The New York State Parks System Is Turning 100!

Articles | December 1, 2023

By Peter Aronson

As the New York state parks system prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2024, it’s worthwhile to continuously remind ourselves that the state has one of the best public park systems in the world, open to all.

The state has 182 parks, including the Adirondacks and the Catskills. The parks range from the beauty of Niagara Falls to the beaches of Robert Moses State Park on Long Island to the Saratoga Spa State Park, which offers swimming, golf, theater and more. They range from small to huge, many have lakes, all have greenery, and they can be found in virtually every county in the state, from New York to St. Lawrence, from Dutchess to Herkimer, from Ulster to Yates.

You might be wondering, Why is this article appearing now, as we head towards winter and more indoor activities? The reason is because our state parks offer a bevy of outdoor winter activities and also because open spaces – park land – are essential to fighting climate change, and we need to appreciate and applaud them year round. 

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYS OPRHP), which administers 180 state parks, has a wonderful interactive website where you can search state parks by name, location or amenity. For example, 12 state parks have ice skating, 13 sledding, 34 ice fishing, 37 snowmobiling and 106 snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. In the warmer months, 137 parks have fishing, 88 biking, 72 camping and 70 swimming at a beach or a pool. 

These parks are not merely places of recreation and they aren’t luxuries; they are indispensable environmental assets that contribute to the well-being of our planet and our people and are instrumental in preserving and protecting the state’s natural ecosystems. Parks also provide sanctuary for diverse plant and animal species, and they are essential for the conservation of native habitats. 

Perhaps most important, New York State Parks serve as vital components of the state’s strategy to mitigate the impacts of climate change and protect local communities. From coastal resilience to deforestation to their own energy footprint, parks are vital in face growing threats from extreme weather caused by rising temperatures. 

The Appalachian Mountain Club lists several reasons why open land is so essential in our fight against global warming, including that forests and greenery act as a carbon sink by absorbing greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere through photosynthesis; that green spaces are naturally cooler than developed, urban areas; that natural land protects areas against flooding by acting as a buffer; and that naturally balanced ecosystems allow plants and animals to flourish, a push against the declining bird and insect populations in America and the world.

“Conserved lands encourage natural growth and biodiversity, allowing ecosystems around the globe to thrive as nature intended,” the Appalachian Mountain Club states.

NYS OPRHP says “2024 will be an opportunity to reflect on the last one hundred years, celebrate the vital legislation that spurred the expansion of our parks and sites’ network, and ignite conversation and action around preserving New York State lands for the next generation.”

Learn more about the New York State Parks System’s centennial and sign up to receive updates on how and where to celebrate on their anniversary website

The state Department of Environmental Conservation operates the Adirondack and Catskills state parks. To learn about activities in the Adirondacks, go here. For activities in the Catskills, here.  

We look forward to publishing more articles in the coming year on the New York State Parks System where we’ll provide a more in-depth look at their history, their role in environmental stewardship, education, and fighting climate change, as well as their anniversary events and programs.  

In the meantime, no matter the season, we urge all New Yorkers to use and appreciate our parks and open land.

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