State budget includes $20 million to continue NY Parks 2020 initiative
Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive budget includes $120 million to continue the NY Parks 2020 initiative. Since the launch of NY Parks 2020 in 2012, State Parks has advanced more than 383 separate projects within 130 parks and historic sites to enhance, restore and repair public facilities – helping reverse decades of decline and neglect in our parks.
Last year, New York state parks hosted an estimated 69.3 million visitors – a 6-percent increase over 2015 and a hike of 21 percent since 2011. Park attendance was boosted by major improvements to park facilities, the Connect Kids to Parks program, extending the swimming season after Labor Day, favorable weather, and more.
Connect Kids to Parks enhances educational and recreational opportunities for schoolchildren and help promote parks and historic places. New York partnered with the National Park Service in 2016, to begin an initiative to offer all fourth-grade students and their families free day-use entry passes to state parks. The program also created a grant program to help transport schoolchildren to outdoor recreation and environmental education programs, and historic sites.
The governor’s executive budget proposal will double the state’s investment in the Connect Kids program through the Environmental Protection Fund. The fund provides free or low-cost transportation to connect schools in underserved communities with state parks.
Parks will also expand the free or low-cost Learn-to-Swim program to all state park swimming facilities, which serves up to 5,000 youth annually. Additionally, in a partnership with the Office of Children & Families, State Parks will also expand the free Foster Family New Camper program. Approximately, 300 foster families and at-risk youth benefit from this program.
Funding is still available for Connect Kids field trip transportation grant for the 2016-17 school year. Visit www.nysparks.com for an application and more information.
In an effort to make visiting state parks, well, effortless, a new Empire Pass Card is now being offered. This wallet-sized plastic card can be shared among family member, caregivers and more. While the Empire Pass costs $80 and allows card holders to take any vehicle to the park, the original pass is still available for $65 and must be affixed to a single vehicle.