened for swimming this year, June 19, Keuka had 1,818 visitors. This is up over last year, which had 1,502. Zimpfer said in 2008, that weekend had 1,511 visitors.
To show that weather is really crucial to drawing in visitors, the same weekend in 2007 had 2,219 visitors. Zimpfer said weather must have been really great then.
“The funny things about parks is the hotter and dryer it is, the busier the parks are,” said Zimpfer.
He pointed out Keuka Lake State Park offers hiking, camping, boating, playgrounds and hunting. Zimpfer said all may be assets that kept Keuka off Paterson’s proposed closing list.
Dave Peterson, Watkins Glen State Park manager, said that while Memorial Day is usually a busy weekend (weather permitting), the season goes into high gear from the pool opening until Labor Day weekend. This year the pool opened June 19, and Peterson said approximately 15,000 visitors were at the park that weekend. He added that last year the number of visitors was down around 400 people, but the weather also wasn’t that great.
Watkins Glen State Park, and nearby Keuka Lake State Park, both have the distinction as being parks Gov. David Paterson had not proposed closing. In fact, Peterson said Watkins Glen was one of the “flagship” parks where the cost of entry per vehicle increased $1, to $8. He added this increase is minor enough that it hasn’t, and shouldn’t, discourage visitors.
Peterson said his guess was Watkins Glen wasn’t considered for closing because of its resources and being internationally known. He explained the gorge is the main attraction, and is open earlier and later than the regular season so it can draw in more visitors. Peterson said in an average year, the park gets between 400,000 and 500,000 visitors.
Those visitors come from as far away as several states over. Peterson said just by walking down the parking lot he has seen license plates from Vermont, New Jersey, and Ohio. He added that within the state, people drive from an hour away and visit Watkins for the day.
“People rediscover camping,” said Peterson.
The Watkins Glen State Park will also continue to offer the same events and nature walks it has been doing. Those include “Walk Behind the Waterfalls,” about the waterfalls; and “On the Right Track,” about animal tracks. Peterson said no changes were made in that regard. He added that there will be a couple walk-a-thons/races planned involving the Catharine Valley Trail.

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