Officials mark comeback year for the region’s state parks
FORT HUNTER The mood was light as members of the Saratoga-Capital District Region of the state Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission gathered at Schoharie Crossing on Thursday afternoon.
The sun was out and the doors flung open to let in the crisp fall air during the meeting, but it wasn’t just the weather that had everyone cheery. It’s been a good year for the region.
According to Assistant Regional Director Bob Kuhn, parks and historical site attendance numbers are up 9 percent over last year, with revenue up 32 percent as of Labor Day.
“We’re back in business,” he said.
Commission Chairwoman Heather Mabee credited much of the attendance boost to a season of excellent summer weather.
“Really, whenever you have such great weather,” she said, “you’re going to have many more people out and about.”
Also, several projects that closed parks last year were completed. Thompson’s Lake State Park was only partially open for the 2011 season as five new bathrooms were built.
According to Regional Director Alane Chinian, the Saratoga boat launch was “very undesirable to boaters,” as it was taken over by the DEC during construction.
“SPAC was also larger and more involved this year,” she said, “which always helps out the park.”
But there’s one other reason the summer of 2012 has been so good for the region: After tropical storms Irene and Lee, many communities banded together to clean up their parks and historical sites.
The commission rarely meets at Schoharie Crossing. In this case, the location was meant as a symbol of the comeback year.
“This is the anniversary of the flood that did so much damage here,” Chinian said, “We’re here to celebrate how far we’ve come and what we’ve learned since then.”
When the Schoharie Creek flooded last year, the historic site took a pounding. The parking lot was washed away and whole buildings were shifted from their foundations.
But there was a silver lining. Under the parking lot was a corner of old Fort Hunter’s stone foundation, surrounded by a Mohawk Indian village. The foundation, covered with sand for protection, is now part of the site’s historic inventory.
After the flood, people from all over Montgomery County banded together, logging a thousand hours of volunteer work at the site. Janice Fontanella, who runs the site, recounted laying out handfuls of washed up artifacts on a picnic table in the days after Irene.
“So many people came out to show their support,” she said. “It was really heartwarming.”
The site will host an event Tuesday night highlighting the history turned up by floodwaters.
Since people in the community stepped up to bring sites like Schoharie Crossing back from the floods, it seems more people are likely to enjoy them.
“We’ve been plugging away for a year now,” Kuhn said, “and we’re not 100 percent back, but we’ve come a long way.”