The day before the heat wave hit in early August, the Governor announced he would open New York State beaches on Long Island as an affordable way for the public to cool off.
Like many upstate New Yorkers, I was surprised the Governor at first only proposed opening downstate beaches. So, I immediately called on him to extend the free beach days to Upstate New York. Thankfully, the Governor eventually heeded the calls and granted free beach and swimming access in parks across the state.
Since that time, several residents have come up to me to say they took advantage of the free beach day. Some even said they visited their local parks for the first time, and that they were quite impressed with these gems right in our own back yard. It struck me that maybe we were on to something.
We know that tourism is an ever-growing segment of New York State’s economy. And, tourism officials are constantly looking for creative ways to promote the local tourism industry and all the related economic development. Yet, I also recall the testimony given by State Park’s representatives during a Senate Tourism Committee hearing in Geneva last fall, in which they expressed frustration that the state failed to adequately promote our park system.
Not only did the free beach days give access to our parks to all residents, it also gave the parks system the best free press and promotion it had received in recent memory. Think about it: when was the last time – prior to last week -- that you saw the local state parks with swimming access listed in the general media. During free beach days, all the evening news programs and the newspapers listed these state beaches, including Green Lakes State Park, Delta Lake State Park, Verona Beach State Park and Fair Haven Beach State Park.
Following the success of the free park days, I plan to propose an annual "Free Park Weekend" as a proven way to promote local tourism and our incredible state park system. My plan will call for opening all New York State Parks to residents for day passes during the last weekend in June – just after school gets out.
Much like free fishing days each June, the hope is that when more residents are exposed to our parks system, they will be more likely to take advantage of these parks all year long.
In addition, the parks could collect information from visitors and then directly market season passes and other parks information to these residents.
While this idea had its beginnings in the August heat wave, I believe it is a simple way to promote our State Park system and encourage tourism all year long. I will be drafting legislation soon to create a "Free Parks Weekend" and I will ask the next governor to adopt this policy to promote our state park system and the tourism industry.