Why New York State Parks & Historic Sites Matter

Gantry Plaza State Park Daffodils

New York’s Legacy

The legacy of New York’s park system is unparalleled and it began when Niagara Falls was made the first state park in the country in 1885. Since then, iconic natural places and unique historic sites have been included to create a tapestry of amazing destinations that welcomed over 78 million adventure-seekers in 2020. Whether you are looking for insight into America's early history at Washington’s Headquarters State Historic Site - which was the first property acquired with public funds for the express purpose of historic preservation and patriotic visitation, or Jones Beach - a world-class swimming and entertainment destination visited by twice as many people as Yellowstone - New York has something for everyone. 

As we approach the centennial celebration of the New York State Park System in 2024, we recognize the beauty, history, and culture represented by 180 state parks and 35 state historic sites, covering a total of 325,000 acres. The park system includes an invaluable collection of natural and recreational assets, including 1,500 miles of hiking trails, over 8,000 campsites, numerous swimming pools, beaches, boat launches, nature centers, entertainment venues, and golf courses. This collection of resources contributes significant benefits to New York State’s economy, public health, environment and history.

Economic Benefits

New York state parks generate substantial net economic benefits for the people and communities in every corner of the Empire State. On a statewide basis, direct spending by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and spending by visitors to state parks supports up to $1.9 billion in output and sales, $440 million in employment income, and 20,000 jobs. New recreational opportunities and infrastructure on our state lands and local construction jobs in park development have been an economic lifeline for many communities.

Clearly, the impact of the State Park System on New York’s economy is sizeable: the benefits exceed the direct costs of maintaining the state parks many times over. The benefit-to-cost ratio is more than 5-to-1—more than $5 in benefits for every $1 in costs. In addition, the State Park System improves the quality of life in New York and thereby influences business location decisions and the ability of the state to attract a high-quality workforce.

Cultural and Historical Benefits

New York's historic sites tell the story of our rich cultural heritage. Visitors can experience the many facets of New York State history through tours, storytelling, exhibits, cooking demonstrations, and reenactments. There are countless ways to explore our past. State historic sites protect our shared heritage for current and future generations, ranging from LGBTQIA+ rights, Indigenous Cultures and the Underground Railroad, to women’s suffrage and pre-Revolutionary War battles. 

PTNY strives to ensure that New York's opens spaces and public places are welcoming and accessible for all residents and visitors alike.  This is why we support State Park's Our Whole History Initiative which aims to accurately reflect the diversity of our culture by ensuring those who have historically be excluded - including low-income, non-white, and marginalized New Yorkers - feel welcome and included in opportunities to experience the treasures of our park system by embracing those voices in the events, programs and interpretation. 

Health Benefits

More than 60% of New York adults and 32% of New York children ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese. Our state parks improve health outcomes by providing all New Yorkers with access to low-cost, close-to-home, recreational opportunities. Whether it’s walking or biking on trails, swimming at beaches, or kayaking on lakes, New Yorkers can be more physically active in our public lands. During the COVID-19 pandemic, New Yorkers have flocked to state lands in record numbers for much-needed solace and refuge proving once again that access to nature and open space benefits more than physical health, but mental and emotional well being too. 

Environmental Benefits

Our state parks and historic sites are also hosts to scenic viewsheds, geologic features, and both common and rare flora and fauna. Over 100 species of native mammals, tens of thousands of species of insects, hundreds of fish species, 70 species of amphibians, and more than 300 species of birds find a home in New York parks.

New York’s state parks are critical in protecting the state’s ecosystem and biodiversity. State parks and historic sites are home to more than 900 occurrences of 358 different rare species and natural community types. For 104 rare species and natural community types, the OPRHP properties support the only known occurrences of these on state public lands. Seven of these species or community types have just one known existing occurrence in the entire state.